... According to me, anyway. Keep in mind that I have had a busy year and have not been able to see some of the smaller, more obscure titles that are appearing on many critics' year-end lists. So take this for what it's worth.
1. (tie) THE DARK KNIGHT/WALL•E
This might be the easy way out, but how I can choose between the two best films of the decade without “lord” and “rings” in their titles?
Pixar Animation’s WALL•E is pure movie magic, that rare film with the power to unite an audience of all ages in absolute delight. Written and directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), it draws much of its inspiration from some of the movies’ earliest stars—comedians like Chaplin and Keaton—with its near-silent first half and its endearing hero, Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-class, better known as WALL•E.
25 December 2008
"My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances."
And so begins Benjamin's story in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a beautiful, heartbreaking film by David Fincher packed with tender, loving performances and some of the most astounding visual effects we have ever seen.
With his last movie, Zodiac (2007), Fincher reinvented himself with a focus on character over his usual stylistic flourishes. Now he's gone unapologetically sentimental with Benjamin Button, which uses an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story as its jumping off point.
When it comes to fact-based movies, I'm not a stickler. When a filmmaker fudges the details, I'm OK with it, as long as the changes are done to make the movie better and don't alter history.
So when a movie comes along about a German plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler—with exclusively German characters—I don't care that the dialogue is in English. I don't even mind that the characters don't speak with German accents. (And they shouldn't; after all, foreigners don't sit around in their own country speaking to each other in accented English.)
In Valkyrie, Tom Cruise, as the assassination plot ringleader Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, sounds exactly like, well, Tom Cruise. British actors Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard sound like—you can probably figure it out. Other actors, such as David Bamber as Hitler, speak in German accents.
19 December 2008
Two men sit down and talk to each other. Sounds like the stuff of a great film, huh?
How about if one of those guys is British talk show host David Frost? What's that do for you? What if the other is the most infamous figure in the history of American politics?
Interesting, sure, but cinematic?
Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard and featuring Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon—the roles they played in Peter Morgan's stage play in Britain and on Broadway—plays like an epic tragedy and is nothing short of riveting.
02 December 2008
Christmas cheer, teenage vampires, James Bond and heroic animals are crowding the multiplexes, and the end-of-the-year “prestige” pics are just around the corner. Yet a little comedy has shown enough legs to remain in wide release for the past month, quietly grossing nearly $58 million at the box office. It’s also one of the fall’s best movies.
The movie in question is Role Models. It’s not a Judd Apatow production, but you’re forgiven if you get that impression. The cast features several Apatow veterans, starting at the top with The Great Paul Rudd, as well as Elizabeth Banks, Jane Lynch and McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Just as important, Role Models has that distinct Apatow flavor, blending raunch with both wit and heart.
The titular characters are Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott), energy drink reps who peddle their product, Minotaur, at schools, promoting it as alternative to drugs. Wheeler, who wears the Minotaur costume, loves his job, but it’s not exactly the high life for Danny. After his lawyer girlfriend, Beth (Banks), dumps him, he goes on a rampage at a school that results in both he and Wheeler looking at some time behind bars. Thanks to some legal maneuvering by Beth, Danny and Wheeler, ordered to perform community service, end up in a Big Brother-style program called Sturdy Wings instead of the big house.
01 December 2008
So this is what all the fuss is about? I guess it’s different for teenage girls, who have turned Twilight, the vampire novel by Stephenie Meyer, and its three (and counting) sequels, into the biggest literary phenomenon since a certain boy wizard. But I would hope that even those whose hearts wilt at the mere mention of the eternally-17-year-old, pretty-boy bloodsucker Edward Cullen would notice and take offense to wooden acting and shoddy special effects.
The story is told through the eyes of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a high school junior who moves from sunny Phoenix, Ariz., to rainy, dreary Forks, Wash., to live with her father (Billy Burke), the local police chief, while her mother (Sarah Clarke) travels with her new husband, a minor league baseball player.