Oscar night is upon us, and before we see any of the winners, I wanted to post my picks for the ten best films of 2008. Granted, I haven't seen them all but I really did try. I hope we'll see a reflection of this tonight:
10. Tropic Thunder
I expected nothing from this film. I expected a crappy Ben Stiller comedy with no intelligent plot or character development. I got a hilarious, innovative comedy mocking the war genre. Robert Downey Jr. is amazing as the overdramatic Kirk Lazarus, unable to get out of character as a blackface lieutenant. Nick Nolte and Danny McBride provide an amazing side plot. Tom Cruise is the best asshole I've ever seen. Matthew McConaughey is back in his best pot-smoking form. And Ben Stiller, as much as I loathe him and his movies, is fantastic. His post-panda attack attitude is great, and I think that scene alone makes this movie worth it. Surprise of the year. I don't think it will get any awards tonight, but it deserves some attention.
9. Waltz With Bashir
On a more serious note, war is not a joke. Even if war movies are. Waltz With Bashir is an account of the Lebanon War in the early 80's. Ari, the lead character, cannot seem to remember that part of his life. Specifically, the Beirut massacre. He talks to old friends to try to piece together the puzzle. I think this is a definite Best Foreign Language Film. Dazzling animation as well. The whole film is just artistically amazing. Think Waking Life, but a little more detailed.
8. Burn After Reading
Since we're on the subject of movies that didn't get the attention they deserved, the newest Coen Brothers film was ignored completely this year, by practically everyone. This is a great tale of stupidity, promiscuity, and blackmail. Brad Pitt and George Clooney are hysterical. John Malkovich is at the top of his game. Every character is just so utterly ridiculous and stupid that J.K. Simmons' character says it best: "What a clusterfuck!" This also won't win tonight, hell it isn't even nominated. But it's fantastic.
I love Pixar. Every movie they make is intelligent, funny, and accessible to all ages. Their latest release is one of the best they've made. It is a love story, a reflection on American consumption, and an entertaining action movie, packed with nostalgia. The score and much of the robotics are from Brazil. Even the main enemy is straight out of 2001:A Space Odyssey. The best part about this film is probably the lack of dialogue for over 50% of the film. What an entertaining film. Best Animated Feature.
6. Slumdog Millionaire
I'm probably the only person that doesn't LOVE this movie. I think it's great and very well-done. It will probably win Best Original Song for "Jai Ho" or "O Saya" and Best Original Score for A.R. Rahman. I'll give Danny Boyle Best Director because of the fantastic acting of all the mostly inexperienced cast. The story is fantastic too, so I'll also vote Best Adapted Screenplay. I think this is a fantastic film, don't get me wrong. It's a great love story, it's innovative, and the cast is relatively unknown. However, I think it's riding a pretty big wave of hype right now, and there are other films that deserve a bit more attention.
Ron Howard's depiction of the battle between former President Nixon and then-trivial reporter David Frost is engaging and powerful. It is like watching a political boxing match, where Frost is getting crushed for three rounds, and somehow comes out in the fourth round and knocks out the champ. Since Nixon had been pardoned, there was no need to pry into the Watergate scandal. Frost's interview was able to pull a confession out of Nixon, get him to emotionally apologize on national television. It was considered the trial that Nixon never had, and Frost became a celebrity afterwards. Frank Langella deserves something for his emotional portrayal of Nixon, but I think he has too stiff of a competition. This film is great, and definitely worth watching, but I think it will go home empty-handed tonight.
4. The Dark Knight
The summer blockbuster is somehow getting better every year. The Batman franchise has been reinvented with the combination of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale. The Dark Knight is the best superhero film I've ever seen, with the help of Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and of course Heath Ledger. Best Supporting Actor by far, Ledger has far outdone the previous Joker performance by Jack Nicholson, one I strongly considered one of the best performances by one of the best actors of all time. Surely, they wouldn't try to outdo Nicholson? Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is sinister. There's no jack-in-the-box or whoopee cushion. The Joker is not practical jokes as much as he is just mentally unstable. The way his tongue darts around as he talks and his tone of voice just bring an air of uneasiness to the scene. It is troubling to watch the Joker, and even more so now that Ledger has passed. You could almost believe, if the rumors are true, that this character drove him over the edge. And THAT is scary. This will probably also grab Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.
3. Man On Wire
I love documentaries. The crazier the subject, the more I enjoy it. This particular tale is about a crazy French tight-rope walker who absolutely will not stop attempting to walk between the towers of the World Trade Center. He is passionate and probably slightly insane, but the film follows his struggles and practice leading up to the great feat. His two teams must wait in the towers for hours as security guards patrol, then set up their camp on the roof. To get the wire across, they shoot an arrow attached to a fishing line. By morning, he is on the wire and he walks across eight times before they catch him. It is a story of dreams and passions and someone who will stop at nothing to achieve them. Best Documentary Feature.
2. The Wrestler
Growing up, all my friends were into professional wrestling. I couldn't stand it. Once I found out everything was staged, what fun was it? It was a lame show of masculinity with a predetermined winner. Who cares? After watching Aronofsky's moving tale of a washed up wrestler played by Micky Rourke, my attitude changed. Rourke had no other life than pro wrestling, and when he got too old, there was nowhere to turn. Marisa Tomei is fantastic, playing his closest friend, a frequent stripper. Evan Rachel Wood is also great, playing his estranged daughter. We see firsthand what Rourke is going through as he tries to find emotion in his life after his passion is impossible. I am split on the Best Lead Actor category for this reason, because Sean Penn has an equally compelling performance in...
Best Picture by far, Milk tells the tale of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and his struggle to win gay rights. He starts as a small business owner and slowly builds his community until he is elected city supervisor. Penn has transformed himself for this role, becoming the strong advocate for gay rights that Harvey Milk had been. I'd be content with either Penn or Rourke taking home Best Lead Actor because they both deserve it. I am also voting for Milk to win Best Original Screenplay. The supporting cast in this film are amazing too, with Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin in captivating performances. I can't say enough about this film, it was truly my favorite of the year.
Now, I have a little bit to say about other movies I've seen. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was great. It reminded me a bit of Forrest Gump, and I could see why it's getting shunned by everyone, but I still think it was very moving. Because Pitt and Blanchett played the same characters for an entire life span (except children), I'm giving Best Makeup, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design to this film. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I think everyone should give it a shot. It's really not bad.
In Bruges was a fun action film, something I haven't seen without it being terrible. I wouldn't be upset if it took home Best Original Screenplay.
Benicio Del Toro is amazing in his depiction of Che Guavara in Che. Though the movie is two parts, and I only got to see Part 1, I can still say that he was great. This is another film that got completely shunned at the academy.
There you have it, my analysis of 2008 in film. We'll see how I fare tonight during the awards.