A personal resolution for me this year is to keep an ongoing list of the movies I've seen (and the books I've read), and maybe what I thought about them. I'll update to list those I've seen most recently at the top.
(Related 2008 lists: book list 2008, restaurant list 2008)
List of Movies I Watched in 2008 (underlined = in the theater)
(Related 2008 lists: book list 2008, restaurant list 2008)
List of Movies I Watched in 2008 (underlined = in the theater)
- Tropic Thunder (2008), dir. Ben Stiller: this parody of big-budget war films succeeds in sheer goofiness, but at times the target of the parody is unclear, or, strangely, the premise is simply a vehicle for slapstick. Downey's character's method acting hilariously ridicules the lengths some actors take for their roles, but Stiller's character's role as "Simple Jack" seems gratuitous. Also, Jack Black tends to chew the scenery. Not that any of this is necessarily bad; I giggled all the way through. Tom Cruise, almost unrecognizable in prosthetic makeup, delivers his best performance since Magnolia.
- The Dark Knight (2008), dir. Christopher Nolan: Maybe the best superhero film so far, so I have the feeling that everything I say about this film is already cliche. It's psychologically dark and complex, and was driven by solid performances all around. Heath Ledger's Joker is fucking terrifying, and I bought into his characterization so solidly that from his "magic trick" scene onward, I was as freaked as I've ever been watching a movie every time he appeared on-screen. The only distractions were that Harvey Dent's transposition into Two-Face was a little too quick and convenient to be believable, that Christian Bale randomly used his grumbly voice for some of Batman's dialogue, and that if the Joker planned to be caught, how did he know that Gordon's death would have to have been faked? Still, I clapped.
- Get Smart (2008), dir. Peter Segal
- The Fountain (2006), dir. Darren Aronofsky
- The Illusionist (2006), dir. Neil Burger
- Appleseed (2004), dir. Shinji Aramaki
- Steamboy (2004), dir. Katsuhiro Ôtomo
- Dan in Real Life (2007), dir. Peter Hedges
- Superbad (2007), dir. Greg Mottola: part raunch, part coming-of-age/buddy flick, this felt like a film and a half, or a director's cut with way too much material. Perhaps understandable, considering that Seth Rogen, one of the writers, was too old to play the "Seth" role by the time a studio eventually bought the script. The part instead went to Jonah Hill, and Rogen took the bumbling cop role, which, along with the goofy subplots involving the cops' misadventures with the admittedly awesome "McLovin" role, felt tacked on. If all of this stuff was excised, I think it would be a pretty great film ... as it is, it's too much, too overweight and unbalanced, and fades to a seemlingly endless conclusion.
- Iron Man (2008), dir. John Favreau: granted, my enthusiasm for this film is partly due to having seen it with friends, on opening night, in LA, beer in hand, and accompanied about 1000 hardcore comic geeks, but it was SOLID. Downey's babble is somehow perfect for the character, and ends up driving most of the plot. The CGI and effects were seamless, and the story was great. The 30-second spoiler scene at the end of 10 minutes of credits was met with an orgiastic cheer from the nerds who hung in there for it. Hello, new superhero film franchise.
- Beowulf (2007), dir. Robert Zemeckis: with photorealistic CGI, we pay more attention, as human viewers, to lifelike CGI of humans than of other creatures or inanimate objects, so the tiniest inconsistencies are distracting, or at least noticeable. Some of the motion capture was dead-on, with nuances of expression clearly readable, but most of the characters seemed imported directly from Shrek, which was a bit uncomfortable considering the amount of gore and sex in the plot. I gotta say, though, Angelina Jolie looks crazy delicious in digitized nude. So ignoring the technical limitations and the wild plot departures from the epic poem, this film really picked up steam in the second half. Maybe by then I'd gotten used to the stiff movement. Haha, I said stiff.
- Dazed and Confused (1993), dir. Richard Linklater: enjoyable as a flashback to being a teen in the 70s (if you were; I wasn't), but really not a lot more. But this is certainly not a bad thing. The cult status is due to a great ensemble cast of memorable characters and great lines, and a "day-in-the-life," meandering story trajectory that is largely unencumbered by the intricacies of a complex plot. Still, I really wish I was that cool in high school.
- Be Kind Rewind (2008), dir. Michel Gondry: the disappointment was perhaps foreshadowed by the fact that Nic and I were alone in the theater for this showing, granted we saw it on a weeknight about a month after it opened, but still. The level of carefully-orchestrated and whimsical detail I'd expect from Eternal Sunshine and Gondry's earlier music videos was absent here. The film had a good premise, but the backstory was so overwrought that the "magic" was all but lost in the shuffle, and the goofily sentimental ending was all the more arbitrary in comparison. It seemed also that Gondry didn't direct his actors at all, which didn't help.
- Tekkon Kinkreet (2006), dir. Michael Arias: WOW. I was blown away by the cinematography and detailed background of this animated adaptation of "Black and White" manga series by Taiyō Matsumoto (which I haven't read). The story itself is detailed and intricate, following two orphan brothers vying for control of the streets of a decaying metropolis, and exploring themes of duality, solitude, and morality. Characters are rich, and even though I watched it with English subtitles, I was impressed by the voicing. Rewarding all around.
- Renaissance (2006), dir. Christian Volckman: incredibly well-executed black-and-white animation (with some grayscale and minimal color) using cool simulated lighting effects for a posterized, film noir look, makes this film cleaner and more comic-booky than Sin City. The plot is pretty neat, and the acting is decent ... but the dialogue (I watched the dubbed English version, the original is French) is terribly flat and inadvertently funny at times. Other than that, sheer eye candy.
