Don’t look back

The only thing worse than horrible is mediocre. Our movie review takes a wincing glance at the films of 2008.

It’s hard to pinpoint why 2008 was such a mediocre film year. Was it the writers’ strike? Were too many great films jammed into 2007 at 2008’s expense? Did evil movie trolls hijack cans containing classic films and whisk them away to their Death Valley lairs? Whatever it was, there were certainly a lot of dry months.

The movie year got off to a lousy start with Heath Ledger’s failure to read labels carefully, and it never really soared to great heights after that. It had its share of good films but was lacking in truly great ones. In 2007, 17 movies got the highest rating. Only seven got the orgasmic popcorn carton this year.

We certainly had our share of superhero flicks. (Yes comic book geeks, I know, Batman isn’t really a superhero! Shut up!) We even had Rambo again, though his movie kind of sucked, with human growth hormones starting to transform Sylvester Stallone into a scary, deformed humpback whale. An aging Indiana Jones returned, and to those of you trying to call the moderately entertaining Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull one of the year’s worst, please watch Al Pacino’s 2008 offerings or Adam Sandler dicking around in Bedtime Stories.

The year was good for comedies. In fact, a very nasty comedy wound up being the best movie of the year. The Judd Apatow factory, although responsible for the lowly Drillbit Taylor, provided another comedy for the Top 10 list, and another two—Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers—with high laugh factors. The man is unstoppable.

The best movies of 2008 are, as follows:

1. In Bruges: This brutally funny dark comedy is the year’s best film. Colin Farrell delivers an electrifying performance as a jittery hitman, with Ralph Fiennes hilarious as his deranged employer, and Brendan Gleeson heartbreaking as Farrell’s partner. Directed by playwright Martin McDonagh (his feature directing debut), this is the year’s most unique film. Farrell has messed up with a lot of his role choices (including this year’s flat Pride and Glory), but he shows that he’s a major talent with this outing. Every one of his line deliveries has something special behind it.

2. The Dark Knight: Another masterpiece from director Christopher Nolan. Heath Ledger totally occupies the role of The Joker, and he’s a lock for an Oscar nom. Equally good is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, and his transformation into Two-Face is one of the year’s greatest visual effects. A bit of a Christian Bale backlash going on right now due to his raspy voiced line delivery. Love him as Batman, even when his vocals sound like there’s a little gremlin in his throat going at his larynx with a hacksaw.

3. Revolutionary Road: This miserable tale of marital strife in the ‘50s is low on joy and high on blistering, hateful exchanges between its stars. Leonardo DiCaprio tears the screen apart as a businessman who wants to dream but can’t figure out what to dream about. It’s time this guy got an Oscar. He reunites with Titanic costar Kate Winslet for what is simply the most realistically horrifying depiction of a decaying marriage ever put to screen. You think I’m exaggerating? Watch the way DiCaprio loses his mind during their final verbal match, and don’t tell me it doesn’t make you sink through your movie seat.

4. The Wrestler: Before Mickey Rourke’s career imploded, he excelled in great movies like Barfly and Angel Heart. He experienced a mild resurgence with Sin City, but this one from director Darren Aronofsky is the real deal. Rourke plays a Hulk Hogan type who must keep wrestling way beyond his prime to pay the rent. Marisa Tomei plays a stripper, and quite nicely I might add, while Evan Rachel Wood has some very good scenes as Rourke’s daughter. Rourke lets it all hang out in a way that feels very personal. Watch out for the stapler scene.

Robert Downey Jr.'s got a powerful heart in <i>Iron Man</i>.

5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: This is the year’s best-looking movie. Brad Pitt, in his third teaming with director David Fincher, is phenomenal as Benjamin, born an 80-year-old infant who ages backwards. It offers some of the year’s best visual effects, with Pitt’s features melded into the face of an elderly man the size of a 10-year-old.

