I saw 23 theatrical films in 2008 (9 fewer than 2007 and there were no repeats). Here’s how I stack them up.
- Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog. Turn this man loose with a couple of cameras and you’ll produce another in an extraordinary string of documentaries, which may outlive the quirky fiction upon which his reputation is based. This film takes a snapshot of Antarctica and the tribe of people gathered there.
- Australia, Baz Luhrman. I heard complaints that it was too long, too hokey. Too bad! Maybe this is a valentine for fans of the great waves of Australian cinema in the past 30-years. I loved it. Much funnier than I expected. Much more touching than I expected. Hugh Jackman might as well be sleep-walking, but everyone else is in perfect pitch with Luhrman’s maniacal designs. It was fun seeing Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil, and Bruce Spence. By the way, newcomers Brandon Walters and Nicole Kidman are also in this film. Given the right future roles, both of these have much potential.
- Rachel Getting Married, Jonathan Demme. Pure, grimy Americana. In 2008, I became a dedicated fan of Anne Hatheway, catching up on her various good and not-so-good performances via DVD from SPL. Here she plays Kym, not a very likable character, but one that most of us have probably known, in real life, much more intimately than we’d really have wanted to.
- Body of Lies, Ridley Scott. This is sort of like Syrianna, except it seems a
bit more believable from top to bottom. It’s based on a novel by a Washington
Post reporter, and seems plausible to me. It’s a well-made “thriller” with a
political point-of-view that ought to make any of us slightly uncomfortable.
Stars Leonardo DiCaprio (I like him better each time I see one of his new films) and Russell Crowe (of whom the opposite seems to be true).
- Mongol, Sergei Bodrov. A tale from the Old Wild East, with horse-riding, cows, family fights over matrimonial arrangements, inter-tribal warfare, and glorious scenery.
Another 3 Notable Examples of Americana
- Burn After Reading, The Coen Brothers.
- W, Oliver Stone.
- Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes, Peter Rosen. A nice little documentary that will crop up in the PBS American Masters series in July 2009.
Others I enjoyed: Lars and the Real Girl, Michael Clayton, Young at Heart, In Bruges, Shine a Light, The Duchess, Changeling, and Godard’s Contempt (shown in a glorious new print on 8/8/08 at 8:08 PM).
Biggest disappointments of 2008
- The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan. Aaron Eckhart? Worst “hot” actor since Bill Pullman! Heath Ledger? This was a twisted performance, and easily the “best Joker ever,” and I’m sorry about the overdose in that Olson girl’s apartmant, but if not for the man’s unfortunate death, I doubt this would be getting any serious acting nominations. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, and Gary Oldman all seemed like they were sleep-walking their roles. I have been very fond of some of Nolan’s other work, but this didn’t hit me. What other people said about Australia, I felt about this film: Too long. Too hokey. Too much hype.
- Iron Man, Jon Favreau. Approximately as bad as The Dark Knight, with sleep-walking by Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robert Downey Jr.
Interesting films I did not see in 2008: Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Appaloosa, Slumdog Millionaire, The Visitor, Doubt, Synecdoche, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Frost/Nixon, Man on Wire, Frozen River, Waltz with Bashir.
YouTube? It has been my rule to only include films that I viewed in cinemas within the calendar year. Otherwise I’d have to deal with 40+ DVDs that I saw in 2008 (almost all on loan from the Seattle Public Library). And if I ever figure out how to get more Internet bandwidth at home, I’d possibly need to start considering things I’ve seen on YouTube or Hulu. I don’t really want to go there — out of loyalty to the Projectionists Union and other reasons — but just for fun, I can’t resist mentioning the little 4-and-a-half-minute film that has racked up over 15-million views on YouTube since its appearance on June 20th:
- Where the Hell is Matt? by Matt Harding and Melissa Nixon. So simple, it’s almost stupid, but what a joyful little travel film, eh?