Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Movie Year-End Wrap Up

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Twenty-five films vie for my top ten of 2008, which I’ll announce tomorrow. Normally, I cull my top ten from my "must-sees" but since that number is sadly just seven, I'll have to pull from the eighteen "recommended" to make the final list. I’ve viewed 66 films theatrically this year; below are my one-line commentaries on each:

Must See [7]
1. Cloverfield. Great special effects and clever ideas: felt like being on a ride.
2. Frost/Nixon. Highly compelling piece is equal parts drama and character study; leads superb.
3. In Bruges. Perhaps just one coincidence too many plotwise, but this film succeeds where the former GROSSE POINT BLANK failed in capturing, brilliantly, the humor in a horrible world.
4. JCVD. Tarantinoesque stylistics detract, but concept and deliverly-- with a career-defining dramatic turn by Van Damme-- make for a one-of-a-kind experience.
5. My Winnipeg. Sleepinducing, but in a good way-- lulling the viewer into accepting its weird, wild ride.
6. Synecdoche, New York. Everything they're saying pro and con; a study of existence in the absence of hope, that has enough humor and style so as not to be depressing, but oddly comforting.
7. Wrestler, The. Some unoriginality in the relationships with the female characters does not dim the irrestible characterizations and performances.

Recommended [18]
1. Changeling. Solid and engrossing: it's driven mainly by it's basis in fact-- cold, but it stays with you.
2. Dark Knight, The. Great camerawork and a dramatically memorable performance by Heath Ledger keep you watching this relentless actioner
3. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Will never be confused for a documentary, but not a dull moment laughwise; halfway between SUPERBAD and KNOCKED UP.
4. Gran Torino. A solid star turn by Eastwood is never outstanding but hardly dull (beware some poor acting by amateur ensemble players, particularly during the last [critical] section of the film).
5. Happy-Go-Lucky. Offbeat and fresh, if a bit random at times; hits the ring just outside of the bulleseye.
6. Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Eye-pleasing fantasy has a collection of appealing characters that make it worth forgiving the film's significant and frequent leaps of logic.
7. Iron Man. Outrageously unrealistic and light on set pieces, but has a solid cast and the Iron Man suit is way cool.
8. Milk. Engrossing and informative, although should have delved even deeper into the personal life of Milk.
9. Mother of Tears, The/La Terza Madre. Energetic and ambitious film delivers crowd-pleasing (albeit frequently misogynistic) shocks and suspense and a journey narrative that taps into our innermost desire for the horror image; not for the Dario Argento uninitiated, however.
10. Quantum of Solace. Movies are novels and this film is the equivalent of a short story-- but a helluva short story; solid performances all around to boot.
11. Rachel Getting Married. Despite the fact that it offers an experience that most moviegoers go to the movies to escape from, it's a well-mounted actors showcase, if it suffers a bit from familiar plot devices.
12. Religulous. Comicdoc that paints in broad strokes, but, after all, the canvas is vast.
13. Revolutionary Road. Distant to some extent, but many individual scenes are reminiscent of the work of the old cinema masters.
14. Shine A Light. Not a novel approach per se but it captures the energy of the Stones: great stuff.
15. Slumdog Millionaire. Visually stunning film is compelling, but fails to entirely convince in its central love story.
16. Tropic Thunder. Funny, funny, funny; not deep, but funny.
17. Twilight. TVish, but intriguing and defty cast.
18. Valkyrie. Eschews full-on character development to tell it's fascinating, exciting, and disturbing slice of history.

