(Please note: This post is part two of three of my list of the top 10 best of 2008. See part one here.)
5. Bolt – “What the hell is this movie doing on here? You had the gall to criticize WALL-E for daring to be different and not being immediately accessible, and now you’re pandering to the lowest common denominator and singing the praises of another Toy Story clone? This list is bull!”
Yep, you got me. Guilty as charged. I confess it, I’m a terrible person. Whatever shred of credibility I might have once had as a legitimate film critic just sailed out the window. And I make no apologies for that.
I guess I’m just not deep like everyone else, but sometimes I just like to be entertained. I didn’t go into Bolt expecting any profound meditations on the human condition, and thankfully there were none to be found. I got exactly what I was expecting – a popcorn movie with humour and action, wrapped around a core of heartwarming sentimentalism. This isn’t a Pixar movie, but it employs the classic Pixar formula. I totally fell for this movie and its characters, and I couldn’t be happier about it, thank you very much.
4. The Wrestler – It’s been called a career-reviving role, and I think that’s certainly a fair analysis. Mickey Rourke is excellent in The Wrestler, a movie about an aging professional wrestler looking to (you guessed it) revive his career. Interesting parallels there, no doubt about it. He plays the part of the lovable loser who seems to have a tenuous grasp on reality very effectively. Out of the nominated performances I’ve seen, I’d pick him for the best actor Oscar.
Along the way through the movie, Rourke’s character works to rebuild a strained relationship with his daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood) and start a new relationship with a stripper (played by Oscar-nominated Marisa Tomei). Both female leads turn in strong performances. Wood’s character wrestles (pun totally intended) with conflicting feelings. She runs the gamut of emotions, seemingly unable to decide whether she should hug her father or smack him. Meanwhile, Tomei’s character balances motherhood with being a dancer. As much as I liked her, she’s got some pretty stiff competition for best supporting actress.
Speaking of stiff competition, I’d like to digress for a moment… I’ve now mentioned all of the best supporting actress nominated performances. In my opinion, it’s easily the tightest category of the four major acting awards. Best actor goes to Frank Langella (not my pick, but everyone other than me seemed to love him – if it was me I’d go with Mickey Rourke).
Best actress is tougher for me to call, because I only saw two of the nominated performances. Of the two I’d pick Streep over Winslet. Winslet’s performance was excellent, but I really didn’t care for The Reader at all, and that hurts her chances, at least as far as I’m concerned. As previously stated, Cate Blanchett got totally snubbed, she was the actual best actress in my opinion.
Best supporting actor of course goes to Heath Ledger, nevermind that I haven’t seen most of the others that were nominated. Forget about best performance of the year, this is up there with the best of the past decade (and beyond). He deserves to win, he’s going to win, and that’s that.
But back to best supporting actress… Tough, tough choice. I loved Amy Adams, but she’s not quite as good as some of the others. No fault of her own, the performance just didn’t call for a lot of wild theatrics. Marisa Tomei is certainly fine (in all senses of the word), but I don’t know… Viola Davis is getting a lot of buzz and I agree that she’s a worthy contender. Taraji P. Henson was very good too. Topping things off, I’ve heard Penelope Cruz referred to as being the front-runner, and I can understand why.
In the end I liked all the performances very much. In my mind, it comes down to Henson and Davis. Two very different, yet equally good portrayals. Henson gets more time onscreen, and goes through the makeup and everything to show her character aging through the years. Davis only appears in two scenes (and only speaks in one of them), but her performance is very emotional, pretty much perfect, and really stuck with me. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to pick, I would pick Davis. But really I’ll be happy to see any of these ladies win, as all the performances were worthy. The Academy got it right for once.
Right. All that said, back to The Wrestler. Just of couple of other quick notes. The wrestling scenes… “Wow” is all I can say. They are visceral as hell, and really capture the brutality of this quote-unquote “fake” sport. Now before you jump on me, I know that pro wrestling is, generally speaking, fake. But certain aspects of it are verifiably not fake. This movie focuses on those aspects. It’s less of the WWE “sports entertainment” type of wrestling and more of the hardcore “I’m going to smack you upside the head with this frying pan, which is conveniently within reach” type of wrestling.
Oh, and the soundtrack is worth purchasing for the Springsteen song alone. I had that one track looped on my iPod for several days. Long live The Boss!
3. In Bruges – This was another movie that I almost missed entirely, and boy am I ever glad I caught it. It is absolutely amazing. I would almost go so far as to say that if you see nothing else on this list, you should see this. I guess that’s a bit of an odd statement to make, considering this is my #3 pick overall. But I think this movie got far less recognition than anything else I’m recommending, and that borders on criminal.
