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Every once in a moment, five of us get together and choose a topic, then write five things about it. This time we decided to pick five or our favorite movies of 2008 that we think you should give a try. Actually, scratch all this: just go see the Dark Knight and Wall-E!!




I have to admit, I just loved this movie. From a technical standpoint, the animation of WALL-E was stupendous, all the tiny imperfections that Pixar apparently spent most of their time making: dents in WALL-E’s robotic hull, sun flare catching the light, really brought a great amount of detail and believability to the film. Artsy folks can even enjoy the fact that there is not a single spoken line of dialogue for a good 15-20 minutes.

This is to say nothing about how gosh darn cute the robots are. That first time you hear WALL-E say his name is just too much for even the most hardened soul to keep a straight face. I will remember the floor-cleaning robot for as long as I live. The movie is just an enjoyable one all the way through, and is pretty universally enjoyable, which really is one of the hallmarks of a classic flick.


Gran Torino

Ok, so the film was only released in limited capacity this year, but that makes it count as a 2008 film anyway, right?

Clint Eastwood has been enjoying a revitalized career ever since the amazing Mystic River came out in 2003. Not only does Eastwood direct the film, but he also is the star in what is apparently to be his final acting role. It seems only too appropriate that he would play a retired Korean War veteran in the twilight of his own life who progressively learns to accept the very people he had been engaged in combat with so many years ago.

What really sold this film for me was simply seeing Eastwood acting again. His presence is more quintessentially Clint Eastwood than, say, Million Dollar Baby, and the man can strike an imposing figure even at 78 years of age. If this flick is truly to be his swan song, it is a perfect note to go out on.

Wendy and Lucy

There weren’t very many big independent flicks that came out this year, but one that does manage to stand out is Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy And Lucy, a surprisingly apt film about a financially down-on-her-luck woman, Wendy (played by one Michelle Williams), and her dog Lucy, trying to make it to Alaska to start a new life.

I am a sucker for dogs as best friends in movies, and I thought the relationship between the two was perfect for the purposes of the movie. When Lucy is taken to a pound, you can’t help but worry about her fate. Also adding to the film’s moxie is an excellent performance by Williams which really brings everything home.

Pineapple Express

I often feel like Seth Rogen can do no wrong. I’ve enjoyed every single one of his movies since the 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Pineapple Express has proved to be no exception. It blends a perfect mix of buddy comedy, stoner flick and action movie, all wrapped into Rogen’s instantly-recognizable writing style.

Clearly pot plays a large part in the movie, but it manages to avoid going the way of Dude, Where’s My Car? by glorifying the stuff as something beyond a weed that makes you stupid and hungry. Sure, they get stupid and hungry, and it’s hilarious, but often you’ll forget that they’ve been smoking at all, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t inspiring to see a bunch of potheads go on an extreme rescue mission after a bit of a cultured toke.

Burn After Reading

I do love the Coen brothers ever so much. Their best trait is that they’re able to maneuver through styles and find success in every genre they try their hand at. So it came as little of a surprise that, after the bleak drama that was No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers’ next flick was the polar opposite, a wacky comedy that stands in direct contrast to the movie that won them an Oscar.

To see the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and John Malkovich acting so cartoon-y is a sight to behold, and it’s great to see that they’re such good sports about it all. We haven’t seen Brad Pitt take such a socking to the face since Fight Club, but he’s come a long way from the pitch black musings of Tyler Durden. What makes the film stick out in my mind more than anything else is the constant reminder that there are, in fact, those in Hollywood who are still generally pretty cool people, and when they get together to make a film it’s hard to not enjoy it simply from seeing how much fun they clearly had making it.



Man on Wire

The documentary of Philippe Petit, the tightrope walker who for 45 minutes hung out between the two twin towers in 1974. The story is told like a heist movie, and explores not only the artist himself, but what self-expression really means, especially when it comes to self-expression in America.

The testament to the documentary as a film is that the ‘dramatic reenactment’ sequences look like home movies taken during the time. It is entirely possible to not realize it. Petit himself is at once arrogant and humble, and steals every scene he’s in. The site of Petit lying down on the tightrope in between the towers is breath taking. You walk away from the ending with a healthy appreciation for Petit’s joie de vivre, such as it is. A must see, even for those who hate documentaries.

