Saturday, January 3, 2009

2008 Critics' Consensus

January 3, 2009

2008 Critics’ Consensus (Updated 1/10/09)

Well because I’m killing time and I’m procrastinating writing reviews, I decided to take all of the critics’ lists I’ve followed and figure out what films are overall the best of 2008.

I’ve assigned a number to each film on this list. If a film received a 1st place on a list, it gained 10 points… 2nd gained 9, and so on to 10th place which gained 1. Note: AFI’s list doesn’t rank, so I gave every film on that list 4 points. Ebert chose 20 films and didn’t rank them. I guess he can do that because he’s Roger Ebert. Anyway, I gave all 20 of his films 3 points.

Keep in mind that even if a film receives a 1, it means that someone believed that film to be one of the ten best films of the year. Most critics see over 150 films every year so that’s saying something. So keep your chin up Speed Racer!

Here is the final consensus:


85 Milk

80 The Wrestler

74 The Dark Knight

62 Rachel Getting Married

55 Man on Wire

45 Slumdog Millionaire

44 Frost/Nixon

38 Let the Right One In

37 Paranoid Park

31 Wendy and Lucy

29 In Bruges

25 My Winnipeg

24 Happy-Go-Lucky

21 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

21 Flight of the Red Balloon

20 The Class

20 Revolutionary Road

17 Doubt

16 Trouble the Water

15 Hunger

14 The Reader

14 A Christmas Tale

14 Silent Light

14 Synecdoche, New York

12 The Edge of Heaven

12 Burn After Reading

11 Iron Man

11 Chop Shop

10 Encounters at the End of the World

10 Reprise

10 Defiance

10 Gran Torino

9 The Visitor

9 Mister Lonely

9 Waltz with Bashir

9 Ashes of Time Redux

8 The Secret of the Grain

8 In the City of Sylvia

7 Boarding Gate

7 Standard Operating Procedure

7 Frozen River

7 I’ve Loved You So Long

6 Pineapple Express

6 Snow Angels

6 Funny Games

6 Gomorrah

6 Momma’s Man

6 Vicky Cristina Barcelona

6 Still Life

5 The Bank Job

5 Tropic Thunder

5 Alexandra

5 Mongol

4 RockNRolla

4 Dong

3 Towelhead

3 Forgetting Sarah Marshall

3 Changeling

3 Ballast

3 Elegy

3 Che

3 The Fall

3 Shotgun Stories

3 W.

2 Miracle at Saint Anna

2 Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

2 Speed Racer

2 The Witnesses

1 Tell No One

1 Cadillac Records

1 Zack and Miri Make a Porno

1 Stuck

1 Summer Palace

Note: If I add any more lists, I will update this post.

My Best of 2008 So Far

January 3, 2009

My Best of 2008 So Far

Out of all the films released in the United States between January 1 and December 31, 2008, I saw 39 in 2008 itself. At this point, I have 56 more films that I’d still like to see. When I watch them all, I will post my final definitive Best of 2008 list.

Here are the 39 films that I’ve seen:

Young @ Heart, The Fall, Be Kind Rewind, The Dark Knight, WALL-E, In Bruges, Chop Shop, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Burn After Reading, Paranoid Park, Recount, Mister Lonely, Reprise, Son of Rambow, 24: Redemption, Snow Angels, The Visitor, Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, Kung Fu Panda, Boy A, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Encounters at the End of the World, Milk, Man on Wire, The Edge of Heaven, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, Mamma Mia!, My Winnipeg, Funny Games, Hamlet 2, Flight of the Red Balloon, The Duchess, Transsiberian, The Wrestler, American Teen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, A Christmas Tale

Here are the 10 best so far:

10. The Edge of Heaven

9. The Visitor

8. In Bruges

7. My Winnipeg

6. Flight of the Red Balloon

5. The Dark Knight

4. The Wrestler

3. Milk

2. Mister Lonely

1. Paranoid Park

Honorable Mentions:

