Sunday, January 18, 2009

Film in 2008

So here comes the single post that I'm guaranteed to put up on whichever blog I have that's active year in and year out. My lists, pertaining to my favorite shit for the previous year. Mostly motivated this week by the Golden Globes on Monday... not that I believe the Golden Globes hold a lot of weight, though they seem to project a lot more insight into modern cinema than the last 10 years of Academy Awards put together.

1. Mickey Rourke's career has been strange, and while many of his films up to now could rightly be considered classics, few of them exemplify all of the acting chops that he has acquired over the years. The Wrestler plays like a biopic, and Rourke is phenomenal in the title role. His character manages to be warm and optimistic yet utterly gut-wrenching all at once. Part of the excellent substance of the film I think is that it works to somewhat match Rourke's own career. Marisa Tomei is also great, as the anchor for Mickey Rourke's own role, she epitomizes beauty displays an amazing determination for living life rather than wasting it. There have been many great films this year, but the Wrestler illustrates the best the cinematic medium had to offer in 2008.

2. Takashi Miike has been making hard boiled movies on the fringe of what's considered thematically acceptable. A filmmaking maverick by all accounts, and a little hit or miss, though given that he is one of my all-time favorite directors I liken his work as more hit than miss. Sukiyaki is an odd duck, given the American setting, English dialog, and all Japanese cast, on top of all that being one of the most enjoyable spaghetti westerns since Django, El Topo, or Once Upon A Time in the West. It's not so much that film put together makes an exceptionally coherent story, but the individual scenes here are what make it so highly impressive. Miike has mastered the sound stage, and many moments in this film are reminiscent of sets from silent classics from the days of German expressionism in film. Visually amazing, witty if not excellently scripted, and never lacking for compelling Japanese cinema, it's easily my favorite of Miike's since Ichi The Killer.

3. For whatever reason, in my opinion this movie just screams David Cronenberg worship. Most notably Videodrome, and once having viewed it the fact of that correlation should be obvious. A perfect film about broken people, easily manipulated and coerced into acting against their own general nature. Ultimately a movie of the strong versus the weak, in this case it's the strong-willed versus the weak-willed and the absurd lengths each will go to outwit the other. The performances in this feature are pitch perfect, played just as honestly for comedy as for drama, in fact the line here so often blurred that a huge problem most have with the movie is that it's often not clear what the filmmakers were going for... drama or comedy. Honestly, though, I don't think most people really got the tone correct. It's three segments from three different directors, which are all intended to play off the strengths of the segment before it, as well as contrast. I love the movie, pure and simple, even though it's simply low budget homage that plays just as well as it's innovators.

4. What can I really say about this movie that a more eloquent critic hasn't already said? Heath Ledger deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for this film, as his was a defining role that outshone any attempt at the character in the past, and yes I am including Jack Nicholson. But Ledger is not the only upside, as Christian Bale is just as charismatic and carries the role of Bruce Wayne so sincerely that it becomes hard to imagine him in any other film. Add to that the fact that next to it's precursor, the two modern Batman films have helped to fully redefine the comic book movie. Heightening the medium to an art form, the Dark Knight wears it's themes of chivalry and overcoming degradation and grim, heroics on it's sleeve, and while admittedly pretentious to a certain degree, it is deservedly so.

5. Another reinvention of a classic character, the new Punisher film espouses violence tongue in cheek. While Dolph Lundgren did a fine job back in 1989, Thomas Jane was no Frank Castle. Ray Stevenson on the other hand, plays the titular character off the cuff, yet under full control at the same time. An oxymoron, sure, but it's what the script called for. Personally, Stevenson's Castle is depicted as the psychopathic vigilante I always thought of the Punisher as anyway... sociopathic and amoral, cold and calculating, and really just a whirling derivsh with an assault rifle and vengeance in mind. I'm glad the film spared us the formality of an established back story, and also glad that the director reveled in bringing nothing but extreme violence to fruition for the duration of the film's runtime. Boring people often refer to action movies as an adrenalin rush, in this case they'd be right.

6. Clive Barker and Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura have managed to do what I never thought I'd see: they revived the classic horror composition and turned it into something fresh and new even though it screams 1988. It's brutal and gory and has a story that's almost an afterthought... in hindsight that's likely why I dig it. While the performances are strong enough to carry it, it's really the imagery, the ideology, and the cinematography that I find compelling enough about the film to put it in my year-end top 10 list of movies. It's just a badass flick really.

7. Another film to help legitimize the comic book action film, with the always amazing Robert Downey Jr. He truly becomes Tony Stark in this film, using his own mannerisms to help create the distinction of his character's habits. The supporting players are great here as well, and while the film oozes cool and seriousness it's easy to see that everyone involved, from director Jon Favreau right down to the teeniest supporting actor in the flick, are having an amazingly good time. It also makes what in the comic book world is a dated setting, a contemporary and believable world where real things happened to real people.

8. In Bruges, the redemptive vessel for Colin Farrell that oozes Brit style and wit. Not only that but it's a weird fuckin movie to boot. Impossible to pigeonhole as to where it belongs genre-wise as it plays simultaneously like an action film, a comedy, a drama, and a tripped out piece of arthouse pomp. Performances are amazing from the juiced-up Ralph Fiennes whose villain is at once terrifying and insane yet introspective and alone. Farrell is awesome as the embittered hitman forced into hiding in a place he loathes, where he embodies paranoia, compulsion, and indecisiveness perfectly... a likable villain. Brendan Gleeson is a treat as is typical for any character he portrays, here an aged hitman seeking redemption for himself for crimes that only he can forgive. The three of them meld so well and play off each other better than just about any cast I've seen all year.

9. I have to say, I bought into the hype with this one, but ultimately it paid off. Handicam or not this is an extremely intense flick with a great payoff. Emotional performances and action that's worthy of some of Hollywood's recent best films. Providing a "you are there" experience, it's made even more exhausting and realistic if it were otherwise treated like a Tony Scott or Michael Bay vehicle. Abrams' brainchild won't win any Oscars this year, but it was easily one of the most original flicks of the year... slick production abounds here, and any action junkie would do well to indulge if they haven't as of yet.

10. Funniest fuckin movie all year, hands down. Carried primarily by Robert Downey, Jr with a sidesplitting role by Tom "fucking crazy" Cruise. And a small part with Danny McBride that comes close to matching his part in Pineapple Express (a disappointingly less funny movie than Tropic Thunder). Even Matthew McConaughey and Ben Stiller (writer and director) turn in hilarious performances. A vehicle that allows Jack Black to take his insane and absurd physical comedy and mental instability and fuse it to form an over-the-top supporting cast member. Tropic Thunder is the perfect action comedy, and while I found it less hysterical 2007's Superbad, it should rightfully go down as a comedic masterpiece in the same class.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Did you see that Randy the Ram is going to wrestle Chris Jericho for real at the next Wrestlemania?? It reeks of a Vince McMahon publicity stunt to keep his lame sport alive