- The Prestige (2006), dir. Christopher Nolan: intricately complex, or unnecessarily complicated, still can't decide which, but it held my attention entirely (enough so I was able to figure out how Borden did his trick about 30 minutes before he explained it to Angier). Magic Tesla machine aside, it was enjoyable and easy to believe, but the main characters didn't have much dimension beyond their obsessions. David Bowie as Tesla was a treat.
- Day Watch (2006), dir. Timur Bekmambetov: vampires, motorcycle chases, witches, rampant ferris wheels, lesbian shower scenes, therianthropy, body-switching, time-stopping, lasers, and the fate of the universe, all set in modern-day Moscow. And this is only the second film in the trilogy. Incredible special effects, and a better resolution than Night Watch, I thought. Holy crap.
- Lolita (1962), dir. Stanley Kubrick: after watching Barry Lyndon last year, I'm working my way through the rest of Kubrick's films, but couldn't really discern the hallmarks of his style in this one. Regardless, I was fascinated with it, especially the scenes that emphasize the intense, perverse nature of Humbert's feelings toward Lolita (i.e., painting her toenails while interrogating her about her lateness home from school, and Sellers' ridiculous portrayal of Quilty).
- There Will Be Blood (2007), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson: the combination of one of my favorite actors with one of my favorite directors in a movie seamlessely scored by Radiohead's lead guitarist couldn't fail, but superseded my expectations. DD-L's performance was ferocious, and promises to prove as iconic as Nicholson's in The Shining. Paul Dano was also very good, as was the choice to cast an uncannily similar-looking Dillon Freasier for the role of Plainview's son.
- Balls of Fury (2007), dir. Robert Ben Garant: Deputy Travis Junior from Reno: 911! can direct non-scripted, bumbling cops, but he should stay away from everything else, if this is an example. I expected outrageously funny, but had to really strain to laugh a couple times. The sight gags were weak, and the jokes fell flat. Dan Fogler, the lead dude, looked like he was trying desperately to channel Jack Black, and his rendition of "Rock of Ages" was even more embarrassing than the idea sounds like it could be.
- American Splendor (2003), dir. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini: biopic of Harvey Pekar, comic book protagonist and writer, who, prior to this film, I had never heard of. Paul Giamatti's characterization is incredible, and the film is smartly structured, well-paced, and funny.
- Blades of Glory (2007), dir. Josh Gordon, Will Speck: I think the trouble with Will Ferrell films is that everyone compares them to other Will Ferrell films. Sure, he regenerates his shtick, but isn't that the reason we go see him? This film doesn't aspire beyond yuks and goofy slapstick, and succeeds enjoyably.
- Gods and Monsters (1998), dir. Bill Condon: a good movie, but not deep and not powerful, as I'd expected from the numerous accolades this film received. I felt that much detail was left or edited out, unfortunately, but I found the friendship believable and touching, as I did McKellan's portrayal of Whale not as a dirty lech, but as a faded lover of beauty.
- Sicko (2007), dir. Michael Moore: as is the case with all of his films, my head-shaking quickly gave way to a suspicion that the real explanation can't be as simple as he's portraying it, and although the skeptic in me can't accept the solution as a panacea, the idealist in me fervently hopes this isn't simply agitprop. I admit that I'm seriously considering pros and cons of moving to Canada. Or France.
- Sex and Lucia (2001), dir. Julio Medem: besides winning my personal award for Hottest Film With Naked Latin People In It, one of my favorite things about this movie (which I've watched several times) is the abundant symbolism and the narrative style. Plus, there is secks.
- Sweeney Todd (2007), dir. Tim Burton: having never seen a stage production of the musical and only being marginally familiar with the story, I had no expectations and was really delighted with every aspect of the film. The singing sounded great all around, ultragoth sets and costumes were perfect, but the blood looked like watery tempura.
- Reno 911!: Miami (2007), dir. Robert Ben Garant: as with most conversions of a series to the big screen, I wasn't sure that the improv comedy would be ridiculous or hilarious enough to sustain a feature film, but I laughed for almost the entire time. The deleted scenes get a little tedious, showing that the editing pretty much perfect in the film.
- Paprika (2006), dir. Satoshi Kon: a richly-imagined anime about technology that allows psychiatrists to enter the dreams of patients, but begins blurring the lines between dreams and reality when an unknown assailant gains access. Seamless merging of 2- and 3-D animation, great characters and plot.
- Night Watch (2004), dir. Timur Bekmambetov: received the second film in this (soon-to-be) trilogy as a gift, so this was a re-watch of this amazing Russian fantasy action thriller about light and dark "Others" who maintain a truce until the coming of a prophesied "Great One" who will bring one side to dominance. Animated, stylized subtitles were one of many cool touches.
- The Libertine (2005), dir. Laurence Dunmore: Johnny Depp sleepwalks through this grainy period piece as the Earl of Rochester, supposedly a notorious rake, but his characterization of a bored and disaffected lech is little more than watching Johnny Depp being bored and disaffected, but with a lot of makeup. Not my style.
- Untouchables (1987), dir. Brian De Palma: this was a favorite of mine when it came out, but it seems to have dulled in the 10+ years since I watched it last, and that the characterizations are really simplistic. The train station scene is still pretty good, though.
- Short Cuts (1993), dir. Robert Altman: another re-watch from years ago, but this film continues to captivate me as an extremely well-executed study of the role of chance and fate and overlap among about a dozen interwoven plots. Casting was excellent.
- Shopgirl (2005), dir. Anand Tucker: a loan from Erin. Jason Schwartzman's character was pretty well done, and Claire Danes has a really nice posterior. Overall, though, I thought the analysis of the complex relationships, although sympathetic, was too curt and superficial.
- Kung Fu Hustle (2004), dir. Stephen Chow: not sure what I was expecting, but this was pretty funny, and goofy, mostly because of idea of some of the characters as kung fu masters.