Skippable [39]
1. 10,000 B.C. Patently mainstream entertainment hits its cliched marks well and offers a few exciting set pieces.
2. Bank Job, The. Fast-paced and compelling plot is devoid of characterization.
3. Be Kind Rewind. Sweetly oddball, but unforgivably flighty.
4. Bolt. Very cute, with sharp voice work by the entire ensemble-- but can we finally retire the "lost animal has to get home" animation plotline that we've seem umpteen times?
5. Burn After Reading. People do the funniest things!
6. Cassandra's Dream. Good casting to nicely set-up genre piece, solves itself far too "mathematically" to be satisfying.
7. Choke. Mild filmization of the Palahniuk novel, may have been, despite its advertising, too tame to capture the spirit of the book.
8. Christmas Tale, A. Meandering tale is not without its cadeaux.
9. Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The. Lengthy, overambitious adventure is a crowd-pleasing popcorner, but much ado about nothing.
10. Class, The. Vivid storytelling that could have been great, but was desparately missing sweep.
11. Counterfeiters, The. Compelling plot lacks enough interesting dramatic beats and character depth to put it over the top.
12. Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The. Pleasant.
13. Doubt. Old-fashioned Oscar material, with above average story and ensemble.
14. Eagle Eye. First half is nothing; second half, following the "reveal" works OK as a (preposterous) no- brainer.
15. Get Smart. Everyone was game and it got better as it went along, but wasn't funny enough.
16. Hancock. Comedy and action are melded perfectly in opening, but last section of the movie isn't half as fun.
17. Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Missing that extra something that put the original over the top, this entry is nonetheless funny and has its inspired moments.
18. Horton Hears A Who! Good voice work but story is padded by about an hour.
19. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A nostalgic trip best seen as it was entered in at the Cannes Film Festival-- "out of competition."
20. Jumper. As if the screenplay was shaken and a few dozens pages fell out (including the ending), but they filmed it anyway; Bilson way cute though.
21. Kung Fu Panda. Visually sumptuous and enjoyable, but thematically trite.
22. Leatherheads. Benign, pleasant; the gals got MISS PETTIGREW the guys got LEATHERHEADS, but truth be told I think the gals got both.
23. Man on Wire. Compelling story and reasonably well done execution makes it easily worthwhile, but needed a shot-in-the-arm stylistically.
24. Pineapple Express. Live-action cartoon delivers what it advertises.
25. Reader, The. Glossy despite subject matter.
26. Role Models. Peaks at "average" on the laugh meter.
27. Smart People. I can honestly say I loved all the parts my mind didn't wander during.
28. Son of Rambow. Well-intentioned, but scattershot in all departments.
29. Speed Racer. Pumped-up, but going in a million directions; second half is best, but it seems this film will only truly connect with fans of the original show.
30. Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Unjustly maligned, if minor, Saturday morning-cartoonesque outing, suffers only from "franchise fatigue," but never lags, and fills in an interesting gap with many references to the other features.
31. Step Brothers. F-bomb ladden comedy does manage, admirably, to create enough laughs to sustain a feature length film from a one-joke premise.
32. Stop-Loss. Standard and amateurish, and takes far too long to make it's point.
33. Tell No One. Slow beginning and a final third that has you completely over it-- but a riveting middle section: so what does that leave?
34. Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Imperfect comedy-drama benefits from great cast-- in particular Penelope Cruz, who steals the show.
35. Visitor, The. Something to admire in central characterization of dull professor, but no real story.
36. W. Maddeningly odd character study can't decide what it wants to be; James Cromwell and Josh Brolin both deliver, however, as Bushes Sr. and Jr.
37. WALL-E. Paperthin plot is buoyed by imaginative visuals and sweet moments between lead characters.
38. Wanted. Takes every action film from the last decade and blends it up for a splashy and not-quite-completely formulaic ride.
39. You Don't Mess With the Zohan. Odd premise and some good laughs throughout will get you through this amuser, which is about a half hour too long.

avoid [2]
1. Ghost Town. Tired premise and jokes make for a dull and unfunny movie-- go figure.
2. I've Loved You So Long. Couldn't wait to see what "happened" next; pointless, with a copout ending.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

National Film Registry 2008 Announced

Below is the full list of twenty-five films selected. Just one of my picks made it (The Terminator)-- my push for Blue Velvet did not work (next year!). No new Hitchcock film on the list, even when such classics as STRANGERS ON A TRAIN has yet to be chosen. Also, I do think they should have had at least one film from the 1990s. All in all though, a good group.

