2008: A half-assed cinematic odyssey

I used to take time at the end of every year to load up on movies like an orphan at a Bonanza dessert buffet. What new movies were on video? I’d rent them. What was in the theaters? I’d blitz them and find out.

This year I simply couldn’t bother doing it: I have a stack of 30 films, and many hours of TV shows, that I’m working through instead. Oh, and prepping for a new job, I’ve been churning through political books. So off the bat, here are the films I wanted to see but missed.

Sex and the City
Kung Fu Panda
Twilight (for “essential pop culture knowledge,” if not pleasure)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Role Models
The Happening (for hilarity’s sake)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Slumdog Millionaire
In Bruges

Here’s what I did see, in order of how much I liked it, and whether or not I’d recommend it to you, dear reader.

36. An American Carol
Reviewed here. David Zucker’s misbegotten political satire was either five years too late or two years too early (I’m counting on a conservative Obama backlash to begin by then.)

35. Swing Vote
Reviewed here.

34. Punisher War Zone
A good, not great, b-movie, set in a New York City of terrible, terrible accents and musical-comedy-worthy gangs.

33. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
I love me some Mary Johansen contrarianism, and I urge you to read her review, but 1) I don’t generally care for action movies, 2) I was never part of the cult of Indy movies anyway, and 3) this sucked and was boring.

32. W.
Not a bad movie, and largely well-acted, but so much less interesting than reality, and so bland, as all of Stone’s work has been since U-Turn.

31. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Of course I like stoner comedy (check down the list), but this was slapdash.

30. Battle in Seattle
Hackneyed but well-intentioned indie film about the 1999 anti-WTO protests.

29. The Foot Fist Way
Painfully lazy–like Pineapple Express without editors or professional actors. Danny McBride was funnier in Hot Rod, even. (“I’ve been drinking green tea all goddamn day!”)

28. Hancock
I’m in the Chris Orr camp here. Just didn’t get it. Never got involved. Never felt stakes, or felt for the characters.

27. The Incredible Hulk
If I liked the character more, I might rate it higher: Ed Norton was fine, the supporting cast was fine, and Hulk battles sound at one point. Also, the Omar cameo is better than any second of Dominic West in Punisher.

26. Rambo
The most violent film I’ve ever seen in a theater, and the best one to feature a former Angel cast member.

25. Wanted
Jesus, this was the annus action movie mediocrus, wasn’t it? Take the action scenes from The Matrix (now a 10-year old movie!) and remove the point.

24. Diary of the Dead
The worst of Romero’s five zombie epics, which is a shame, as the contrivance (film students tape the zombiepocalypse!) was a good one and the story was a reboot. Still, crap acting and a horrible, dull ending.

23. Miracle at St. Anna
Flawed as hell and hard to follow, but when it clicks it’s a fine war movie. Also, the baby bayoneting scene makes Rambo look tame.

22. Speed Racer
I like experiments, and this was an interesting, sickening experiment. It should be impossible to adapt another cartoon without falling short of this example. SPOILER: Racer X is Speed’s brother! (Why didn’t the family name the youngest son something cool like “Rex” or “Speed”? Name a kid Spritle and he’s bound to be a fat sack of money-befriending shit.)

21. Pineapple Express
Again: Danny McBride, savior of films, on track to be this generation’s Charles Nelson Reilly. The rest of the film is slow-moving and weirdly atonal.

20. Be Kind, Rewind
The second-worst Michel Gondry film (he’ll never bowl below Human Nature).

19. Quantom of Solace

I’m going to cop out and tell you to listen to the Dana Stevens podcast on this one. She nails it: just as Moonraker was a blunder that copied the popular films of its error, QOS makes mistakes based on the popularity of the Bourne films.

18. The Visitor
A bit afterschool-specially, but undeniably affecting. Richard Jenkins’ best sad-ass performance of 2008.

17. Burn After Reading
Minor Coen Brothers with Richard Jenkins’ second-best sad-ass performance.

16. Redbelt
Unjustly ignored Mamet that starts brilliantly and turns into a lame Karate Kid tribute in Act III.

15. Frost/Nixon
Painful to think what great things another director (and a rewrite of Act III) might have done with this.

14. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Overlong, but endlessly rewatchable, with almost as many LOL moments as my favorite 2008 comedy.

13. Mongol
Fine melodrama, but not much more.

12. Man on Wire
Beautiful, and a wonderful Michael Nyman soundtrack, but when it slackens it feels like a History Channel filler show.

11. Cloverfield
I hate monster movies and I really, really liked this.

10. Gonzo
Somewhat preachy, but it’s hard not to make a great Hunter Thompson documentary.

9. Gran Torino
Extremely preachy, and very mockable, but I fell for it.

8. Tropic Thunder
The best comedy of the year, with the best fake trailers since Grindhouse.

7. The Wrestler
Great melodrama that could have come from the movies’ golden age.

6. The Dark Knight
I’m not even going to challenge the CW here. I only think the “guy who’s figured out Batman’s identity” subplot could have been cut.

5. Synecdoche, New York
Some people didn’t like the experiment. I, spending, half my time thinking like Caden Cotard, am still thinking about it.

4. Iron Man
A perfect superhero flick.

3. Encounters at the End of the World
Herzog documentary. C’mon–it could be about feline hypnotherapy and it’d make the list.

2. Wall-E
I’m part of the cult. I cried when the robots loved each other!

1. Milk
Perfect in every way. What’s this year’s Crash that will suck ass and steal its Oscar?

2 thoughts on “2008: A half-assed cinematic odyssey

  1. Although I can’t say for sure, I suspect I’m the biggest Hellboy fanboy that lives within three blocks of you. So, for what it’s worth: Golden Army kind of sucked. Bland villains and plot, neither of which come from any of the HB books. And the much-touted production design was cool, but not significantly cooler than, say, that of The Fifth Element. Del Toro may have listened to too much of his own press from around Pan’s Labyrinth. Here’s hoping that for the next one he sticks to adapting Mignola’s work instead of just taking his characters and dumping them into his own universe.

  2. 26. Rambo
    “The most violent film I’ve ever seen in a theater, and the best one to feature a former Angel cast member.”

    Did you not see Holtz in The Dark Knight? He was Gordon’s #2 and accidentally lets joker out of the holding cell.

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