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I agree with Roger Ebert; ranking one movie over another is an evil and, quite honestly, impossible task. These fifteen films resonated with me this year slightly more than some other films and a lot more than most other films. They?re in alphabetical, not preferential order. Today I?m looking at films on the UK release schedule for 2008 (which includes much Oscar fare from the previous year) ? later I?ll do a similar list for films on the US release schedule as I?ve seen most of the Oscar fare for this year, which is the standard way these lists are made.
I predicted, as I walked out of Australia, that?d it?d be one of those movies that?d end up at around 50% on the Tomatometer. From about 45% to 55%, give or take a couple either side, fall the movies people either absolutely and unreservedly love, or they absolutely and unreservedly hate. I absolutely loved it, and considering I am not a fan of either Luhrmann or Kidman I?m quite pleased I can say this. It looked absolutely sumptuous and it was performed perfectly ? everyone knew very well that they were creating a fantasy here, but they embraced it rather than made fun of it, and that I have huge respect for.
The Dark Knight
It?s been established that I?m not a Dark Knight fan in the office, to the point that even I started to believe it myself, but I watched it again on Blu-ray recently and was reminded of my original opinion on it. The Dark Knight is a great blockbuster, a great event movie with all the visceral and emotional thrill you?d expect from the very best. But it?s not a revelation. Heath Ledger, circumstances aside, does deliver one of the greatest performances of all time, let alone this year, and on the IMAX screen this is quite a ride.
Tarsem Singh?s trippy, idiosyncratic and beautiful work is more art than cinema, but this isn?t pretentious, inaccessible trash. This is visionary stuff, with a passion that?s so lacking in cinema and an innocence that?s hard to find in today?s cynical times. Like Australia, people either love it or hate it, and that?s almost as delightful as the piece itself, because it?s so unconcerned about how people view it that you can?t help but admire its ambition. Straightforward drama has struggled to find the truth that?s present throughout The Fall. Tarsem?s eye for shooting the familiar with a new twist is awe-inspiring.
The posters for Ghost Town imply it?s going to be another How to Lose Friends and Alienate People or Notting Hill ? quirky British comedy with all the depth of a saucepan and all the humour of smallpox. Credit to Gervais for injecting enough of his comedic sensibility to deliver something much more relevant ? this is Kapraesque comedy with heart, and Gervais? acerbic flair keeps the sweet from being too sickly.
Gone, Baby, Gone
Ben Affleck?s directorial debut is as much of a revelation as his screenwriting debut, Good Will Hunting. Based on a cracking novel by Dennis Lehane, Affleck delivers a superbly performed and expertly executed drama that keeps you totally gripped to the screen. Overlooked because of Madeleine McCann, to the point that the mainstream press vilified Affleck?s callousness to make the film ? despite the fact it was well in production when the disappearance happened and the book had been around for years.
Coming out of Hellboy 2 I was a little disappointed, truth told, but repeat viewings have made me appreciate the film much more. Its greatest strength is that it makes you believe in the Hellboy universe without question. Gotham is just a redressed Chicago and Metropolis just a redressed New York, but the universes created by the likes of The Matrix, Blade Runner and Star Wars feel like they?re alive even when the camera isn?t on them. In other corners there are other stories playing out that we?ll never see, other life being lived we?ll never find out about. With Hellboy 2, del Toro creates a universe for the big red beast that lends credence to the goings-on within.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as a pair of boozing Irish assassins, with Ralph Fiennes their bad-mouthed Cockney boss ? it shouldn?t work, and yet In Bruges? expert plotting, outrageous humour and light-hearted joie de vivre makes it one of the year?s finest. It?s endlessly watchable and the performances really are top notch. That this is getting overlooked for awards is a real shame, because Farrell certainly hasn?t been better and the film is a real pleasure.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss
I?ve written plenty about Alex Holdridge?s warm-hearted comedy - it?s been on my radar for eighteen months. I must have seen it no fewer than ten times at this point, and each time I?ve been entertained and moved as much as I was the first time. The story of a first date following flirtation on Craigslist, Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds are exceptional as the couple who begin the night sniping at each other and seem to become different people as they help each other out of their respective neuroses. Should have arrived a few years earlier when indie distribution still meant something ? this is a real charmer.
Very disappointingly, this was largely dismissed as yet-another-horror-remake, swept away by Dimension in the US and not released in the UK for more than six months. It wasn?t a remake for a start ? that was 2005?s The Fog, and it seemed like people got the two confused ? instead it was one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time. Cult movies are rare these days ? the marketing medium is so polished that very few movies slip through the net the first time around ? and yet this is one that?s still waiting to be properly discovered.
No Country for Old Men
So much has been written about the Coen Brothers? movie that there?s really not much more to add. Superbly performed, with one of the greatest bad guys in cinema history, No Country for Old Men is remarkable. It?s great to see Josh Brolin breaking through again, but few can match the sheer terror that exudes from Javier Bardem?s performance.
Guillermo del Toro?s name made sure this movie opened outside of Spain, but it?s JA Bayona?s beautiful direction and Sergio Sanchez? perfect script that makes The Orphanage worth watching. This is a chilling ghost story that works as a parable about losing a child, dealing with that loss at the time and moving on. Even with Guillermo?s involvement, I fear the English-language remake that?s been mooted.
Son of Rambow
Isn?t this just one of the greatest movie ideas ever? As one of those kids who worshipped films and wanted to be Rambo, John McClane and James Bond simultaneously, this reverberated perfectly with me and Hammer and Tongs bring a fantastical edge to the film that just makes it. Delightful.
I couldn?t think of anyone better suited to delivering a big-screen adaptation of the Demon Barber musical than Tim Burton. This is just about the only musical I?ve ever found palatable and Tim Burton?s dark view of London is to die for. Whether Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter have any business singing is debatable, but God knows I could watch this movie endlessly.
There Will Be Blood
That a man yelling ?Drainage? at the top of his voice can be as simultaneously enthralling and chilling as is Daniel Day-Lewis? rendition in this film is something quite impressive. This isn?t showboating, his performance is truly outstanding and Daniel Plainview is character so perfectly shaped by script and actor that he film he?s attached to is elevated on his shoulders alone.
One of the most original and wonderfully executed animated films of all time. Pixar deserve every inch of the hype they get anyway, but WALL-E really is their masterpiece. A breathtakingly moving tale that brings to mind Disney of old, WALL-E is the most human robot ever to grace the screen and his sweet flirtation with EVE brings a real tear the eye. This is a modern fairytale of the highest degree.
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