Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Cinema Year That Was (Last Year)

Zaki's Flick Picks: '08

I didn't get to do one of these last year, what with the whole "taking care of the new baby" thing keeping me from getting to the theater quite as much as I would have liked. Still, now that we're two years removed, I figure the kid can take care of himself, so we're back with a look at my fave flicks for the year that just left us:

1 - THE DARK KNIGHT

From my original review, posted when The Dark Knight first opened:
If what we got with Begins was revelatory, then what we get with The Dark Knight is unprecedented. With this new big screen go-round, we have a multi-layered epic rich in character, rich in complexity, and rich in drama. This is the real deal. Not just a perfect comic book movie, not just a perfect Batman movie, but darn-near a perfect movie, full stop.
In a year that demonstrated the heights of quality and creativity the comic book movie is capable of (to wit: number three on this list), The Dark Knight was the bat-signal that let the world know it.

2 - FROST/NIXON

Michael Sheen, playing his role like a cross between a Python-era Eric Idle and Austin Powers, is David Frost. Frank Langella, shoulders forever hunched and upper lip perpetually perspiring, is Richard Nixon. Both are absolutely riveting in this drama from director Ron Howard, whose craft is elevated by an involving, textured (though largely conjectural) script by Peter Morgan from his award-winning stage play.

Where Frost/Nixon excels is in not taking the easy road of portraying Brit yakker Frost as a noble crusader and disgraced prez Nixon as the devil incarnate. Nor does it paint their series of interviews in the late '70s as a life-or-death struggle between good and evil. Instead, we're made spectators to a meeting of two men whose own personal foibles and failings have brought them to this moment. This is what great drama is all about.

3 - THE MARVEL STUDIOS ONE-TWO PUNCH

Here's what I said about Iron Man last June:

Iron Man is of such caliber that it makes the other films from the Marvel canon seem lesser by comparison. The decade-long spell since 1998’s Blade, the first of Marvel’s big screen successes, has seen, among others, Sony’s Spider-Man franchise, and Fox’s X-men, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil movies. All achieved varying degrees of success (financial, if not critical), but what shocks and amazes with Iron Man is how much it got right and, by extension, how much those others got wrong.
That's still true, and it applies just as much to Marvel's other big summer offering, The Incredible Hulk. After years of letting studios (*koff*Fox*koff*) ride roughshod over their properties (*koff*X-MenDaredevilFantasticFour*koff*), 2008 was when the newly-minted indy stepped out on its own and showed the big studios how to treat its properties right.

4 - WALL-E

Though Wall-E was the object of much teeth-gnashing from various rightie pundits for its storyline's supposed "liberal" propaganda (apparently the whole "Pick up your trash before you ruin the Earth" thing rubbed Glenn Beck raw), only from Pixar could a post-apocalyptic love story about a robot trash compactor and a mechanical plant incubator seem like the most simple, natural thing in the world. Wall-E is rollicking adventure, charming romantic comedy, and dire cautionary tale all at the same time, not to mention the latest in a long string of examples demonstrating how confidently the CGI artisans at Pixar wield their tools.

5 - TROPIC THUNDER

Ben Stiller directed and co-wrote this withering parody of Hollywood excess that is perhaps the definitive movie-about-movies since Robert Altman's The Player. Leading a cast of pampered movie stars accidentally caught in a warzone while filming an "important" war movie, Stiller is the clueless action hero, Jack Black is the comedian trying to be taken seriously as a capital-A Actor, and Robert Downey Jr. is the...white guy playing a black guy.

From the hilarious faux trailers that play before the movie starts, to Tom Cruise's amusing, unexpected turn as an obnoxious studio exec (his best role in years), Tropic Thunder is smart, razor sharp, and bitingly funny. And while the performances are uniformly excellent, it's ultimately all about Downey, who cements his '08 movie comeback in a role that must be seen to truly appreciate.

