Sunday, January 04, 2009

Top 5 Films Of 2008!

5: War, Inc.

An unofficial sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank. The same writing team, same actors and same biting yet lovingly crafted sardonic tone.

Set in a future where major corporations own third-world countries and run the world's wars (the U.S Military 'Snickers' tank, or 'Taco Bell' air rifles), the brilliant yet reluctant hitman, Brand Hauser, is sent to Turaqistan to kill a world leader. But he's sent there under the guise of producing a live music concert featuring theMiddle-East's newest teen sensation; Yonica Babyyeah.

During the countdown to execution, Hauser gets sidetracked by an imposing journalist (Marisa Tomei) and nearly seduced by the loopy Babyyeah (an almost unrecognisable and brilliant Hilary Duff... yes, I know, but she's really good in this).

With Cusack firing on all sarcastic cylinders surrounded by an excellent supporting cast (notably Duff, Joan Cusack and Ben Kingsley), this is a comedy gem hitting a hard target. War is ridiculous, we all know that, but this film takes that over the edge without ever once falling into spoof territory. Smart, funny, and more than worthy of your time.

4: Burn After Reading

After last year's No Country For Old Men, a modern masterpiece of crime thriller and dark character exploration, the Coen Brothers return to their other favourite genre; the wacky, out-there, bizarre convoluted comedy.

Burn After Reading is the farcical tale of an ex-government agent (John Malkovich) who, angry at being fired, decides to write a tell-all memoir about his top secret job. This file falls into the hands of a middle-age woman gym manager (Francis McDormand) who's desperate for plastic surgery. Assuming the file IS a top secret document she enlists the help of her fitness-obsessed co-worker (Brad Pitt) and attempts to sell the file to the Russian Embassy. When this fails they decide to blackmail the writer himself.

Throw in George Clooney as a paranoid recent divorcee who starts dating McDormand, Tilda Swinton as the cold-hearted ex of Clooney, and J.K Simmons as the government boss tracking the case who just doesn't care, and you have classic Coen oddballness harking back to the Raising Arizona days.

And it works beautifully. The writing is sharp, and as it's a Coen film the acting is flawless. McDormand creates another weirdo in the style of her Fargo character. And Brad Pitt steals the show as the uber-hyper, energy drink addicted, nervy gym hand - once again stepping out of his movie star comfort zone to play something unlike anything he's done before.

3: The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

Kind of a cheat, this one, as it's technically a 2007 release, but our shores didn't get it until January of 2008 so I'm going with it. This is gem of a film, and a labour of love for all involved. Originally scheduled for a 2006 release, the film languished in post-production hell with a studio unwilling to put it out. Brad Pitt not only stars as Jesse James but also produced the film, and stood by director Andrew Dominik, taking a huge pay cut and also funding it from his own pocket to allow the film to be completed as the director intended.

The result is amazing; a dreamlike yet gritty story, it never once attempts to portray James as a hero of the people but more of well-respected, if morally dubious, gun for hire. In fact, James isn't the main character at all. The focus is more on Robert Ford, the young upstart who read Jesse James stories as a child and grew up idolising him, as he joins the gang. He tries desperately to bond with his hero, but the sad truth is that James simply doesn't like him, and Ford's adoration turns to anger.

After striking a deal with the Sheriff to kill the infamous outlaw, this film focuses mainly on the last ten days of James' life, and how Ford copes in the aftermath of killing his hero. Brad Pitt inhabits the strangest of roles; a stoic, barely there leader of men who hardly says a word. It's a brave performance, but the stand-out is Casey Affleck as Ford who literally shows every emotion on his sleeve but never gets close to being hammy. The desperation to be liked, the elation of getting approval, the turmoil of rejection... it's a performance to be reckoned with. And the fact that, as far as known, this account is as close to truth as we'll probably ever know, makes it all that more heartbreaking.

A special mention needs to go to the cinematography too. There's a very famous photo of the real Jesse James' dead body surrounded by local lawmen, which was taken with a special lens; blurred edges, and an almost lithographic 3-D aspect to it which is recreated here in many scenes to beautiful effect.

Anyone expecting a rip-roaring western will be disappointed. But for a thoughtful, beautifully artistic and moving account of one of the greatest legends of history, look no further.


There's no doubt about it; this is Pixar's masterpiece. Toy Story may be funnier, Finding Nemo may look more gorgeous, and The Incredibles may be more crowd pleasing, but in terms of simple story telling Pixar has never done anything to rival the brilliance of Wall-E.

The first half of the film is essentially a silent movie. Pixar have said they don't see it that way, but apart from the words "Wall-E" and "Eve-ahh" there is no dialogue in the first half of the film. And it's the best characterisation they've ever done. In a scene where Wall-E sits silently watching an old musical, we learn everything we need to know about him; his hopes and dreams, his romantic side. Just from his silently collecting rubbish on an abandoned Earth we get to know his sense of humour and childlike wonder. Even his relationship with the silent cockroach who follows him around shows a clear friendship.

Eve-ahh's character arc is also staggeringly well done. She can say one word, but she goes on a clear journey from automaton droid to a thinking, feeling personality. And it's all in the simple, basic rule of good story telling.

Even the undertones of the 'save the planet' theme, which could have been hammered home to a saccharine level, feels natural and well placed. The barren landscapes of a deserted, littered Earth are striking and worrying. The reliance on technology is frighteningly true. And the romance is played out in a wonderful, organic way. And don't get me started on the Space Dance...

1: The Dark Knight

Yes, I know! You knew it would be Number 1 as well. Big surprise. Well, it doesn't matter because it's ace!

Three people are responsible for making The Dark Knight so fantastic. Yes, there was an entire cast and crew that made it what it is, but there's three people in particular that get the main praise:

The first two are Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan. The two brothers wrote a script so tight, clever and engaging that made The Dark Knight the first truly out-and-out comic book film that didn't feel like one. Because of their approach to the material, their respectfulness to keep the characters and situations grounded, they made this one of the smartest, most well thought out crime thrillers that just happened to have a hero and villain that wore costumes. It's almost coincidental, as the story is the main driving force. And Chris Nolan's directing was impeccable. I don't mean flashy or eye-catching, although it certainly was those too. You want to know the best scene in the film? It's not the truck flipping, or the swan-dive in Hong Kong. It's the interrogation scene between The Batman and The Joker. Two actors, one room, dialogue. You want to know the second best scene? The hospital scene with Harvey Dent and The Joker. Two actors, one room, dialogue. Chris Nolan also had the insight to cast the third person who made this film so spectacular...

Heath Ledger. Fanboys were up in arms when it was announced, early promo shots were scrutinized, and shouts of "That's not The Joker!" were bandied about message forums like self-aware tennis balls on a killing spree. Then they saw the trailer; the shouts turned into "Hmmm, pretty good". Then they saw the film, and "pretty good" quickly became Heath becoming the ultimate, the one and only Joker for fans and non-fans alike. To say he nailed the character is selling him short. The tongue-flicking, the endlessly changing back-story, and most of all the cruelness hidden as (bad) humour. If you want to see what The Joker should be, watch the hospital scene; it's ludicrous yet terrifying. Just like The Joker.

And the coda with The Batman deciding to make himself a public enemy, just so The Joker cannot win, is also pitch perfect. Of course, if Chris Nolan makes another one I'll lap it up, but after a Batman film this good I'm kind of okay with not getting another one.


Post a Comment

<< Home