Friday, January 30, 2009

The Best Films Of 2008

The Dark Knight
Forget the Oscar, or any other damn awards. 'The Dark Knight' was the movie of the year. And, Heath Ledger, the villain of the piece, the hero of the year. The fact that he so prematurely died helped, not to mention a creepy performance. He makes Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 'Batman' look like an amateur, even as Christian Bale proves that he is a better Batman then Val Kilmar, George Clooney There are more Batman movies in the offing for sure, but Ledger will be sorely missed.

Gangsters were born in Italy before they become a staple of Hollywood entertainment. Now, the gangster saga returns to Italy, Naples to be precise, where through an assortment of characters and six different storyline (a classic case of hyperlink cinema, as critics call it), director Matteo Garrone leads us to the mire of crime and redemption set in here and now. The film won an important award at Cannes last year, and not without reason. Gritty and hard-hitting.

Man On Wire
It will take a take lot of courage for a filmmaker to remind the public about the World Trade Centre without even mentioning 9/11. But director James Marsh does this with aplomb in this poetic documentary about tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers. Based on Philippe Petit’s book, ‘To Reach the Clouds,’ the films tells how Petit went about this adventurous task though interviews, actual archival footage and the reenactment of the key events. A suspense thriller of a documentary. Nominated for best documentary Oscar along with ‘Encounters At The End Of The World,’ ‘The Betrayal,’ ‘The Garden,’ and ‘Trouble The Water.’ There are every chance that ‘Trouble The Water’ about the human face of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans will take home the Oscar. This no way diminishes the allure of this masterpiece. (While re-editing: Man on Wire took home the Oscar.)

Making an epic film is not everyone’s cup of tea. And, every Australian is not Peter Jackson. Nonetheless, director Buz Luhrmann’s fame precedes his talent. After 'Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet' starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes and Nicole Kidman starrer 'Moulin Rogue,' people expected something grand from Luhrmann. This is the bane with 'Australia.' It’s is good movie that never rises up to the expectations. And, despite the title, it’s not an Australian epic, neither is a touristy picture, perfect enough to force you plan your next holiday in Sydney. It’s a personal story of an English woman trying to retain the ranch owned by her dead husband. It’s also a story of an aboriginal child and about a mysterious man, Hugh Jackman, as the modern reinvention of the lone cowboy prototype. Problem is, the picture is too ambitious to fulfill its ambitions. Otherwise, it’s a good movie, with the likelihood that it will have a long life on DVD.

Be Kind Rewind
‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ made Michel Gondry a cult director. No, he is not a box office genius, neither is he a favourite with the award-givers. Yet, he has a strong fan base, and hooray, they are not disappointed with this Jack Black, Mos Def sterrer. Black is a comic genius who is still untapped. And, it’s his super comic timing that keep this flick, may be convoluted at times, pushing forward at a breakneck speed, with Def providing ample support. This is joyride into the movie world, a 'Cinema Paradiso' in Hollywood. A tribute to the power of cinema.

Burn After Reading
The Coen Brothers’ follow-up act after the super successful, super serious, Oscar winner ‘No Country for Old Men,’ at one level, is surprising. It’s cartoonish, silly, at times funny, at times almost pompous. Or, probably, it’s not all that surprising. If you are generous enough, you could call this film, 'No Country For Human Beings.' No, no, it’s not all that bad. Only that here the characters are not individuals, but types, and they are all played by A-list actors as types — Brad Pitt as a dumbwit gym instruction, Frances Macdermond as his colleague who wants botox so that she can find some good lay, George Clooney is a possible good lay as he’s also seeking a good lay, currently having a fling with a CIA agent’s wife Tilda Swinton. And it’s begins with the CIA man in question, played by John Malkovich. It’s not the best work by the Coens, but it’s a Coen film nonetheless.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Is there a rule that all imaginary magical creatures should look in a certain way, the good ones beautiful, handsome and the bad ones ugly? Not really, says Hellboy... He is probably the ugliest of all superheroes, mythical figures ever created, and perhaps he’s the mushiest, most misunderstood of them all. There’s something about Hellboy as played by Ron Pearlman in the Guilermo Del Torro films. You have to believe him as real, as real as the guy sitting next to you in the dark theatre, despite his heavy iron hand and his screaming red skin and the tail. Here, the modern world meets the world of myths under the Brooklyn bridge. It’s Harry Potter grown up in a different world, only far more realistic, as the story turns increasingly bizarre. One of the reasons why you may want to thank the guy who invented CGI technology.

