This epic spanning over six decades isn’t the event that it was intended to be, but there’s enough love and craftsmanship in every frame that to describe it as poetry wouldn’t be totally out of the question. Although the film starts, for the most part, unremarkably; by the final scenes director David Fincher has sewn a feel of mystery and melancholy beauty into the frames that one can’t help but be taken aback. From the hummingbird bookends to Benjamin’s final, subtle scene, it’s an enchanting film.
Eastwood’s latest film might be more of an entertaining film than it is a work of high art. Whatever it is, though, it makes for a great two hours of movie-watching. At it’s least, it’s an excuse to watch Clint Eastwood use every demeaning term for Asians ever created; but at it’s hight it’s a film about finding what’s most important in life. Sappy, sure, but Eastwood’s good enough at directing to keep it from being too sentimental, while still being able to pull its punches.
I’m cheating on this one. Close though they may be, neither Iron Man nor Tropic Thunder are going to make my Top Ten. But it would be a disservice to ignore the work of Downey this year, a year where he single-handedly carried the second highest grossing film and made everyone laugh to the bone with a role that many would be afraid to touch. The diversity in the roles combine to evidence that Downey is a great entertainer. This summer might have been dominated by a different superhero; but Robert Downey Jr. was still surely the man of the Summer.
You can argue that WALL-E is a cautionary tale, or a film that’s trying to cram a message down you’re throat. But even if you’re right, the film’s success lies entirely in the titular character. Look at that picture above this paragraph. Your heart just exploded with silly, gleeful love, didn’t it? WALL-E could have been a word-for-word remake of The Butterfly Effect, and as long as it starred everybody’s now-favorite cleaning droid, it would have stolen the heart of every one of its audience members. Hell, it would probably still be on this list.
Largely forgotten but worth a second viewing, there’s a lot more to feature than its creature. The horror-thriller has plenty to say – when the Statue of Liberty’s head is ripped off and tossed down the street, everyone’s first reaction is to take a picture with their phone. And rather than concentrate on making out of a catastrophe alive, the main character would rather use his camera as he runs from a dozen flesh eating, dog sized spiders. Have we become too addicted to media to be able to live life naturally? At the heart of the film that directly mined images of 9/11 burned in a nation’s memory lies a question – can we find entertainment in a New York disaster? Or rather, should we?
I haven’t seen Twilight, but I’m going to go ahead and say that Let the Right One In is a much stronger movie about teenage vampires. But it’s not the vampires that make the movie (although, as anyone who’s seen the last scene of the film can atest, that certainly doesn’t hurt), it’s the perspective of main character Oskar. At the brink of adolesence, he discovers a new and frightening side to life that easily parallels the anxiety teenagers experience in our world without the blood-suckers. Add to that some of the most amazing intimate photography, and you’ve got my favorite foreign film of 2008.
At first glance, Woody Allen’s latest light comedy might appear too simple, too much of a comedy to possess greatness. In any other filmmaker’s hands it might have been just that; but with a veteran like Allen behind the lens, it’s far better than you would expect this kind of movie to be. Effortlessly, Allen makes a statement on the nature of love and relationships with the chops of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz hard at work giving us some great characters on the screen. For the longest time, we had viewed Allen as a talent past his prime; but if he can keep on making films with the skill he put on in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen can end his career on a high note.
I’d anxiously waited for two years to see the next film from visionary director Darren Aronofsky. His latest, The Wrestler, is not the visualgasm that his past work (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) has proven to be. In fact, there are hardly any styleistic touches in the film at all. But the power of main character Randy “The Ram” Robinson is all it takes to propel the film into the three spot. His story, a downbeat one of a professional wrestler twenty years separated from his success, is expertly and minimally framed around Rourke’s performance. Rourke masterful portrait is easy to love but undeniably flawed, a combination that is perfectly balanced.
Coupled with Milk, Gus Van Sant had a great year with two very different films. Milk was a good movie in its own right, but when stacked up against Van Sant’s exploration of adolesence, it looks downright mainstream. Paranoid Park, much like Let the Right One In, is a haunting but innocent account of high school. Sixteen-year-old Alex is distracted from his life of seeming meaninglessness – skate boarding, his girlfriend that he doesn’t love, and a little brother who just wants to talk about Napoleon Dynamite – by a mysterious incident that resulted in murder. Like a board surfing around a skate park, there’s no rhyme or reason to Alex’s young life, but there’s something inexplicibly beautiful to it all the same.
I really didn’t want to. When people asked me what my favorite movie of the year was, I didn’t want to blurt out the obvious choice of The Dark Knight. But the fact remains – this action behemoth made me its bitch. No other movie came close to having as huge of an impact on me as the highest grossing film of the year.
It’s still not a perfect film. The final third of the film feels like it could have waited until the next act of Christopher Nolan’s Batman work (and what was up with Bat-Phone Vision?). But its misses aren’t enough to bring down the massive, massive hits. When the Joker threatens to blow up a hosptial, I literally gasped. I gasped because I couldn’t believe anyone would be so heartless as to commit such violence. A few seconds later, I finally remembered that it was just a movie; but the scope of Nolan’s film, more than any other tentpole, is staggeringly massive, and frighteningly realistic.
I’ve never understood why people clap at the movies. At a concert or a play, sure, you’re showing your appreciation to artists in your presence; but there’s no one to give your gratitude or respects to in a movie theater. Having said that, I applauded and I applauded hard at the end of The Dark Knight. What else are you supposed to do after seeing a legitimate contender for the best big budget movie since Star Wars?