UPDATE: Just wanted to add that my review of Tropic Thunder is in reference to the unrated, expanded director's cut on DVD and not the R-rated version that played in theaters. That's not to say that the theatrical cut wasn't equally engaging but since I missed it I'm not equipped to address that one way or another.

12 comments:

paul said...

Nice, all around Z, although I personally thought Tropic Thunder was way overhyped and ultimately overrated. I need to see it again on DVD...

Fawaz said...

I agree with Paul, Tropic Thunder was a huge let down for me, I was expecting to be on the the better comedies this year.

But I totally agree with you on Dark Knight...it's not only my fav of '08, but it's in my top 5 of all time.

Zaki said...

Surprised you guys didn't dig it. I can't remember laughing so hard at a comedy, a smart comedy at that, in a long time.

azam said...

Zaki,

I usually agree with your pics...But Tropic THunder??? Cmon Man...Did you watch a different version? I saw this movie and couldnt wait for it to end. I would have left the theater early, had I finished all my nachos and Super Sized Diet Coke! It was quite painful!

Second...The Best movie of the year (in my humble opinion) was Slumdog Millionaire... I heard them talk about this movie on Howard Stern and wondered why they were making such a fuss about this...It was an absolutley amazing movie. It will make you laugh and cry...dont bring a female or else you will be consoling them....

Finally....What movie isnt great that has Vince Vaughn??? Four Christmases...was the ultimate riot this year...

Zaki said...

You know, now that I think of it, the version I saw was the unrated director's cut on DVD, as I missed the movie in theaters, so as it turns out, I DID watch a different version! I've amended my original post to clarify this.

And in regards to Four Christmases, I think I had the same reaction to that that you had to Tropic Thunder, so I guess that makes us even. :-)

Omar A. said...

I loved DK and Iron Man too. Hulk was solid. I still haven't had a chance to catch Frost/Nixon, Wall E or Tropic Thunder or the critically acclaimed "Slumdog", "Gran Torino", "Revolutionary Road", "Wrestler", etc.

J.R. LeMar said...

Out of those, I've only seen 4.

I thought that THE HULK was pretty good.

I thought that IRON MAN is the Best. Superhero movie. Ever. Really, I have no complaints about it @ all.

I'm with you TROPIC THUNDER. Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise stole the show.

And here's where I reveal that I'm in the extreme minority. I was not impressed with THE DARK KNIGHT. It was just too "dark," for me. Since I loved BATMAN BEGINS, I had huge expectations for this, but it failed.

Just my opinion.

Omer said...

Zak- I'm assuming that 09 will be another hiatus year because of the impeding arrival of the baby.

Dark Knight no doubt was a great movie. But how much of it was the hype/sympathy factor b/c of Heath Ledger's death?

I too like a few others mentioned am surprised that Slumdog didnt make the list. I haven't seen Gran Turino but also have heard good things about it from not only the critics but "Joe the movie goer".

Harith Moin said...

I enjoyed all those movies except for the Nixon one as i haven't watched that one just yet. I recommend "Slumdog Millionaire" by David Boyle.

Zaki said...

Slumdog and Gran Torino are both on my "to watch" list, but unfortunately I haven't been able to see either yet, which is why they didn't make the list.

As far as '09 being another hiatus year, hopefully not...I figure one kid can watch the other. It can't miss!

Parvez said...

What? No Indy 4.

In all seriousness, I have to go with the crowd here and question Tropic Thunder making the cut. It had its moments and Downey and Cruise were hysterical. But top five? Eh. Having said that, I liked Slumdog Millionaire a lot, and while I would rate it high for the year that was 2008, I can't say that it could go down as one of my all-time favs. Which I can safely say about TDK.

Both Gran Torrino and Nixon Frost are on my must see list. As is Revolutionary Road.

Zaki said...

I'm standing firm on Tropic Thunder. It's a smart comedy, which is rare enough, but it's also got a point to make. I think I like even more now that I see how so many folks DIDN'T like it... :-)