Chop Shop
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Burn After Reading
Snow Angels
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Encounters at the End of the World
Man on Wire
Slumdog Millionaire
A Christmas Tale

At the Movies' Best of 2008

January 3, 2009

At the Movies’ Best of 2008

Ben Squared revealed their lists of the ten best movies of 2008 on their At the Movies television show. While both (ahem…) critics had pics that had me rolling my eyes (RockNRolla, Miracle at Saint Anna), overall their lists aren’t all that bad. I’ve got to give Ben Mankiewicz props for calling The Wrestler the best film of the year. It’s really very special, and I’ve been disappointed that it hasn’t received more love on critics’ year end lists. Here are their respective top tens:

Ben Lyons

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

2. Slumdog Millionaire

3. Milk

4. The Wrestler

5. The Dark Knight

6. Frost/Nixon

7. Let the Right One In

8. The Reader

9. Miracle at Saint Anna

10. In Bruges

Ben Mankiewicz

1. The Wrestler

2. Frost/Nixon

3. The Reader

4. Milk

5. Man on Wire

6. The Bank Job

7. RockNRolla

8. Towelhead

9. Happy-Go-Lucky

10. Iron Man

Chazz's Ten Best of 2008

January 3, 2009

Chazz’s Ten Best of 2008

Fellow film review blogger Chazz of ‘Gone Cinema Poaching has posted his list of the best films he’s seen in 2008. He’s also given his pics for worst films, best performances and most overrated/underrated, etc. You can see his original post here. Here’s his list:

1. Paranoid Park

2. Rachel Getting Married

3. Burn After Reading

4. Doubt

5. Pineapple Express

6. Man on Wire

7. (tie) In Bruges and Snow Angels


9. Funny Games

10. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

The Top Ten Movies of December 2008 (and the five worst)

January 3, 2009

The Top Ten Movies of December 2008 (and the five worst)

Not counting WALL-E, which I saw for the second time, I saw 35 films in December! Of course, in doing so, I’ve fallen significantly far behind on my reviews. Rest assured—they’re coming! Here are the ten best films.

10. Encounters at the End of the World- Yet another example of Werner Herzog’s unique voice permeating a haunting exploration into a mysterious facet of nature. This time it’s an unforgettable documentary about Antarctica.

9. Slumdog Millionaire- Danny Boyle provides an exhilarating filmgoing experience with this homage to Bollywood about a boy on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionarie? At times brutal and at other times uplifting, Slumdog Millionaire is truly one of a kind.

8. A Christmas Tale- Catherine Denuve still looks beautiful as the ailing mother of a dysfunctional French family which gathers together for the holidays in order to make the impossible decision about who is going to donate bone marrow in order to save her life. At times, the family issues become grim and difficult to watch, but these moments are perfectly balanced with an abundant humor and deep-rooted love.

7. Exodus- At three and a half hours, it’s very important for a movie like this one to deliver the goods. Paul Newman and Sal Mineo are wonderful as two Jews who take different paths in order to help secure their homeland of Israel after the end of World War II. Epic filmmaking doesn’t often come better than this!

6. The Edge of Heaven- Three deaths occur within this film, and we, the audience, are told of each death well before it happens. This risky organizational method adds an extremely satisfying layer to the glorious narrative within Edge of Heaven, a film that refreshingly points out the good that can often result from the worst kinds of tragedy.

5. My Winnipeg- Guy Madden lays his psychoses all out on the table as he takes this deconstructed journey back to his Canadian childhood city. The result is a mix between a documentary and an experimental fantasy. Whether or not My Winnipeg opens the doors to a new and lasting film genre, it’s still fascinatingly engrossing.

4. The Wrestler- Want to go see a movie with what may be one of the best performances in modern film? Want to go see a movie that brilliantly showcases the struggles of a man who has led a life of fantasy and can’t quite cope with reality? Want to see Marissa Tomei as a stripper or a man’s fingertip sliced off behind a deli counter? Whatever your reason, Aronofsky is responsible for one of the great achievements of the year! Yes, you want to go see this movie.