In Bruges

It’s a fish-out-of water tale, a buddy comedy that’s sprinkled with humor, violence and surrealism. In other words, it’s a delightful mess. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are two Irish hitmen forced to hide out in a medieval historic town called Bruges in Belgium. Along the way they meet dope dealers, a dwarf actor with a penchant for racist remarks, and a strange film-within-a-film, as they meet their inevitable demise at the hands of their boss, played by Ralph Fiennes.

The dialogue is sharp, Colin Farrell is a super funny foil to Glesson’s older, tender side, and the city itself is used as a strangely brooding backdrop to this short, yet multi-layered film. Highly recommended if you like weird things.


Pineapple Express

The first time I saw this movie I was stone cold sober. Still, Seth Rogan and James Franco fondly recall the Cheech and Chong films from days of yore in this ridiculous but entertaining action/comedy. Yes, the plot is rolling-paper thin, and it goes on a bit too long. And some complained the action devolves into one long sequence of cartoonish violence. Oh, like a Tarantino movie doesn’t?   In the end it doesn’t matter. It’s a stoner film and a highly enjoyable one at that. One or two laugh out loud moments, too.

More importantly, Rogan and Franco have tons of chemistry to keep even the weaker moments going. Like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, they take nothing and make a whole lot of something out of it.  Let’s hope they’ll choose something with substance together soon.


Quantum of Solace

It’s a series of firsts for this Bond movie. The first direct sequel to a Bond movie (in this case, the previous film, Casino Royale). The first not to have been based on a book or short story by original author Ian Fleming. But Daniel Craig, who plays Bond like a cold blooded killer, is even better the second time around, even though there is little room for character development in this tightly wound thriller.

Hopefully that will come in the next installment. But for now you have to give a hand to the people who have reinvented a 46 year old character for the modern age, and still keep him believable, even when the plot can be summed up in one sentence. The women are hot as always but more than just set pieces. This movie is all about revenge, which is something new to explore for what used to be such a suave character. Plus dame Judi Dench is in it once again. What’s not to love?



The Dark Knight

Yes it’ll be on everyone’s list. But it’s also true I’m only putting this film on here for the first half. I think the inclusion of Two-Face as a late plot development was overwrought and unnecessary, as was the ending’s heavy-handed pedantic tone.

Having said that, Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors out there. Christian Bale is impressive as Batman and the all-star cast is just that, including of course, the late Heath Ledger. The film ends up a sharp commentary on how decadent and uncaring modern urban living has become, how violence and madness pervade our culture (even though very little gore is shown but rather implied to greater effect) and offers only a slight redemption toward the end. But it’s still redemption. And of course, a chance for another sequel.


The Dark Knight

It doesn’t take much for me to buy into the plot of an action movie. However, the superb- albeit elongated – drama, the Dark Knight is a film of flawed characters at its zenith. I am no different than most comic feigns who came out in droves to watch another saga in this popular franchise as well as support and pay tribute to the late Heath Ledger. I expected to see mindless antics, picturesque shots of Gotham streets and a woman in despair. What I didn’t expect was Ledger’s translation of the Joker that made me forget that he was anything but who he appeared onscreen.  Ledger’s adopted physical quirks; an uneven gait, a clownish yet psychotic painted face and a repetitive mouth licking oddness sealed the fear of the Dark Knight in me. Hopefully, the Dark Knight will rest in peace and in every film collection.


Four Christmases

I am a sucker for a romantic comedy. So, I’m left choosing between 27 dresses and the recent Four Christmases for the best in this genre. I choose the latter. Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play Brad and Kate, a contemporary, contented middle class couple living in New York who would rather self indulge in their own lives during the holidays then have an encounter with family. When their vacation plans are stalled by bad weather conditions, they are forced to face unknown family and truths about one another with enough humor to give your abs a workout.  A string of unfortunate situations and subsequent realizations implies that the two are unsuitable life partners with futures in different directions. Cue the “awwww’s.” Thankfully, this romance can laugh at itself and doesn’t doom its characters to such a dramatic fate. This is a keeper couple flick.

The Visitor


The city that never sleeps always gives the impression that any artist is welcome. That idea is challenged in the Visitor where drummer Tarik, (Haaz Sleiman) and his girlfriend Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) find themselves living as illegal squatters  in a widowed professor’s apartment, Vale (Richard Jenkins.) An unearthed Jenkins is reluctant to let them stay in his apartment but concedes after realizing there’s no place for them to go. As Vale struggles with moving on in his life, he bonds with Tarik and his drums. Once Tarik is picked up by police and faces deportation, the content of the movie takes a solemn turn. This unfortunate event lights a fire under Vale where he’s confronted with tackling the loss of another person he cherishes.  Vale learns an object lesson about America and his own freedoms. I walked away feeling renewed in the human spirit and for that it deserves my viewing nod.

