Stage and Cinema writers
2008 U.S. Film Releases
The John Topping List
Director of the Year – Gus van Sant
Gus van Sant is one of the very rare directors who can weave in and out of the Hollywood system, making relatively
big movies like Good Will Hunting and smaller, personal, practically avant-garde films without big names attached like
Elephant. In 2008, a sample of each was released - Paranoid Park quietly snuck into
art houses at the beginning of the year (and just as quietly slipped away); and Milk – a
highly-deserved Oscar nominee for Best Picture, among other categories, including Sean Penn as Best Actor, giving one of his most brilliant
performances in a career brimming over with brilliance (not to mention GvS himself as Best Director) – has been building since its late year
limited release. In addition to being two of the very best films of the year, it is also
remarkable to see how much van Sant has grown as a director and as an artist. What else can one
The Lost Gem That Oscar May Save
The Academy has
recognized this film with nominations for Melissa Leo as Best Actress and Courtney Hunt for Best Screenplay! Did I or did I not say in these very web pages that that’s what should happen? (Hint: I did.) I must say I was flabbergasted that my recommendations were taken seriously. It’s choices like these that make you wonder if the Oscars aren’t just a pile of bullshit after
The Gem That's Getting Decent Exposure In The Art Houses
Let The Right One In
den rätte komma in)
I’m going to
step out on a limb and say that this is the best Swedish vampire movie ever made. Even though I
thought that two of the most “shocking” images in it were kind of lame and almost ruined the rest of it for me (particularly the woman being
attacked by ((stuffed)) cats), my companion thought they were as thrilling as they were meant to be, so go figure. Don’t avoid this film because you wouldn’t normally see a vampire movie or because you abhor violence – it’s
not an ordinary vampire movie and the violence is quite minimal. Trust me, you’ll be glad you saw
The Other Best Films of 2008
The most fun
you’ll have spending time with a bigoted racist since Archie Bunker. And, story-wise, a brilliant
solution – I had no idea how the movie was going to resolve the moral predicament it created unscathed.
Rachel Getting Married
Just damn good
filmmaking and superb acting. What more do you want?
Part of the
thrill of this film for me was that it seemed like it was the kind of R-rated film I wasn’t allowed to see when I was a kid in the 60s and 70s –
somehow I was able to imagine the tone and content of those unseen films. So it was, you could say,
nostalgia for something I’d never actually experienced. I have been told by everyone else who’s seen
it that it really is as good as it seemed. And if you only want to see Kate Winslet once, see this
instead of The Reader.
Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired
watch a film, and, even if it's thoroughly absorbing, you never imagine that it will make your “best of the year” list months down the road; then
you see the full list of films you saw, and realize, with surprise, that it was in the top handful.
Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired is such a film.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
best film in X years! This film, which most people who see it love, or at least like a lot, was
written and directed by Woody Allen, the guy who fell in love with one of former lover Mia Farrow’s adopted daughters, Soon-Yi
Previn. Yes, that Woody Allen! The one who was
never Soon-Yi’s father or step-father, and of which the affair began when Soon-Yi was over 21, and, by the way, now, 16 years later,
they’re still together – married! Don’t you hate people like him, who find the person they
truly love and spend the rest of their lives with them? It makes my blood
boil! Dammit, dammit, dammit, why did I allow myself to like this movie??!!
Recommendable Films of 2008
performances in a good but not great film. And I’m really sorry to have to delve into the
superficial – especially the exact kind of superficiality my mother indulges in – but I can’t stand looking at Adrian Brody’s
nose. I’m not an anti-big nose person; in fact, I tend to love big noses. However, his nostrils are just gargantuan – the nostrilic equivalent of Angelina Jolie’s monstrous lips
or Hilary Swank’s 3-inch long teeth. And, although a good actor, he doesn’t ignite the screen
for me (ever). It is a mostly black cast of reliably good performers (Jeffrey Wright, Eamonn
Walker, Mos Def), but the break-out performance is Beyonce Knowles. If you ever saw her in an
early film like, say, Austin Powers in Goldmember, you would never have believed that she could grow into a good
actress. Here, she is not just good, but amazingly good. Cedric the Entertainer, who gets me moist indeed, unfortunately has a very small role; I sensed it was
larger but got cut (he’s the narrator and yet barely appears as a character).
A “love it or
hate it” movie. I loved it. Beware: entire film is super-shakey
camera. Running from seat and almost vomiting was part of the experience.
When this was
released in the U.S. early in the year (and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film), who knew we were going to be bombarded by Nazi films
at the end of the year? Totally understandable to miss if you’re on
Although Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman are among our finest living actors, they
could not match the impact that Cherry Jones and Brian F. O'Byrne had on stage. Nevertheless, the play was the play, and this movie
is this movie, and it's not often that a film comes this close to being as good as its source material.
The Edge Of Heaven
This is one of
the films that should probably be moved up to the “very best” list. I guess the reason I don’t is
that I am unable to explain what it’s “about,” or what it “means.” But it’s definitely worth your
I found the
first 20 minutes so boring that I didn’t think I was going to last all the way through. Then
suddenly everything changed and I loved it from minute 21 to the end.
