Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jason's Top 10 Films of 2008

So here it goes: my 10 favorite movies of 2008, with reasons as to why. It probably differs a lot from some of the other Top 10 lists other critics have posted, but, hey, this is my list and I like what I like. Anyway. The Top 10 Films of 2008 1. Tropic Thunder - There was no movie this year funnier nor better than Tropic Thunder. A brilliant satire of the Hollywood system, war movies, and our country's foreign policy (think about it: a clueless director taking advice from a veteran with a not-quite-as-glorious-as-people-believe combat record and dropping "soldiers" into a place they don't understand. Sound familiar?) with a sharp, knowing wit. Ben Stiller's direction has never been better, and the script, written by Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, is both uproarously hilarious and intellegently plotted. But the real draw here was the cast: Ben Stiller as an egotistic action star looking for a comeback (and respect), Jack Black as an obnoxious, heroin-addicted comedian, Matthew McConaghey (in his best role to date) as Tugg Speedman's agent, and, in the two best comedic roles of the year, Robert Downey Jr. as the Oscar-winner who really gets into the character of the black soldier (and deserves an Oscar himself for it) and Tom Cruise as the foul-mouthed studio executive backing the picture (his best role since Jerry Maguire). Satirizing the entire entertainment industry, Tropic Thunder proved that comedy really can be golden. 2. The Dark Knight - This one is just obvious. For darker fare, it was easily the best movie of the year, not just the best Batman or even superhero movie in general. Christian Bale brought new depth to Bruce Wayne, and Aaron Eckhart was stunning as the "white knight" of Gotham as Harvey Dent. However, the true star of this movie was the late Heath Ledger, who took the Joker from what could have been hammy and jokey and turned it into one of the scariest, richest, most vivid performances of all time. The story touched on themes that went way beyond the usual summer fare (Wiretapping? Check. Terrorism? Check. Difficult questions of ethics? Check.) and, in a brilliantly written script by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, made them stick to you without being preachy (like most Iraq war films as of late). Christopher Nolan's exsquist direction led to the creation of a dark, terrifying world that was all the more frightening in that it mirrored our own reality. The Dark Knight will stand in history as a classic, a look at what the superhero genre can be, and set the bar high for all who follow it. 3. Wall-E - Whereas The Dark Knight showed us the hidden storytelling potential in the superhero genre, Wall-E showed us the majesty and endless bounds that lie within animation. The story itself is simple enough: a lonely robot on a future Earth that is now a wasteland falls in love with a sleek, modern robot sent to find signs of life, and together they embark on an adventure across the stars. However, the movie was anything but simple. Part silent film, part comedy, part romance, part sci-fi, and part message film, the movie presented us with a world that was almost impossible to not be amazed by, and the most believable on-screen romance this year between Wall-E and Eve. And, for a supposed "kid's movie," Wall-E touched on themes that were decidedly adult: global warming, obesity, consumerism. Not only was it Pixar's best yet, it was the best animated film in the last decade, perhaps ever. 4. Religulous -Those who come to see this movie for an unbiased exploration of world religion will be greatly disappointed. This is a documentary that is not meant so much as to educate the masses, but it rather serves as Bill Maher's thesis on religion, and his message is pretty simple: religion will be the end of the human race. Whether you agree with him or not, he does present a logical, well-developed and convincing argument, complete with fascinating evidence that will at least leave you curious enough to do some research of your own. Some say that Bill Maher showboats too much, or that he intentionally chooses the targets he pursues, but that's his point. He doesn't care about being fair to all sides, and the results are equal parts hilarious, fascinating, and sometimes disturbing (the Creationism museum that features Jesus with the dinosaurs, for example). Religulous was thoughtful and thought-provoking, and deserves to be seen. 5. Cloverfield - Say what you will about it, but Cloverfield was one of the smartest monster movies ever made. Focusing on the attack from the point of view of a group of people caught in the middle of it, it takes the Blair Witch Project (one of my favorite movies of all time) route and gives us a unique look that films like Godzilla did not provide: a human perspective. The audience became part of the madness, and though the cinematography was dizzying, it was engaging and realistic. Another wonderful aspect of the movie was how little was actually revealed: we saw the monster, but just like the characters, we knew nothing about it, nor did we know what was happening in the grander scheme of the attack. Cloverfield was the kind of film that lived up to all of its marketing hype, and produced a movie that was terrifying, exciting, and completely original. 