3. Flight of the Red Balloon- Both a tribute to and a critique of the famous short French film called The Red Balloon, this example of cinema verite shows that childhood perhaps can’t be accurately dramatized as a whimsical chase after a lost balloon. A boy must deal with ordinary disappointments in order to learn that what’s important too often includes more than just pinball, puppets and balloons. I absolutely adored this film!

2. Kill Bill: Vol. 1- Volume 2 probably would have been number eleven or twelve on this list. Volume one is a no-holds-barred revenge tale which uses extreme violence in order to entertain and entertain and entertain. Tarantino’s tribute to Japanese samurai cinema oozes with style and drips with an almost unmatched love of moviemaking.

1. Milk- Perhaps the perfection of the standard biopic, Gus Van Sant provides a film which certainly does justice to the achievements of a great American activist whose life ended in tragedy. Not only is the acting universally tremendous (Penn and Brolin especially), but the world of 1970’s San Francisco completely comes alive in a film that will inspire and move many people, like myself, to tears.

And the five worst:

5. The Towering Inferno

4. Mamma Mia!

3. Enemy of the State

2. Old School

1. Slap Shot

Monday, December 29, 2008

American Teen

December 29, 2008

American Teen (2008) ****

Directed by Nanette Burstein

Is Burstein’s documentary trying to be the final word regarding the subject of the American teenager? If so, then this movie is a failure. If not, and I imagine she would say that it isn’t, it still needs to be pointed out that there’s a certain level of audacity which holds American Teen back from greatness. I’m going to go out on a limb and make a bold proclamation. Perhaps, just perhaps, not every teen fits into the archetype of one of the characters of The Breakfast Club. Minus Judd Nelson’s John Bender who is the rebellious troublemaker, each of the four main characters (and I do call them characters) of American Teen have a symbolic twin from a film made before any of these kids were born.

Molly Ringwald’s princess this time is named Megan, and for much of the movie, she’s a two-dimensional bitch (can’t think of a better word to use). She’s apparently the most popular girl at school; she’s on the student council and is the head of the prom committee (for a while anyway). More than anything, though, she’s vindictive, spoiled and extremely petty. I remember hearing over and over again from a very young age that people who put others down only do so because they are insecure about their own self-worth. Megan certainly has significant issues in her life, and these almost make up for the horrible things she does to people who make her angry—almost, but not quite. She wants to follow in the footsteps of most of the members of her family and attend Notre Dame. Will the awful pranks leave her with a disciplinary record that isn’t worthy of Notre Dame?

Emilio Estevez’s jock with an overbearing father this time is named Colin, a pleasant fellow who begins to buckle under the pressure of getting a basketball scholarship which will be the only way he would be able to afford to go to college. His father, an Elvis impersonator, which is a detail so funny that it couldn’t have been made up, supports his son completely, though he wants to see Colin do the best he can on the court, which he isn’t doing. In order to impress college recruiters, Colin tends to hold onto the ball and attempt shots rather than work as a teammate. This results in his team’s overall losing record—or so the film would have you believe. Will he be able to trust his teammates enough to show college recruiters that he’s a worthy well-rounded basketball player?

Anthony Michael Hall’s social nerd this time is named Jake, a painfully shy, sensitive, introspective member of the marching band who has braces and a bit of an acne problem At first, one might think that he’s unpopular because of the way he looks. Yet, we clearly learn that Jake’s complete lack of self-confidence is what’s really to blame. He’s on the hunt for a girlfriend and succeeds with a freshman transfer student who breaks up with him once she finds “better” friends. He gets a second chance later on with a girl from San Diego whom he takes to the prom. At the beginning of American Teen, Jake lists the possible reasons why he isn’t more popular. By the end, will Jake be ready to go to college and embrace a new beginning, this time with a bit of confidence stemming from the life experiences he gained during a binge drinking weekend in Mexico and from a girl who actually likes him for who he is?