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal
Not great, but,
like Hilary Clinton, it was likeable enough. And come on, it was better than Indiana Jones
and the Last Crusade.
Kung Fu Panda
good animated film from Dreamworks. (Psst – and better than WALL-E.)
It had to
happen someday – a Guy Maddin film that I liked thoroughly from beginning to end. Mad, loopy fun and
a thorough delight. Warning: about as far from mainstream as you can possibly
story but definitely questionable morals. Is it time to forgive the Nazis? On the other hand, as we have seen with
GWB, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib - not to mention Milgram's Electric Shock Experiment, recently repeated with the same
results - Americans would not hesitate to commit the same atrocities if their leaders told them to. It's a human response to
authority. So come over here, you Nazi, and give me a big hug!
loved this film, but it’s not on the higher list for a couple of reasons: (1) I live with someone
who hated it, and our marriage might be compromised if I put it in the same league as Rachel Getting Married; and (2) it is not without
some screenplay problems and dopey plot devices. But if you can put its flaws aside and just go with
it, it’s an exhilarating ride.
Recommendable Family Films of
Okay, all you
Kung Fu Hustle fans – and I know there are a lot of you – your hero, director Steven Chow, released a film this year that you didn’t even
know about; or if you knew about it, you probably didn’t see it. Not the most enticing title, to be
sure (even the original Cantonese title, Cheung Gong 7 hou, is catchier). And not as good as
KFH, but much better, in my opinion, than Shaolin Soccer. How many movies do you see that have touching father/son bonding moments of killing
cockroaches? A must for KFH fans; all
others, see Kung Fu Hustle first.
The Spiderwick Chronicles
work, this film marked the first of 7 – seven! – film appearances by Seth Rogan in 2008. Talk about
overexposure. This is a really fun movie, and is in English.
Recommendable Documentaries of
Chris & Don. A Love Story
It would be difficult
not to be moved by this documentary.
Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
See why Bill Murray and Johnny Depp have
portrayed Hunter Thompson in two different films (respectively, Where The Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas). Fascinating and sorry he's not still around.
I think that
more than one review I’ve read has used the adjective “irresistible” to describe Young@Heart.
And that’s what this movie about a group of mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians singing punk, rock and soul is –
Movies I Liked, But I Have To Be Over The Top With Enthusiasm And Say They Were Absolutely Outstanding, Or Else You’ll Think
Man On Wire
I liked it,
okay? Cheeses! In fact, it was ... uh ... it was
Standard Operating Procedure
revisits Abu Ghraib by interviewing most of the “bad apples” who caused the mayhem, including the infamous Lynddie England herself, she of the
thumbs-up gesture. Amazing to hear their side of the story and the reconstruction of
events. In fact, absolutely outstanding!
Waltz With Bashir
I always have
trouble with war films, because I never understand why they are at war, and am lost as to what their motivations are for doing almost anything
they do. I’m sure I would have been killed if I’d ever gone into combat. This I had a little less trouble with than the usual war film, not just because of the startling animation, but
because the narrator/filmmaker could not remember anything of his days in combat, and through interviews and introspection goes through the
process of jogging his memory. I still have no idea why they were at war, though. Nonetheless, it was absolutely outstanding!
Best Comic Performer of the Year - Danny McBride
The Foot Fist Way
2008 was a
great year for Danny R. McBride. Who? He was the
hilarious guy in the neck brace in Pineapple Express, and, although far less funny as a crew member in Tropic Thunder, it kept
his profile high. (He was also in Drillbit Taylor, which I didn't see.) But before
those releases, he starred in this bizarre indie comedy about the world’s most obnoxious Tae Kwon Do instructor. The movie is uneven and weird and very obviously low-budget, but Danny McBride is extremely and strangely
watchable. And, although some of the humor falls flat, it is still better than Pineapple
Express and Tropic Thunder combined.
The Most Overrated Films Of The Year
I’ve had to
stop myself from the inclination to call this one of the worst films of the year. It’s not actually
a terrible film, just an ordinary one; but the more and more overpraised it gets, the less and less
I like it. So these days I’m practically seething with hatred. I obviously take this shit way too seriously. I am gratified to
know, however, that there is an ample number of moviegoers and critics who agree with me that it’s no great shakes, and this makes it much easier
I actually like
this film, but the zeitgeist of its most ardent admirers is to elevate it to being a much better and more important movie than it actually
is. It definitely aspires to greatness, and that’s noble. But it doesn’t reach the heights it aims for, and that’s forgivable. So what’s with this notion that it both reached and surpassed its aim? Seems like wishful thinking to me.
The Films To Which I Was Most Neutral And Most Prone To Summarize By
interesting and not interesting at the same time.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Although I was
not enthralled with Benjamin Button, I am mystified at the sheer hatred that is being heaped upon it. Except for those 13 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.