6. Iron Man - I won't lie: I am a huge Robert Downey Jr. fan. And Iron Man lived up to the hype that it recieved. A smart, fun superhero movie, it managed to take a Marvel superhero whom few really knew about beforehand and made him an engaging, layered character. Tony Stark was not a moody billionaire nor a pure-hearted do-gooder; he was an eccentric weapons manufacturer who could care less about the effects of his actions- until he finds himself facing the consequences. Though Gwenyth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard (who unfortunately will not be returning in Iron Man 2) all hold their own on screen, this is completely the RBJ show, and he delievers a performance rivaled only by his own as Kirk Lazarus. Downey Jr. adds layers of depth to Stark without ever sacrificing what makes him unique, and for it Iron Man was one of the most fun movies of the year. 7. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist - It was a small, under-the-radar film that few people were eagerly awaiting. But Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist was something completely original in the teen comedy genre: original, refreshing, and honest. Starring the achingly/awkwardly funny Michael Cera as Nick and the wonderful Kat Dennings as Norah, the film felt real; this is how teenagers really react around each other, and the chemistry between Cera and Dennings helped sell the romance that bloomed as they both searched for an elusive band one night in New York. Best of all was a criminally underrated performance by Ari Gaynor, whose drunken Caroline had some of the funniest scenes in the movie. The film was sweet without being sacchrine, and honest without being boring, and, best of all, featured layered, interesting teen characters. N&NIP was the most pleasant surprise of the year. 8. Vantage Point - Or, Crash At A Presidential Assassination. Told from the viewpoints of six different characters, we see the attempted assassination of the president at a summit in Spain, but through these different outlets we see all the puzzle pieces of the plot. And the fitting of these pieces reveals a twisty, complicated plot that is never what it seems. A thriller that aspires to be Hitchcock-worthy (but doesn't quite reach it), this was another surprise, and delievers great performances from its cast, particularly from Forest Whitiker as an American on vacation who becomes entangled in the whole ordeal. Its a thriller that delievers the thrillers, and rewards the audience for keeping up. 9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall - The Apatow factory has produced some great comedies over the years, but in 2008, this was easily the best, and the second-best of all time (behind the brilliance that was Superbad, of course). Written by and starring the fantastic Jason Segel, the film wrangles gut-wrenching laughs from the worst possible situation: going on vacation to get over a recent breakup, only to end up at the same resort as your ex and her new boyfriend. Segel brought a pathetic, hilarious humanity to Peter, and supporting players Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Russell Brand and Paul Rudd brought huge laughs to the screen. A smart, tender, uproarous comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall proved that the worst of breakups can provide some of the biggest laughs. 10. Burn After Reading - After the dark, bloody glimpse at hell (aka 1980s Texas) that was the brilliant No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers returned with this dark, bloody comedy that was one of their best original works since Raising Arizona. With a plot that was ripe with deceit, conspiracy, and complete buffoonary, the movie gleefully let us glimpse at the ridiculousness of the intellegence network and the ingenuity of complete fools. With top-notch performances by John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, George Clooney, and an incredible Brad Pitt, this was a Coen comedy that was not only pitch-black in its humor but also a humorous take on the fears of our government and the relativity of intellegence. As a final note, I would like to point out that, to me at least, 2008 was a great year for comedy, as 5 of my 10 films could be considered such, not to mention other comedies such as Pineapple Express, Baby Mama, Charlie Bartlett, Get Smart and Be Kind Rewind. Here's hoping 2009 is even better.

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