6. Wall-E: A scary parable about our doomed future wrapped up in a sweet kids’ Pixar movie. The little robot crushing garbage long after our planet has become uninhabitable might just get a few of us to start recycling, lest our descendants wind up obese and floating around permanently glued to mobile chairs on a spaceship.

7. Milk: Director Gus Van Sant’s heart-wrenching tribute to a remarkable man, with Sean Penn devastatingly good as Harvey Milk, the first known openly gay man elected to public office. Josh Brolin is understated and frightening as Dan White, the nutcase who took Milk’s life.

8. Pineapple Express: Best stoner movie … ever! Great move getting indie director David Gordon Green to helm this because it looks terrific and has major depth for a buddy/hemp comedy. James Franco has never been better as a sweet natured pothead who winds up running for his life with a hysterical Seth Rogen. Another one from the Apatow factory, and it gets better with repeated viewings.

9. Burn After Reading: Everybody is screaming “Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor,” but nobody’s remembering how perfect John Malkovich was as a raging, embittered CIA analyst set out to pasture. Right there with him is Brad Pitt doing career-funniest work as an overly enthusiastic personal trainer. The Coen Brothers make the best-looking comedies in the business, and this one is no exception.

10. Funny Games: Undoubtedly the year’s most disturbing film, featuring one of its best performances. Naomi Watts, who just doesn’t get enough credit in the acting world, astonishes as a wife and mother who must watch as two sadistic assholes (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) torture her family. Kudos to Pitt, as well, who plays a soft-spoken, intelligent psychopath with no soul.Top 10 “Best of” lists are so passé. Screw convention! Onward to 20!

11. Synecdoche, New York: Nutty movie. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a playwright who decides to stage the world’s largest show in an airport hanger. During the course of the show and rehearsals, the lines separating individual roles begin to blur, people switch parts, and your mind gets blown. Writer Charlie Kaufman made a very nice and complex feature directorial debut with this one.

12. Doubt: The world is just a better place with Meryl Streep in it. She plays a stubborn nun who suspects a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of abusing a boy. Streep (who was also wonderful in the so-so Mamma Mia!) hasn’t been this fearless with her acting in years, and she had better find herself among this year’s nominees for Oscars. Hoffman is typically brilliant, and Amy Adams continues to show she’s a big-league actress.

13. Role Models: Paul Rudd is a comic god, and this is the first movie to really let him shine in a leading role. Seann William Scott delivers perhaps his best ever work as Rudd’s sidekick. The duo play energy drink reps who wind up doing community service mentoring kids. Director David Wain, the man responsible for Wet Hot American Summer, delivers his most commercial film yet, but that’s not saying it’s anything near standard.

14. Choke: Sam Rockwell plays a sex addict tending to his senile mother (Anjelica Huston) and passing his days as a historical interpreter at a colonial times amusement park. This adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s bestseller had some of the year’s most subversive humor, and Rockwell is the right man to deliver it.

<i>Tropic Thunder</i>: Too-serious actors make for a funny film.

15. Tropic Thunder: Ben Stiller was starting to lose me a bit, and then he comes back with his strongest film since There’s Something About Mary. A nasty take on actors who take themselves too seriously, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Stiller himself (who also directed) have never been funnier. Stiller hired the guy who shot Braveheart to do the cinematography. On top of being killer funny, the film looks damned good.

16. Happy-Go-Lucky: Sally Hawkins will steal your heart in the latest from director Mike Leigh, a guy who always does a fine job catching human eccentricities. Hawkins plays Poppy, a happy-as-all-heck elementary school teacher looking for a boyfriend and taking driving lessons from an uptight instructor (a scary Eddie Marsan).

17. Changeling: Clint Eastwood directed two movies this year and this one, by far, is the better film. Angelina Jolie is sensational as a mom looking for her missing boy. Based on a true story from the 1920s, this one is about as dark as a film can get, something Eastwood does very well.

18. The Reader: Kate Winslet had a great year, and her work here might actually be better than the knockout performance she gave in Revolutionary Road. She plays a woman having an affair with a much younger man (David Kross) in the 1960s. She also has some dark secrets, and it all leads to very intriguing drama, not to mention lots of naked Winslet scenes.

19. Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr. is stellar in the second-best comic book movie of the year. He adds the sort of depth that Christian Bale and Tobey Maguire (minus Spider-Man 3) have added to their comic book movie franchises.

20. Frost/Nixon: This one is a little overrated, but it does contain some nice work by Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, disgraced president and pain in the ass interviewee. It chronicles David Frost (Michael Sheen) and his pursuit of Nixon post-presidency for one of the most infamous interviews in television history.

Top 10 worst films of 2008

Whittling down the list of bad ones this year was quite the task, for there were many stinkers to choose from. There were actually 10 movies worse than Speed Racer, and 12 worse than Meet Dave! Golly, there were 20 worse than Eagle Eye. That’s inexcusable!

1. 88 Minutes: How does shit like this happen? You have Al Pacino in your movie … he was in The Godfather, he was in Dog Day Afternoon … Jesus, the man was in Heat! And now, he’s an inhabitant of one of the worst movies ever made. I’m embarrassed for him, and I’m embarrassed for his director. Oh hell, I’m embarrassed for everybody.

2. Bedtime Stories: I used to call myself an Adam Sandler fan, but I’m quickly losing faith in the guy. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Reign Over Me and this year’s Don’t Mess With the Zohan are all part of a nasty rut, and this latest one is king of the turds. His next one is with Judd Apatow, and I’m praying for a comeback.

Will <i>Watchmen</i> be out by March 6th?

3. 10,000 B.C.: Apparently, in the olden days when wooly mammoths roamed the Earth, our ancestors were styling it with awesome dreadlocks, and Egypt was right next door to the North Pole.

4. The Happening: In this film, Mark Wahlberg talks to plants, and the mother from Eight Is Enough tries to kill him. M. Night Shyamalan made Signs, his masterpiece, and then he went nuts. He’s officially lost it.

5. The Love Guru: Mike Myers makes jokes about his dick, and he’s wearing a funny moustache when he does it. This man has been isolated in sound booths doing Shrek voices for too long because he’s officially way out of touch. My coffee mug is funnier than him. No, seriously, it is. It has coffee-addicted zombies on it, and it makes me laugh every time I take a sip.

6. Bangkok Dangerous: Remember when Nicolas Cage movies dominated Top 10 Best lists? Now he’s a perennial presence on the crap roster. He’s a fucking ugly weed!

7. Strange Wilderness: I laughed hard at the preview for this thing, specifically at the footage of the shark with Steve Zahn giving it a stupid voice. Alas, that was the only laugh in the film. Almost died watching this.

8. Twilight: The most dreary girl in high school falls in love with a lethargic vampire who is brooding because he wants to eat her. Dumbest vampire movie ever—and I’ve seen The Lost Boys sequel.

9. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Stuck with George Lucas through the Ewoks. Stuck with him through the prequel trilogy. Can’t hang with this crappy, slapdash mess of a movie.

10. Made of Honor: I kind of hate Grey’s Anatomy. Oh, it’s an OK show and all, but it’s also responsible for putting Patrick Dempsey back on the map, and this will not do. All Dempsey does in this film is prove he can bring the suck, and he brings it hard.

Films topping the “most anticipated” list for 2009 would be Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (Yes, it’s spelled with an “e"), Will Ferrell and dinosaurs in a big screen update of Land of the Lost, and the J.J. Abrams re-launch of the Star Trek franchise. We’re also supposed to get Watchmen on March 6, but pending legal issues between Fox and Warner Brothers could cause delays.

Harry Potterheads, you can take your cloaks and wands out of the closet and get ready for the latest installment this summer. That is, if you didn’t burn your cloaks and break your wands when Warner Brothers screwed you and moved the opening date from last November to next July.

Oh, and pray that the Screen Actors Guild doesn’t call a strike in January. That would cause nasty film delays, and we don’t want to wait until 2015 for the next Iron Man or The Hobbit.