Films Selected for the 2008 National Film Registry (click here for press release):

- The Asphalt Jugle (1950)

- Deliverance (1972)

- Disneyland Dream (1956)

- A Face in the Crowd (1957)

- Flower Drum Song (1961)

- Foolish Wives (1922)

- Free Radicals (1979)

- Hallelujah! (1929)

- In Cold Blood (1967)

- The Invisible Man (1933)

- Johnny Guitar (1954)

- The Killers (1946)

- The Match (1964)

- No Lies (1973)

- On the Bowery (1957)

- One Week (1920)

- The Pawnbroker (1965)

- The Perils of Pauline (1914)

- Sergeant York (1941)

- The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

- So You're Old Man (1926)

- George Stevens' WW2 Footage (1943-46)

- The Terminator (1984)

- Water and Power (1989)

- White Fawn's Devotion (1910)

Monday, December 29, 2008

December Movie Watching

December is always the busiest month for film watching. I saw 12 films theatrically this month.

I saw I've Loved You So Long for the Oscar buzz on Kristin Scott Thomas-- it wasn't worth it! Dull as dirt. Then from one of the worst to one of the best...

Frost/Nixon was one of the best films of the year. Stellar in every aspect, and to my mind the most recommended "Oscar" film this season. It's easily one of Ron Howard's top films (maybe his best alongside Apollo 13). Howard will probably never make a "masterpiece" per se, but he can surely make some solid "Hollywood" films.

The Reader wasn't bad, but not great-- pretty much what the reviews are saying. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel that Kate Winslet will win the Oscar for Best Actress-- and it'll probably be for The Reader (unless this is considered "supporting"), which makes it kind of a must-see.

Three films benifitting from terrific old-timer male lead comebacks: The Wrestler, JCVD, and Gran Torino. I hope that Clint does stick to this as his last performance. Plus, I certainly wouldn't want him to win, but I would not be upset to see Clint placed in the Lead Actor category for an Oscar nomination (although I don't think I'd have room for him on my own personal ballot-- much too competitive year for Lead Actor, this year).

At a second-run theater, I caught up with My Winnipeg-- and I'm glad I did. So odd, but such a worthwhile experience. (And I was glad to have seen it mid-month just before Ann Savage's passing [on Christmas Day].)

Three entertaining films: Bolt, Benjamin Button, Valkyrie-- they certainly run the gamut.

Three so-close-to-classics: The Class, Doubt, and Revolutionary Road. The Class just couldn't get itself out of the ordinary and there was SO much good stuff in it-- in other words, why would I want to see the film again?-- a shame. Revoltionary Road had a lot of terrific scenes interpersed with the same old (plus the era finds itself in the long shadow of Mad Men these days). Doubt was the whole Oscar package, but not for the ages.

On TCM on saw Dreyer's Vampyr (laying on my DVR since October)-- interesting, not great. I also saw a couple of the Charles Laughton films from last month-- Rembrandt (mostly a showcase for Laughton) and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (well done, mostly an actor's piece).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Year: My Picks

So, just for fun, here are my ten favorite songs of the year, off of and limited to Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of the Year. Now, the Rolling Stone list certainly has its flaws. As always, there is the "share the wealth" mentality in which no single album has more than one track listed (except, this year, Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, managed two). The other thing is Rolling Stone's own top fifty albums aren't entirely represented by at least one song (a lot of them)— could an album that was one of the fifty best contain not even the 100th best song of the year? But hey, lists are never perfect and their top 100 is a pretty decent sampling.

My favorites (and their Rolling Stone rankings):

1.) "Viva La Vida"— Coldplay (#9)

2.) "Nine in the Afternoon"— Panic! At the Disco (#44)

3.) "Dying Is Fine"— Ra Ra Riot (#74)

4.) "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" — Vampire Weekend (#21)

5.) "No Sex for Ben"— The Rapture (#26)

6.) "Time to Pretend"— MGMT (#3)

7.) "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here"— She & Him (#64)

8.) "American Boy"— Estelle featuring Kayne West (#7)

9.) "Time the Conqueror"— Jackson Browne (#50)

10.) "Lay It Down"— Al Green (#15)

Also like: "I Kissed a Girl"— Katy Perry (#20) [I admit it!], and "Shells"— M.I.A. (#67)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Top Ten 1990s Films on My Movie Radar

The 1990s brought back the western, launched Pixar, and gave us the biggest moneymaker of the century-- Titanic. Here's a list of ten modern classic 1990s films that have managed to elude me so far, but they're on my radar:

Truly, Madly, Deeply - 1991

The Man in the Moon - 1991

Sleepless in Seattle - 1993

Exotica - 1994

Clueless - 1995

Citizen Ruth - 1996

Central Station - 1998

The Dreamlife of Angels - 1998

Pi - 1998

Free Money - 1999

Friday, December 26, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Presents Under the Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas!