This movie has it all. It is extremely funny. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the funniest movie of 2008. I actually had to pause the movie 4 or 5 times because I was laughing so hard and I didn’t want to miss anything. The odd part is that it’s not really a comedy, at least not in the typical sense.
In Bruges is also quite violent, and certainly doesn’t shy away from vulgarity. And yet it’s strangely touching as well. The less given away, the better so I’ll just say that the movie centers around two hitmen (played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who are hiding out (in Bruges, no less) after a job.
Colin Farrell seems to be one of those “love him or hate him” type of actors. I’m in the “love” category. I can’t recall seeing him give a performance I’ve disliked, and that trend is continued with In Bruges. He plays the younger of the two hitmen, a restless and impulsive soul who wants nothing more than to get back to England as soon as possible.
Brendan Gleeson is a bit of character actor – the kind of person you don’t realize you’ve seen before until you look at his résumé. He’s popped up in Braveheart, Gangs Of New York, and even Harry Potter, among many others. Here he plays the experienced hitman. He’s an oddly gentle fellow that sees the world with a sense of wonderment and childlike enthusiasm. He’s determined to make the best of a bad situation.
Ralph Fiennes plays their boss, a generally vile and unlikable person. He also wins the award for most f-words per minute, firing them off with truly remarkable regularity. A number of lesser-known European actors fill in the remaining roles, most notably Clémence Poésy, who delivers a great supporting performance.
Without belaboring the point, please see this movie. I can almost guarantee you won’t regret it.
2. Slumdog Millionaire – If this movie doesn’t win best picture, I think there’s a good chance I’ll cry. And yet it’s still only #2 on my list… Interesting…
I don’t have an unkind word for anyone associated with Slumdog Millionaire. It’s notable that this film is pretty much the only one on my top 10 whose cast is made up almost entirely of unknowns. Sometimes this can be an issue as far as performances go (I can get into that later). The acting may not always be where you’d like it. Let me just say that this certainly isn’t the case here. I don’t have any qualms about any of the performances in Slumdog. And the way Anil Kapoor says “millionaire” is priceless. Just sayin’.
The film’s structure is quite unique as it flashes backwards and forwards and yet never gets confusing. The soundtrack is enjoyable too – it features some stuff by M.I.A., whom you might recall hearing from in the Pineapple Express trailer. And the movie shows a side of India that you’d never see in a Bollywood type of movie, so major props are due to director Danny Boyle for bringing it to the screen.
1. The Dark Knight – Honestly, was there any doubt? I mean, aside from the fact that I sort of gave it away back in number six… If ever there was a case of one actor raising the level of an entire movie, this is it. Without Heath Ledger as the Joker, this is just another comic book movie – perfectly serviceable, good even. But nothing too special. With Ledger’s performance, this becomes probably my favourite comic book movie ever. As I watch this movie, I have to remind myself that the Joker doesn’t actually exist and that it’s just Ledger there under all that make-up. He really does become the character, and it’s amazing to see.
Again, the movie is bolstered by a number of strong supporting performances. By now, you’re probably getting exceedingly tired of seeing me say that. Well, just so you know, I’m getting tired of writing it. Doesn’t make it any less true though. Maggie Gyllenhaal fills Katie Holmes’s shoes with ease as she steps into the role of Rachel Dawes. Aaron Eckhart is very strong as the conflicted Harvey Dent. Most of the rest of the main cast is the same as Batman Begins. Christian Bale and Gary Oldman are back, playing Batman and Jim Gordon, respectively. And oh yes, as if this movie wasn’t great enough already, also returning to the cast in two of the smaller roles are a pair of Oscar-winning actors (Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine).
It’s true that Bale’s Batman voice gets a bit tiresome at times, but it didn’t really hamper my enjoyment much. If the Academy had any balls, this would be in the running for best picture instead of The Reader, which, as noted, I didn’t particularly care for. But apparently The Dark Knight wasn’t highbrow enough or artsy enough for them. Jerks.
So there you have it, the list, such as it is.
My more cinematically-inclined readers may have noticed a few seemingly odd omissions. “Where’s Frost/Nixon?” you ask. “What about Milk?” you query. “How about The Reader?!” you exclaim. “Three of the nominees for best picture aren’t even in your top 10? Are you crazy?” you scoff. Valid questions, all. Truth be told, in earlier incarnations of my list, these films might have made it. But as I got caught up on some of the movies I had missed previously, they simply got pushed out of the top 10. But, they haven’t been forgotten. Stay tuned.