Schreiber has always been an excellent stage actor, but this marks the first time I have seen him turn in an excellent film
performance. Daniel Craig – good actor, but I totally don’t get why people think he’s drop-dead
gorgeous. The movie – interesting insofar as it’s a true story, but doesn’t really grab and
Miracle At St. Anna
Wow, this is
one supremely boring film. Doesn’t help that it’s a war film – I never get why anyone does any
particular thing in war films, remember?
fighting, cool blood spattering.
The Other Boleyn Girl
I actually kind
of enjoyed this, and yet have nothing but bad memories about it.
The Most Confusing Film of the Year
Tell No One
(Ne le dis à
I’m told this
was a top-notch French thriller, and I believe it. But I wish they’d hired actresses who didn’t look
so much alike, so that I could have sorted out the characters and kept track of what was happening.
Or maybe I’m just stoopid.
The Movie That, More Than Any Other, Made Me Glad That I Don’t Live In Romania
4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days
(4 luni, 3
saptamâni si 2 zile)
Or at least
that I wasn’t a woman who lived there in the 1980s and needed an abortion. A very unpleasant little
film (which is not the same as a bad film) that the highbrow critics flipped over.
The Most Disappointing Films of 2008
A Jihad For Love
Boy, if there
was ever a time that we needed to see a deep exploration about how gay men function in the Muslim world, this is it. But, unfortunately, this film does not satisfy. Still, it’s better
that it exists than not.
This was simply
not worthy as a theatrical release. But Bill Maher should be commended for pushing for the
atheists’s point of view (for the record, I am not an atheist, but nor am I religious). In the same
way that, even if you didn’t vote for Barack Obama, you should be glad to live in a country where a black man can be elected president, it also
holds true that, even if you are decidedly not a Bill Maher fan, you should be happy to live in a country where an atheist can speak his mind and
defend his position. Isn’t that what part of American freedom is about? – not just freedom of
religion, but freedom from religion? Still, shoulda been an HBO special.
Stone, you big silly. Lefties didn’t want a fair and balanced portrait of Dubya, and righties didn’t
want any portrait of him done by you at all. And by the way, thanks for ruining my pot brownie, on
which I thought it was going to be fun to watch this.
Changed My Mind – Some. Happy Now?
The Dark Night
It turns out that it makes a big difference
to see this movie in the afternoon when you’re wide awake rather than a Sunday night 10:30 p.m. show on a day you’re exhausted but committed
because of tickets purchased in advance. I will no longer say it’s
incomprehensible. I will still say that Heath Ledger’s performance is by far the best thing
about it. And, even though my opinion has been raised, it still doesn’t grab me. It still seems a bit nihilistic. I guess I still don’t “get”
it. Sorry. Oh, and yes, I did see it in IMAX the
second time, since I’d been told that since I didn’t see it in IMAX, I didn’t really see it.
Now I realize this doesn’t hold true for all IMAX movies, but where I saw it (AMC Empire 25 in NYC), it was a video projection, and not a
particularly high definition one. I was quite surprised to see video lines; they were ever so
noticeable and distracting. Pretty disappointing, to say the least.
Movies I Paid To See But Slept Through Too Many Sections To Honestly Evaluate Them
I think this
might have been good if I’d been awake.
I think I
probably didn’t miss anything here.
I remember this
was about two writers, right?
Synecdoche, New York
I was really
sorry that I couldn’t stay awake for this, because it seemed really interesting before my eyes refused to stay open.
Will Resist Putting This Film In The “Worst” Category (And Why)
Because, as bad as it was, there were
perhaps 10-15 minutes of actual funny; and because Robert Downey, Jr.’s acting was outstanding; and because Tom Cruise’s cameo was
brilliant. That is certainly a lot going for it. But
it’s still mostly tiresome and unfunny.
The Worst Films of 2008
Burn After Reading
last film, the Coen Brothers have graduated from evasiveness to pointlessness.
Journey To The Center Of The Earth 3D
It was a
foregone conclusion that this was going to be one of the worst films of the year. But we’re in the
age of several-3D-films-per-year; what's the point of treating it as mere novelty?
Last Chance Harvey
What drugs were
the movie executives on who made this a late-year release, with the impression that it was going to ratchet up a slew of nominations during
awards season? The only award it should get is Lamest Prestige Movie.
Give me a
Did you ever
see Gremlins? And you know how those little creatures were so cute at first, but then when they got wet, they turned into
terrifying monsters? Similarly, Pineapple Express starts as a delightful comedy, but soon turns into an infuriatingly loud
and stupid action flick.
Beyond Bad – The Most Unwatchable Films Of The Year
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
this are the reason Robert McKee’s story seminars are so vital – so that films this poorly conceived, underwritten and contrived never get
made. A proverbial textbook example of how not to write a screenplay, and why not to shoot a
screenplay that hasn’t been properly written.
A lesson in how
to throw expensive technological wizardry down the drain: by making every scene unimportant and
unconnected. You would have to see Speed Racer yourself to get a taste of how uniquely and
indescribably clueless it is – even without the “cute”(not!) kid and his monkey – but don’t. You’ll
never know how big a cinematic favor you’re doing yourself.
johntopping @ stageandcinema.com
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