Christmas has transitioned to the big MOVIE DAY for me, but that doesn't mean I don't like opening those Christmas presents. And lo and behold this year, I scored two DVD collections forever on my Amazon wishlist— the two Lubitsch box sets: the Eclispse set and the Kino set. Seen several of the films (eager to see again) and a few to discover for the first time.

Best Christmas wishes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Indiewire Poll 2008

The great Indiewire Poll of critics is posted on their website. They did go VERY odd with their #1 film, that's for sure!!! Definite proof that '08 was not a very good year for movies!

Link to the Indiewire Poll.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Vote for National Film Registry-- to be Announced 1/30

The National Film Registry Picks for 2008 will be announced on January 30th at 8:00 AM EST. There is still time to vote for what you'd like to see added.

Link to website.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Criterion To Release Truffaut's "The Last Metro" and Kurosawa's "Dodes'Ka-Den"

Criterion is releasing another Truffaut and Kurosawa, and I'm very happy about both as I've never seen them-- nice to know I'll be getting the best quality when I do view both. They also have yet another Rossellini lined up-- they're really hot on him these days.

Link to Criterion's upcoming releases.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Detroit and Utah Film Critics Announce Winners

Detroit Picks "Slumdog Millionaire" Best Film, and Utah Picks "The Dark Knight" Best Film, links below:

Detroit Film Critics Society.

Utah Film Critics Association.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dallas Fort-Worth Pick "Slumdog"; Austin Picks "Dark Knight"; and Toronto Picks "Wendy and Lucy"

The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association joins the many critics groups who have chosen "Slumdog Millionaire" as Best Film. Austin went popular with "The Dark Knight." Houston picks upcoming "Benjamin Button." Toronto goes oddball in its pick of "Wendy and Lucy" as Best Film (although the film was on the AFI Top Ten and has gotten its share of acclaim).

Link to Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Assn.

Austin Film Critics Association.

Houston Film Critics Society.

Link to Toronto Picks.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

TCM Obituary Reel 2008

Perhaps a bit over-the-top arty-farty wise (even for TCM), nonetheless sad to see many of these legends go....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jerry Lewis Honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

It was announced that Jerry Lewis will be receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar in January at the 81st Academy Awards. With the main reason for the award his yearly telethon, you wonder what took AMPAS so long to bestow the honor. Perhaps Lewis had to outlive his enemies!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Golden Globe Nominations Announced

There was the usual spreading of the wealth with the Golden Globe nominations. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, and Frost/Nixon are tied with the highest nominations count: five each.

Link to the HFPA website.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New York Film Critics Pick "Milk" as Best Film/ Detroit Film Critics Announce Nominees

Milk and Happy-Go-Lucky get big awards from the New York Film Critics.

Link to their site.


Best film
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler

Best director
Darren Aronofsky for The Wrestler
Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight
Andrew Stanton for WALL-E

Best actor
Josh Brolin for W.
Leonardo DiCaprio for Revolutionary Road
Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn for Milk
Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler

Best actress
Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky
Melissa Leo for Frozen River
Meryl Streep for Doubt
Kate Winslet for Revolutionary Road

Best supporting actor
Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder
James Franco for Milk
Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight
Eddie Marsan for Happy-Go-Lucky
Michael Sheen for Frost/Nixon

Best supporting actress
Amy Adams for Doubt
Elizabeth Banks for W.
Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Rosemarie DeWitt for Rachel Getting Married
Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler

Best ensemble
Burn After Reading
Rachel Getting Married
Revolutionary Road
Tropic Thunder