Finally, Ally Sheedy’s freak this time is named Hannah, who lives with her grandparents because her mother is manic depressive and her father is away on an extended business assignment. She’s extremely creative, and she feels that the town of Warsaw, Indiana isn’t equipped to handle someone like her. Perhaps she’s right. She almost completely implodes when her boyfriend of a few years breaks up with her, and then later, she bizarrely connects with Mitch, a basketball player and a popular one at that. He sends her a text message which solidifies her desire to move to San Francisco to go to film school, much to her parents’ disapproval. The question to be asked regarding Hannah would be, “Will she hold it together long enough to even make it to college?” She mentions early on that she’s afraid that she may be going crazy like her mother.

These neat and tidy explanations match the narrative structure and characterization of American Teen. Without it, there might not have been much of a movie. Unfortunately, with it, American Teen sort of comes off inauthentic and staged. At first, I was ready to write it off as nothing more than an adequate episode of True Life on MTV. Yet, by the end, American Teen certainly transcends that condescending comparison.

In no way is American Teen a comprehensive treatise on adolescence. That being said, there are moments of fascinating insight, incredible emotion and stellar filmmaking. Add all of these moments up, and what you’ve got is an extremely satisfying and compulsively watchable slice of entertainment.

Interestingly enough, I personally wouldn’t want to be friends with any of the four characters in the movie. I’m sure there’s a lot more to each of them, and perhaps if I were me at 18 going to Warsaw High School, I might want to be friends with some if not all four teens in real life. Again, the compartmentalized personas of the four within American Teen are all very unattractive to me. Yet, there were moments when I felt emotionally connected to each one. There’s a brilliant moment when Hannah, after missing 17 days of school after her breakup, refuses to leave her dad’s car to go to school. When the girl first says that she will go out with Jake, I was happy for him. I smiled when, a few scenes later, they were holding hands in his car. Colin, of course, has obligatory basketball games where sometimes he loses and sometimes he wins. I’ll go so far as to say that I was happy when he helps his team to victory. Even Megan had me when she hears some great news towards the very end of the film.

There are also effectively disturbing moments throughout. One involves Megan graffiting someone’s house. Another takes place when Hannah reads Mitch’s break up text message. Still another shows Jake refusing to dance with his begging date at a semi-formal dance. When Megan tells her father of the graffiti, her father responds, “That’s stupid. It’s even more stupid that you couldn’t do it and not get caught.” That one really got to me.

The worst one of all, however, involves a girl named Erica who e-mails a topless picture of herself to her boyfriend who is also one of Megan’s best friends. He’s a total tool by the way, and Megan, who is jealous of the two of them together, sends the picture to a group of people which eventually leads to a good portion of the student body having it in their possession. The most heartbreaking two minutes in American Teen shows Erica on camera crying and saying that she’s trying her best to deal with it. I couldn’t even imagine.

American Teen does make a few things very clear in powerful ways. First of all, kids can be unfathomably mean to each other. Second, the pressure that many seniors must go through regarding college feels almost like it might be more than they should have to deal with at that age. Third, as much as they would like to think they know everything, kids usually have a long way to go to become fully realized adults. Fourth, everything is so ridiculously melodramatic when one is a teenager. As a high school teacher, I can say that all four insights are right on the money! I think my eighty colleagues would agree.

Though there’s much to applaud Burstein for, I did have a problem with the fact that she does ultimately judge these four characters, and as such, there’s not much left open for interpretation on the part of the viewer once the movie is over. American Teen absolutely fails as individual character studies. What we experience are four caricatures, not four human beings. This documentary is valuable, though, when judged as having a number of valid sociological insights into adolescence as a whole. Again, however, these insights are in no way universal or exhaustive.

The act of observing an event changes the event. As such, American Teen paints with somewhat fictionalized strokes. That must be kept in mind when judging it as a documentary. Because I am able to accept this fact and therefore not condemn Burstein outright because of it, American Teen goes down in my book as thoroughly enjoyable yet only modestly important.