Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best Movies of 2008

I'd planned on coming into work, firing up the computer, cranking up the 70's country and hammering out a list of the best movies I saw this year. Then I scanned a cheat sheet of the releases for 2008 and came to the conclusion that not only was 2008 a terrible year, personally - it was one of the worst for movies in quite some time. If you don't believe me, scan this page. "Eh, that was okay," will be the prevailing opinion.

With that in mind, here are the movies I wasn't upset to have seen. (In no order.)


When asked how Rambo was, I replied, "A man gets shot in the head with an arrow, then falls onto a landmine." With respect to the visceral tingle that a movie can evoke, the fourth in the Rambo franchise succeeded in getting me rock back-and-forth in my seat. It's over-the-top violence, titular protagonist who says no more than five lines, and blunt message of action speaking louder than words yielded the kind of movie every kid should watch with their dad. It's my hope that they resurrect the franchise once more to have John Rambo take care of that whole Darfur mess. (By the way, Rambo, we've totally overlooked that whole teaming up with the Taliban phase you went through in Rambo III. Your hindsight was 20/20, J.R.

Be Kind, Rewind

I would never say I'm a fan of director Michel Gondry, but I've seen nearly every one of his movies the day it came out. (I think a good majority of movie elitists would dismiss me outright for saying that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fucking blew.) His style of visualizing a child-like imagination is compelling on both an emotional and technical level. However, the substance(slash)story has been lacking, somewhat. Be Kind, Rewind worked for me because it's a movie about the role that movies play in our lives. In recreating the more memorable scenes of popular movies, the community and the audience laugh at what has become our universal language. These movies have become our shared memories. They're something we each experienced on our own, yet revel in together. Furthermore, the movie goes on create one of the more touching cinematic moments in '08 at the screening in it's finale. It joins the ranks of Cinema Paradiso as one of the great movies for people who love movies.

The Strangers

Horror and comedy are two genres that you really need to see in the company of others to find out if they work. Had I watched The Strangers, alone and in the comfort of my own home, my finger would have been poised over the fast-forward button. Instead, I saw it opening weekend. The house was packed, and damned if the whole audience wasn't jumping from their seats. I go to quite a few horror flicks, and I don't think I've ever seen as intense a response as I did in that screening. Several months later, I had the good fortune to see it again on a double-bill at a drive-in in Vermont. My three friends and I sat in a frigid Hydra, watching this and The Happening. (The Happening would have made the list if we were talking about great movies to watch in your car and make fun of while you're getting Metcalfed in the Green Mountain State.) Again, the people in my vehicle were watching this movie through closed fingers. Which is amazing considering what actually transpires on-screen.

The Strangers is founded on the fear of the sociopath and the person with no remorse. As I wrote in my review of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, I consider good horror not to be that based on myth or lore. What scares me, and most reasonable people I know, is that we might find ourselves vulnerable in a situation we can't control. Advancing this theory, as well as creating an environment that is at once tranquil and tense The Strangers becomes one of the better horror films in recent years.

And when was the last time a horror movie used music by Gillian Welch and Joanna Newsom?

The Dark Knight

I don't think I need to go into that much detail on this one. Plus, it's almost time to go to lunch.

Iron Man

Earlier this summer, I found myself with three hours to kill on the South Side of town. There was a theater nearby and Iron Man had come out the night before. I never read Iron Man, as the concept of a guy that flies around in a metal suit sounded retarded. With the announcement of the movie, I couldn't imagine sitting through what would be a CGI-model punching things for two-hours. But when you have nothing else to do on a Saturday morning . . .

Here's why Iron Man works. It's the opposite of the conventional super-hero movie. In most, a majority of the movie deals with the inner-dilemma of a man who has been burdened with a great power and responsibility. There's often a great pain in their past which prevents them from being a complete person. The often brooding lead overcomes these obstacles just enough to thwart the immediate menace, but doesn't overcome these issues fully - this way we can still play upon them in the sequel. While the subject is going through their self-discovery, we the audience are eager for him or her to put the mask on and start hitting shit. It's when that mask comes off that we head for the concession stand, or pull out the cell-phone to text arrange some after movie 'tang.

In Iron Man, the movie IS the unapologetic, alcoholic playboy Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) spitting zingers and pick-up lines across the scene. It's when he puts on that stupid fucking suit that the movie slows down. And the script gives the Jesus-complex conflicted hero thing less than a page of screen-time, where other movies deal with that tired angle in their entirety. (Spiderman built three movies around it.)

On an unrelated note, what the fuck is up with Robert Downey Jr.?

It's a sad day when a 43-year old recovering junkie is in way better shape than you'll ever be. And on that note. . .

Bigger, Stronger, Faster

In the past ten-years, the documentary has become the only genre of movies whose quality has grown exponentially. With advances in technology, the aspiring documentarian can no afford to cover and shoot more of their story than ever before. Sadly, this has also yielded a surplus of self-promoting, self-aggrandizing filmmakers whose works now flood the market, making the search for a decent documentary that much harder.

Director Chris Bell focuses Bigger, Faster, Stronger on himself. Being the middle child in a family that has placed a great importance on build, Chris has refused to try steroids. His older and younger siblings have not, making him the runt of the liter. Why has he chosen not to use steroids while his brothers did? And so begins the quest. Chris takes us through the dark recesses of the fitness and athletic industry. In his journey we find the pointlessness of drug testing in athletics, the lack of regulation or control in the supplement market, and detailed analysis on the pros and cons of steroid abuse. What's strange, and proves to be the most eye-opening aspect of the doc, is that Chris then leaves the jock-o-world and meets with people in other avenues who also rely on some means of performance enhancement. Most notably, he meets with concert musicians who proudly boast of a near dependence on beta blockers (by the way, if anyone has any of these laying around, please get in touch with me). This may be the only documentary in history where the most salient points are made by this guy:

Bigger, Faster, Stronger is a documentary that sets out with one man's question, "Why should I not take steroids?" After you watch this, you'll be en route to your doctor, complaining of a hormone deficiency.


(Though this was premiered at a festival in 2007, it's wide release wasn't until late 2008.)

You can have whatever opinion of Jamie Kennedy you want. Some may like him based on his eclectic movie roles, stand-up performance, or hidden camera show The Jamie Kennedy Experience. Some of you may loathe him for those same reasons. Heckler starts as an examination as to why certain people at a comedy club feel the need to add or attack the talent. This brings up some of the more memorable hecklings that various comedians have taken during their years on-stage. (Bobby Lee's account of being knocked-out is one of the more memorable.) This analysis of why some people feel the need to be so critical segues into looking at criticism, as a whole. It seems Heckler was born of the reviews Kennedy received following Son of the Mask 2. Kennedy found that the reviews weren't about the movie, but rather about him, personally. The same could be said by many of his peers. So why do critics feel it's necessary to bash on a man like Harland Williams' face, rather than just say the movie sucked? To answer this, Jamie Kennedy tracks down the authors of his more critical reviews for an interview, wherein he just attacks them in the same fashion.

After watching Heckler, I felt so terrible for Carrot Top. And you will, too.


Lanny said...

At the Replay one night I told a friend that she should watch "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" after the topic ended up on steriods.

"Don't you remember me telling you about working on the film?"

Apparently the older brother is dead, and I'm a moron.

A.v.E said...

You told me this story the last time I saw you at the Replay.

Anonymous said...

It was probably the fact that i knew someone that worked on the movie, which I promptly forgot, and used to my advantage to make an ass out of myself.

This is recent.