Best newcomer
Rosemarie DeWitt, actress, Rachel Getting Married
Rebecca Hall, actress, Frost/Nixon and Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Danny McBride, actor, Pineapple Express
Martin McDonough, writer/director, In Bruges
Dev Patel, actor, Slumdog Millionaire
Catinca Untaru, actress, The Fall

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Los Angeles Film Critics Choose "Wall-E"; "Milk" and "Benjamin Button" Lead Broadcast Film Critics Nominees

The Los Angeles Film Critics announce their winners today and the Broadcast Film Critics announce their nominees at the following sites respectively:

Monday, December 8, 2008

St. Louis Film Critics Announce Nominees

2008 St. Louis Film Critics Awards Nominees:

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road)
Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)
Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon)
Sean Penn (Milk)
Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button)
Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married)
Angelina Jolie (Changeling)
Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road)

Josh Brolin (Milk)
Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder)
Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
John Malkovich (Burn After Reading)
Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
Jeffrey Wright (Cadillac Records)

Amy Adams (Doubt)
Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Viola Davis (Doubt)
Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button)
Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading)

Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
David Fincher (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button)
Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon)
Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight)
Gus Van Sant (Milk)

The Class (Entre Les Murs) - France
I've Loved You So Long (Il Y A Longtemps Que Je T'Aime) - France/Germany
Let The Right One In (Lat Den Ratte Komma In) - Swedish
Slumdog Millionaire - U.K./U.S.A/India
Tell No One (Ne Le Dis A Personne) - France

Body Of War
Man On Wire
Pray The Devil Back To Hell
Shine A Light
Standard Operating Procedure

Burn After Reading
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Role Models
Tropic Thunder
Zack and Miri Make A Porno

Chicago 10
Kung Fu Panda
Madagascar II
Waltz With Bashir

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire
Speed Racer
Synecdoche, N.Y.
Waltz With Bashir

Roger Deakins (Revolutionary Road)
Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Claudio Miranda (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button)
Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight)
Harris Savides (Milk)
Mandy Walker (Australia)

Simon Beaufoy and Vikas Swarup (Slumdog Millionaire)
Dustin Lance Black (Milk)
Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon)
Eric Roth and Robin Swicord (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button)
Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson (Gran Torino)

Cadillac Records
The Dark Knight
Gran Torino
The Visitor

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Speed Racer

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Washington DC Film Critics Pick "Slumdog Millionaire"

The DC critics picked Slumdog for Film, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Breakthrough Performance. (By the way: The DC Critics noted on their website that they would be announcing tomorrow at 9 AM, pulling a bit of a fast one with the early announcement-- oh well.) Below, a list of the main winners:

Best Film: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler
Best Actress: Meryl Streep for Doubt
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt for Rachel Getting Married
Best Original Screenplay: Rachel Getting Married
Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

See the full list of winners at:

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Contenders

With the early returns of the Satelite Noms, National Board, reviews & buzz, here's a list of films to look out for with next week's critics picks and Golden Globes. Not a comprehensive list (and excluding docs and animated films) but a guideline:

Burn After Reading
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Frozen River
Gran Torino
Rachel Getting Married
Revolutionary Road
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
Tropic Thunder
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Visitor
The Wrestler

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The National Board of Review Picks "Slumdog Millionaire" as Best Film

Traditionally kicking off Awards Season, the National Board of Review announces their picks today, below. Oddly, as with last year, their top ten does not include their #1 film. Does this make it a top eleven? That isn't a good precident for an historical analysis of their top tens going forward.

Film: Slumdog Millionaire
Director: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Actor: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Actress: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk
Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Foreign Language Film: Mongol

Documentary: Man On Wire
Animated Feature: Wall-E
Ensemble Cast: Doubt
Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Viola Davis, Doubt
Directorial Debut: Courtney Hunt, Frozen River
Original Screenplay: Nick Schenk, Gran Torino
Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire and Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Spotlight Award: Melissa Leo, Frozen River and Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
The BVLGARI Award for NBR Freedom of Expression: Trumbo

Burn After Reading
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Gran Torino
The Wrestler

Link to full list of winners.