This is not a top-fourteen list. It is just fourteen movies that are well worth checking out. I have not seen all the best movies of 2008, because I tend to wait for DVD, and therefore I have yet to see No Country For Old Men, Sweeny Todd or There Will Be Blood. But I don’t know of a single film critic who doesn’t have a bunch of year-end lists, I have decided to do a couple myself, since I have been pretending to be a film critic for some time now. These are not in order, they are just fourteen movies well worth renting on DVD this year.
Ratatouille: A rat with an incredible palate and cooking ability becomes the top chef in Paris. The best animated movie in years, this one courtesy of Brad Bird, the genius behind such quality films as The Incredibles. The brilliance of Ratatouille comes from two things. First of all, the movie does not dumb itself down for the benefit for the children at whom it’s aimed. The dialogue, while not “adult” dialogue, and not filled with those clever double entendres that fly over the head of children while adults snicker in the audience. It assumes children are capable of understanding multi-syllabic words and actual realistic sentences. The second thing it does extremely well is the animation itself. The rat is cute, like all main characters in animated movies, but it is also very rat-like. You always get the sense that people would indeed be freaked out to see this animal in their kitchen, and therefore everything else falls into place in ringing true. Well, as true as a rat-chef can be.
The City Of Violence: A Korean action movie by Seung-Wan Ryoo. A cop, Tae-Su, assigned to the organized crime unit returns to his hometown for the funeral of a high school friend. There, he reunites with some old friends, but something feels wrong about his friend’s death. Tae-Su begins to investigate, which leads him through several bloody conflicts and, of course, to one final bloody battle. There is nothing new in City of Violence. Several themes are very central to Asian cinema, and one of them is the idea of childhood friends who went their separate ways but who are united by a certain bond. Another is one man against an entire gang fight scenes. The City of Violence is no exception, and it even tips it’s hat to an older movie, The Warrior, during one of these epic fight scenes. What sets this film apart is it’s acting and it’s atmosphere. In American cinema for the most part, the best actors do dramas and serious movies, and leave the action films to the flavour-of-the-month actor. In Asian cinema, the best actors are the ones who do action flicks, because for the most part those are the best movies. This is one of them.
Eastern Promises: Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg are the best actor-director tandem working today. Mortensen is fantastic as usual, as is Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller-Stahl. This is the best movie I saw on DVD this year. Russian mob. Tattoos. Violence and terrific acting. What more do you need?
Knocked Up: A fat, lazy guy who resembles me in many many ways gets an unreasonably hot Katherine Heigl pregnant. Hilarity ensues. The best kind of chick flick in that it will make chicks who watch it irritated, while it will make guys split their sides with laughter.
Superbad: The same guys who made Knocked Up made the funniest high-school-loser-teenage-sex movie of the last fifteen years. Maybe ever. Some of the funniest performances and best dialogue in a movie this year. McLovin rules!
Rescue Dawn: Vietnam prisoner-of-war camp drama starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn, directed by Werner Herzog. Bale is one of the best actors working today, Herzog has made some seriously classic films, but Steve Zahn? Bandidas, Saving Silverman Steve Zahn? His performance is the surprise of the year.
The Bourne Ultimatum: Best of the Bourne series, and that’s saying a lot. The most intense scene in a movie lately was the one where Matt Damon guides a reporter through a crowd via cell phone as the bad guys close in on him. Heart-racing, tremendously fun and exciting.
The Host: Coolest monster movie in a long time. Korean as well, this one is excellent, creepy, and yet still has time to wink at the audience and put in some terrible monster-movie bad moments, like the one where the monster appears for the first time at a beach and eats everyone. Hilarious. And awesome.
Away From Her: Sarah Polley has always been a great actress – yes, even in Road To Avonlea, which my mom watched religiously, but which made me angry as a child. Now she proves she is a very good director as well, with this film about Alzheimers. Julie Christie just won a Golden Globe for her role as the Alzheimers-stricken elderly lady, and deservedly so. Gordon Pinsent, for some reason, has not been mentioned in any critic’s circles for his protrayal of her suffering husband, but he certainly deserves very high praise for his performance as well.
Hot Fuzz: The funniest movie of the year. Only people (the Shaun of the Dead people) who absolutely love all movies, especially brainless action flicks, could have made a movie that seems so familiar, yet so new at the same time. The scene at the end when Nick Frost fires his gun into the air and yells “aaaarrrrghhh!” made me laugh harder than any other movie moment this past year.
3:10 To Yuma: A fantastic adaptation of an old, forgotten western is bang on. Not a perfect movie, by any means, but terrifically entertaining. Christian Bale and especially Russell Crowe are electrifying, both deserve award consideration for this one.
Sicko: Michael Moore’s look at the American health care system is funny, eye-opening, and devastatingly tragic. Say what you will about Michael Moore, this man knows how to make an audience laugh, knows how to tug at their heart strings, and the fact that he lobbies for change while doing so makes him all the more important as a filmmaker.
Grindhouse: This is actually two movies. Which adds up to fourteen overall. Death Proof is just more Quentin Tarantino being in love with making movies, and that is just blissful to watch. Kurt Russell is wonderful, and that stunt girl who rides the car is fantastic. The second movie, Planet Terror, is not as great, but is still an awfully fun ride through the world of zombie attacks and machine-gun legs. Bruce Willis makes an appearance. That makes it well worth while.