In Bruges
Probably this is the first film to showcase a town as a character in itself since 'Roman Holiday,' perhaps a little exaggeration, but certainly on the mark. Here, Bruges, a mediaeval Belgian town, and the bell tower in the middle of market, is as much a part of the film as the film’s protagonist Collin Farrell’s guilt conscience of killing an innocent boy by mistake. He is a hitman with ‘a mistake’, which is unpardonable, and so, the mob boss, Ralf Fiennes, sends him to explore the beauty of Bruges before he is killed. But, his accompanying hitman fails to kill Farrell and he finds the love of his life, and so begins a wacky ride. It’s one of those movies that takes time getting used to, and one of those films you hope it never ends.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Indie returns after a long hiatus and returns to find many a things, a long-lost lover, a son he never knew existed, a lean mean villain in the shape of Cate Blanchet, the jungles of Amazon, and last but not the least, director Spielberg’s fetish for aliens. It’s a trademark Indie film, complete with a picture of Sean Connery on Indie’s desk, and his fear for snakes. If nothing else, the film works on this nostalgia quotient, and what the heck, Harrison Ford still looks hot which poor Shia LeBeuf can hardly match, despite his heroic Tarzan act and assorted staff.

Iron Man
There are superheroes, and there are superheros. From Superman onwards. So, how much chance did Iron Man had to win the hearts in an already tired genre. None. But Robert Downey Jr does a proverbial phoenix act this year, with his grand double comeback in Iron Man and 'Tropic Thunder,' after years of languishing in the sidelines, fighting drug abuse and court cases. And, Iron Man works solely for Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, who plays tough and vulnerable, playboy and the boy next door with equal charm. Bring on the sequels please.

Kung Fu Panda
We have had enough of Kung Fu movie, let along wanting to see a Panda doing this stuff. But when Jack Black speaking as Po The Panda, you have no options. Get ready to kick some ass.

Lust, Caution
The so-called ‘raw’ sex scenes between the protagonists/ antagonists, and the talk about it in the media actually killed this otherwise charming follow-up of Ang Lee’s Brokebeck Mountain. The film follows the same technique, a slow pace and relying more on atmosphere to move the story forward. It’s a rewarding view, plus or minus those ‘sex scenes’ which was actually aesthetically shot, if you can sit through the entire movie.

Ready for Timurlang the Great all over again, this time, among other things, as a great lover of his lost and found and lost and found wife and the arid landscape. Lavish and emotional. Follow-up expected.

Quantum of Solace
It’s not a great film, not even as good as Casino Royale, which had its own share of problem. But the film works, solely because there’s Daniel Craig. When he’s around, everything else becomes secondary, even the action set-pieces.

The Strangers
Ostensibly based on a true story, the film is a gorefest told with such style that you believe it’s quite possible, it may happen to you as well. That’s quite scary actually.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Love and longing in Barcelona. It’s a Woodly Allen comedy minus Woody Allen. It’s a Scarlet Johansson film, only that she’s relegated to just a show-piece as Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz walk away with all the thunder and in Cruz’s case, an Oscar nomination. It’s a hankered story twice-told, visually and orally, see the film you’ll know what I mean, and, actually, it’s not all that bad.

Love story of the year, or any year to come in the future, when a robot falls in love with another robot in future world devoid of human being. Heart-warming. Makes us believe in the future of humanity. There are hopes after all, and love triumphs whichever way may be.

The Edge of Heaven
Fatih Akin’s deliberation on human relationship in a world increasing divided by misunderstanding, probably fate. People meet and people die, and lives changes, in two countries, Germany and Turkey. But live goes on...

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