The year in movies got off to a pretty tepid start, but I’d say it’s heated up considerably in the past couple months. Whoda thunk that the same year that brought us Superhero Movie, Uwe Boll’s Postal and What Happens in Vegas… would end up being one of the best summer movie seasons I can remember?
OK, let’s cut the mustard. Since I’ve been in Tucson, I’ve had a lot of extra time, ahem, extra social time on my hands. So I’ve seen most of the big movies this year, but I haven’t seen everything. So, considering that I haven’t seen every movie that came out this year (and I don’t think I’ve seen any arthouse movies this year), the following are what I personally consider my top 8 of the year so far:
08. Step Brothers
Directed by: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott
I saw Step Brothers in a sneak preview a week before it came out, and me and my buddy Crain Train agreed that it was the most we’d ever laughed in a Will Ferrell movie. So naturally I was shocked and appalled to see critics take a modest dump on the movie, (it’s currently floating at 50% on Rottentomatoes) especially since it was a return to form for Ferrell (and director/collaborator Adam McKay, an essential part of the formula) after Semi-Pro and Blades of Glory. And relative newcomer Adam Scott, playing Ferrell’s cocky younger brother, surprisngly threatens to upstage Ferrell and John C. Reilly in a lot of scenes.
Will Ferrell’s great comedic accomplishment is that for all his jock posturing, he’s really playing the dork, the guy who got beat up by his younger brother and never got a real job; that’s what separates him from the Adam Sandlers and American Pies of the world, with which people seem to be lumping this movie. F**k ‘em. I think most of the U.S. has, as Step Brothers has pulled in some respectable scrill’ in the past couple weeks.
07. Iron Man
Directed by: John Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard
And now from my anti-critic rant to a film with about which I generally agreed with the critics. Well, at least the script about Iron Man being two-thirds of an awesome movie hampered by a pat, explosions-and-smash-the-badguy ending. Yes, it would’ve been way better if Iron Man’s final showdown would have had something to do with the terrorists that Stark Enterprises had illegally supplied arms. Yes, I agree with Film Junk’s Jay Cheel that it’s frustrating and boring to see a superhero movie devolve into a superhero fighting a bad guy who the same powers (See The Incredible Hulk, Spider Man 3, Hancock, etc.). But the first two-thirds was glorious, and it proved a paradigm for superhero movies that doesn’t need to be dark to tell a fun, compelling, relevant story.
06. In Bruges
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jordan Prentice
I was on the fence about Colin Farrell until I rented this movie, but his movie has made me eager to see what he does next. He plays a sensitive and deeply troubled hit man who has been sent to Bruges, Belgium to cool out along with elder assassin Brendan Gleeson after a hit goes bad, and, being used to the fast, cosmopolitan life of a London mobster, naturally resents the assignment. I won’t go into much else other than to say the film was somewhat inappropriately marketed purely as a comedy, but is a far more grim and hellish story than I imagined from the previews. That last scene is definitely going to stick with me for a while.
05. Be Kind Rewind
Directed by: Michel Gondry
Starring: Mos Def, Jack Black, Melonie Diaz, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow
I haven’t seen Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, but I can say that, excepting that, this is by far my favorite Michel Gondry film. It got somewhat tepid reviews, but I can say objectively that anyone who slagged it for not having enough “sweding” (the film’s term for creating homemade versions of Hollywood movies) — here’s why: 01) There was plenty of sweding in the movie and 02) The movie wasn’t about sweding. Well, it wasn’t just about sweding. No, the real refreshing part of this movie was that it was a comedy about a community coming together to achieve something transcendent, not just a single guy learning how to commit to the love of his life, or a girl learning how to take off her glasses and let her hair down so she can be hot, or two guys spending a weekend trying to convince everyone that their dead boss is still alive so they can keep their jobs.
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Sigourney Weaver, Fred Willard
Everyone knows him, everyone loves him, yada yada yada, he’s Wall-E. There’s not much I want to say about Wall-E that hasn’t been said other than I was truly awestruck by the movie. But I will respond to Slate’s Daniel Engbar, who recently wrote that the film’s message about obesity and environmental collapse was elitist. Basically, he posits that obesity isn’t a laziness issue, it’s a class issue, and it’s irresponsible to conflate fat people with environmental decay.