Hwang Jin Yi

This summer I saw one of the most moving dramatic love stories ever, Hwang Jin Yi. This Korean film about two childhood friends – one privileged and the other not – takes viewers on a journey of love, passion and survival. Although you’ll be reminded of the unsurpassable odds of other tragic love stories, Hwang Jin Yi’s aristocratic world based on 16th century Korea is based upon a story hundreds of years old.  Hwang Jin Yi (Hye-gyo Song) plays the female protagonist who lives in the Chosu society and becomes a powerful giaseng (female entertainer, comparable to a geisha). With visceral emotion, Nomi (Ji-tae Yu) becomes her lover and ill-fated protector. The cinematic artistry and dramatic prowess of Song and Yu will arrest your eyes and heart.  As Song tries to hold on to her chastity, power and social innocence, Yu’s  justified rebel ways seals their fate; his is a short lived life and for her, subsequent loss of innocence and self.  As these characters experience their demise, deep despair punctures their hope and ours for a happy ending. Yet, it remains infinitely touching.

Miracle at St. Anna’s

Do you believe in miracles? Perhaps, the historical drama of Miracle at St. Anna’s will move you to contemplate it positively. When a seemingly peaceful bank teller murders a customer it leads police detectives to a confession motivated by events occurring in 1944 during WWII . Four black soldiers (Michael Ealy, Derek Luke, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller) of the all-black 92nd infantry division end up across enemy lines where Sam (Miller) finds a sculpted head and a young traumatized Italian boy, Angelo (Matteo Sciabordi). With Angelo attached to Sam’s hip, Sam and his fellow solders find temporary respite in an Italian villa. While stationed there, Miracle at St. Anna feels as authentic as any retelling of a war story. It hosts characters -speaking in their native languages – traversing the battlegrounds of their mind as events real and inspired by the massacre of Sant’Anna di Stazzema unfold. As these nearly deserted infantry men battle to bring safety to Angelo, the people of the village and themselves, another battle ends up in one life being saved by a confessed miracle. Yes, I believe.



The Edge of Heaven   

I saw this over six months ago, and can still recall almost every scene. That’s filmmaking! This melancholy tale of parent-child relationships, messy romance and unexpected death from German-Turkish director Fatih Akin is engaging on many levels – emotionally, intellectually, and visually. As the characters immigrate back and forth across Europe on various personal missions, their paths intersecting in clever ways, we know what’s going to happen – because Akin has told us – but we don’t want it to, and we can’t wait to see how it will unfold. It’s sort of a Crash for the film festival crowd, though a zillion times better. Bonus: The casting of ‘70s German cinema star Hannah Schygulla as a poker-faced bourgeois mom.


The Visitor        

When most critics write of the Visitor, they say “such a great performance by Richard Jenkins!” – as if that’s all there is to praise. But his performance is in service of a compelling and affecting story, about a deeply depressed academic brought back to life through a chance encounter with a young foreign couple who need his help. To steal a line from a lesser movie, this movie makes me want to be a better person. It was written and directed by Tom McCarthy (the Station Agent), who has a parallel career as an actor (the Wire, Boston Public, etc.). This year, he appeared briefly in Baby Mama.

Let the Right One In   

This is a Swedish horror movie (or is it a black comedy?) about the seduction of a lonely 12-year-old boy by his intriguing new 12-year-old neighbor. It doesn’t take the hero long to figure out, given the mounting body count near their depressing apartment complex, that his girlfriend has been 12 for a really long time, and that she vomits up the candy he gives her because she’d much prefer human blood. Although Let the Right One In works as a well-crafted thriller, with tense action sequences and vivid special effects, what seems to be a story about vampires turns out to be about a lot of other things, too, like codependency and free will. I walked out thinking “Wow. Huh. Wow.”



Milk is like those sports movies where the oddball, yet likeable team keeps getting beat by the snotty rich guys until finally, under the leadership of an inspiring yet flawed leader, they pull together and win the championship. And then someone dies and we all cry, but the team vows to fight on in his name. In this true story set in the 1970s, the team is San Francisco’s gay population, their coach is small business owner Harvey Milk, and the victory he leads them to is political power and self-respect. It’s entertaining and moving – I think I cried throughout the final 20 minutes. As with the Visitor, Sean Penn’s acting is being praised above the film as a whole, but it is a biopic – isn’t the lead performance the most important element? I would call this a guilty pleasure, but I don’t think I’m required to, as it was directed by Gus Van Sant.