I disagree, mostly because the film is a science-fiction fable about what happens when people neglect to nurture the world around them, not a literal prediction of a world to come. As a fable, the film is making perfect sense when its humans, who aren’t fat when they hop onto the luxury space cruiser (if you haven’t seen the film, just roll with it), become obese and lazy after they commit the ultimate act of neglect (complete abandonment of the Earth) when they set off on their “5-year cruise.” Obesity works perfectly as a metaphor, and anyone who’s worried about hidden class issues is taking the movie’s politics too seriously.
03. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Doug Jones, Selma Blair, Luke Goss, Seth McFarlane
I loved the visuals of the first Hellboy, but I was a little underwhelmed by the story. Hellboy 2 improves markedly on both counts — not only is the story twistedly hilarious (and otherwise lame Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane is brilliant as the voice of German scientist/gas monster Johan Strauss), but the world of Hellboy (created with a perfect blend that emphasizes real effects bolstered by CGI, not the other way around) is one of the most visceral film universes ever. The Golden Army has been unfairly forgotten under the shadow of The Dark Knight, but trust me you don’t want to miss the chance to see it on the big screen.
02. The Dark Knight
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
It really is as good as they say. The only problems I can find with it are really nitpicks (Christian Bale’s Batman voice, the length, etc.), and I won’t go over what everyone else has said about it. However, I will mention the laughable praise for the movie’s supposed pro-War-on-Terror politics by conservative pundits. Commentator Andrew Klavan had this to say about the film in The Wall Street Journal:
“There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.”
On first impression, I would say that anyone who really believes that the above is close to anything that Christopher Nolan had in mind with The Dark Knight has got to be smoking something they got from Seth Rogen. But I’ve seen it repeated by several other commentators (most recently Glen Beck, who admittedly has all of the accute critical acumen of a wet fart, oozed over the film on his CNN talk show), so I guess it’s a position that has some sort of pull, albeit amongst a collection of thinkers (conservatives) who don’t always possess the most nuanced view of the creative arts. Sure, in the middle of the film Batman is shown standing in front of a bombed building that looks eerily similar to Ground Zero, but he is also reprimanded by Morgan Freeman’s character for tapping into Gotham citizens’ cell phones. To even the most pedestrian observer the message doesn’t appear to be cut and dry.
What the film is really saying is that the unilateral use of force, Batman’s vigilantism, has created a space for a perverted criminal force like Heath Ledger’s Joker to reign. It has created a space where Batman and others in positions of authority to face situations that have no possible good outcomes and to engage in methods that he finds despicable. I don’t think the movie comes to any specific conclusion, but certainly the film’s final image (SPOILER ALERT) of Batman as a pariah, hunted by the police, isn’t clear-cut praise of the “fortitude and moral courage” of unchecked vigilantism.
01. Pineapple Express
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, Rosie Perez, Kevin Corrigan
The only reason I chose this over The Dark Knight is because I saw The Dark Knight twice, and it’s great but it’s pretty brutal — it’s not an easy watch and I don’t think I’ll be watching it again for a while. Pineapple Express (which I saw in a sneak preview a couple weeks ago) was awesome, and unlike The Dark Knight, it’s a movie I can imagine I will watch this several more times before it leaves theaters (I’m already planning on seeing it again on Sunday). All of the cast was amazing, and that includes Rosie Perez. I won’t ruin any of the jokes by mentioning anything that happens, as most people haven’t had a chance to see this yet; I’ll just say that, quite frankly, I really don’t think there will be a better comedy coming out this year, and keep in mind that Tropic Thunder and Hamlet 2 both have yet to be released.
So that’s it folks. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong, or give me your best of lists in the comments sections. I’ve included a few more lists for your reading pleasure …
Top 5 already released movies I haven’t seen that I want to see:
03. Bigger, Stronger, Faster*
02. Standard Operating Procedure
01. Encounters at the End of the World
Top 5 most anticipated movies of the rest of 2008:
05. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
04. Tropic Thunder
03. Hamlet 2
01. Burn After Reading
Top 5 least anticipated movies of the rest of 2008:
04. Disaster Movie
03. Beverly Hills Chihuahua
02. Beverly Hills Chihuahua
01. Beverly Hills Chihuahua