Starting out as an environmentally-conscious post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale, the film then turns into a charming love story about star-crossed robots (pun intended), then turns into a satire about contemporary consumer society. (From Disney, yet!) And all of it beautifully written, voiced and animated by some geniuses at Pixar. What raises it above Pixar’s previous work – which has for the most part been smart and funny – is the epic scale, boundless ambition, and an uncanny attention to detail. (For example, the actors who voice the movie’s numerous overweight characters are themselves overweight.) The big irony, of course, is that numerous WALL-E toys and DVDs are now for sale, and – as the movie predicts – will be clogging up our landfills in the future.



The Dark Knight

As good as Iron Man was – and make no mistake, it was good – the Dark Knight was better in every way. From the opening robbery sequence, you knew this was going to be a notch above all other superhero movies. An exceptional plot, tight dialogue, believable villains, and great acting across the board should earn this a place among the upper echelon of the capes and tights genre.

The action was well choreographed, the characters dense, and Heath Ledger’s Joker is definitively the best on screen comic villain to date. I have a special place in my heart for the first Superman film, and have held it up as the greatest superhero screen adaptation since its debut. Until now. The Dark Knight is the new standard.


I had low expectations for this because I knew very little about it going in, and those expectations were rewarded in abundance. Rampant consumerism has wrecked the planet and the entire human race has fled to space, leaving robots behind to clean up. It’s 700 years later and nothing has changed. The Earth is still a mess, yet one last robot is still going through the daily motions of picking up the trash: Wall-E. The humans routinely send drones to Earth in an attempt to find signs of ecological recovery (i.e. plant life), which would make it possible to return. Enter EVE. What follows is perhaps the sweetest love story to play out in animated film history.

Never would I have imagined enjoying an animated film as much as I did this one. Pixar is always in top form, and this is their crowning achievement. If I had one complaint, it’s that the story of why the planet is the way it is might be a bit too complicated for kids to digest. My six-year old asked a lot of questions that I couldn’t easily answer. She still enjoyed it, though, so mission accomplished, Pixar.


Burn After Reading

I just caught this the other day and am glad I did, because this list would be subpar without it. The Coen Brothers deliver yet another triumph. The cast from top to bottom is superb, with excellent performances all around. John Malkovich’s angry, mid-level government agent; Brad Pitt’s infectiously upbeat personal trainer; Frances McDormand’s neurotic dreamer; George Clooney’s lecherous lout; JK Simmons’s laissez-faire upper level spook. All perfect. Even the supporting cast added greatly to the overall story. The plot was multi-layered and got more outrageous by the minute. And to know the whole convoluted mess evolved from something so trivial made it all the better. Fantastic.

Tropic Thunder

For me, when Ben Stiller is writing, producing or directing, it’s a safe bet it’ll be funny. If he’s starring in it, too, even better. When he’s doing all four? Comedy gold. Tropic Thunder revolves around a group of actors dropped into a Southeast Asian jungle to get a better performance out of them for the war movie they’re filming. Doesn’t exactly sound like the type of environment where hilarity would ensue, but I assure you it does.

Stiller dug deep into his Rolodex to pull some awesome cameos in the faux trailers at the beginning, not to mention the scene-stealing Tom Cruise. A very funny film by a very funny group of people.


Be Kind Rewind

I, like many others, am hit or miss as it regards Jack Black. He makes steaming piles of poo like Nacho Libre, but then turns around and gives us Be Kind Rewind. The plot, while a bit ludicrous, is simple. Jerry’s (Black) friend Mike (Mos Def) works at a video store owned by Elroy (Danny Glover). Elroy leaves Mike in charge for a few days and Jerry inadvertently erases all the tapes (yes, VHS) when he becomes magnetized during a failed attempt to sabotage the local power plant. In order to keep a loyal customer (Mia Farrow) in the dark about the destruction of the tapes, Jerry and Mike set about recreating Ghostbusters themselves with a handheld camera and homemade costumes. As the word gets out about the homemade movie, customers start making requests for others, and the struggling video store is soon a huge hit.

I really only watched this because the plot of making homemade, or “sweded,” films seemed pretty funny. It was, but I didn’t expect it to be warm and touching, too. If you’re turned off by Jack Black, or think this another movie with a silly plot and little substance, do yourself a favor and don’t pass on it.

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