Nordling's Top 10 of the Year! Plus Quint comments on top ten lists!
Published at: Jan. 1, 2009, 9:09 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here to introduce our good friend Nordling's top 10 list. First of all, happy 2009! We're getting closer and closer to the end of times in 2012, so let's really let loose this year!
I've been considering doing my own top 10, but to be perfectly honest... I've never liked compiling those lists, especially when everybody else has thrown in their two cents. So many of us here at AICN are like-minded, so I'm afraid my top 10 or 20 or however many would be repeating Harry and the rest of the gang for almost the exact same reasons.
There are notable exceptions, but mostly in the worst of the year lists. I disagree with Capone on SPEED RACER. I found it to be an incredibly fun film, but at the same time I wouldn't put that film in my top 10.
This year I was blown away by The Dark Knight, Wall-E, Let The Right One In, The Good, The Bad and The Weird (from The Host's Ji-Woon Kim), Slumdog Millionaire and Iron Man. I loved RAMBO, too. I'm a sucker for graphic violence and snipers, so Stallone's decision to add a sniper buddy as long distance support for the more close quarters John Rambo took it over the top (yes, that was intentional) for me. There, now you know what I liked and I don't have to do a big boring list.
I do think I'll compile a top 10 A Movie A Day list, though. That could be fun. In the meantime, here's Nordling with his thoughts on the year. I'll leave you with him now, who is a lot better at this type of thing than I am.
Nordling's Top 10 of 2008!
2008 was an odd year. The summer crop was strong, and the fall releases seemed watered down in comparison to last year's multiple masterpieces. Maybe the writer's strike cut into the schedule a bit. But there were still many wonderful films to see this year, and although this is a Top 10 list, there's several films that could have made the grade. Without further blah-blah, here we go!
10. IRON MAN
Robert Downey Jr. is better in IRON MAN than Johnny Depp was in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and yet I don't think he'll get the accolades that Depp did for his performance as Tony Stark. Not my favorite superhero film of the year, but it's a solid film regardless, the happy-go-lucky in comparison to THE DARK KNIGHT's gloom and doom. Knowing what Stark goes through in later stories, it won't be smiles for long, but IRON MAN has a clever script and confidently directed by Jon Favreau. As for Downey, this is the film that gave him his real second act in American cinema, and I'd like to welcome back a true actor's actor. His turn in this and TROPIC THUNDER might have squared him that Oscar nomination (and still might) if not for Ledger's performance. Looking forward to next year's SHERLOCK HOLMES.
Sean Penn doesn't play Harvey Milk as any kind of victim or martyr. He simply plays him as a man happy with his lot in life, who saw an injustice and wanted it corrected. Yes, MILK is upfront with its characters sexuality, and it doesn't shy away from it. And at the same time, it shows us as an audience that these people have the same goals and passions as everyone else - to live their lives free from persecution, to have good jobs, to find love, to raise a family. The film even makes a hilarious point - straight or gay, no one likes stepping in dog shit. The passing of Proposition 8 was a dark spot on an otherwise amazing political year, and I wish that MILK had been released earlier and wider. It may have changed some minds. What's great about Penn's performance is that the usually morose Penn plays Milk as a pretty happy guy. There's tragedies in his life, to be sure, but it's inspirational that Milk gets up from them and continues. Josh Brolin plays Milk's assassin Dan White as a man trapped in his environment, and while you feel sympathy for him the film doesn't excuse what he did in any way.
This film, Ron Howard's best since APOLLO 13, may seem ill-suited for the big screen, as it would seem that the subject matter doesn't warrant that kind of attention. Don't believe it. Frank Langella doesn't play Nixon with broad strokes, but instead, internalizes the man and his performance is all the more powerful for it. He doesn't play Nixon, he simply is Nixon. Michael Sheen is more elusive as David Frost - we never really get inside the man - but when Frost decides to become a real reporter instead of a Cheshire-cat's-grin celebrity, the film in it's way becomes a love letter to what journalism used to be about before they got in bed with politics simply for access. The faux-interviews are unnecessary, but other than that, Howard's made a very compelling drama.
7. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
I was almost ready to write this one off because although it was getting lots of raves, it felt to me like this film was going to be that one film every year that gets all the buzz but in actuality didn't deserve it (see CRASH, A BEAUTIFUL MIND). I'm happy to discover that that wasn't the case. This rags-to-riches story's been told before but not like this, with Danny Boyle's film sensibilities and the backdrop of Mumbai, India. I never thought I'd see the day when WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE became poignant, but SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE manages to do it. Add to that the amazing score, Bollywood by way of techno, and an instant must-own. You simply can't miss SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. If you're a film fan of any caliber, you must see this. If you don't, I'm not sure I want to know you. It must be hard, walking around with a piece of coal for a heart.
6. SPEED RACER
Yeah, I'm going to say it. This for me was the most entertaining film of the summer. This movie's like a kid's breakfast cereal made of rainbows. You'd think the Wachowski Brothers invented colors for this movie. I've seen this film wind up on several worst of lists and that absolutely stuns me. There is no way in hell this is a bad film, and I feel completely comfortable listing it as one of this year's best. For one thing, as a family film, it's completely appropriate for kids. Watching the dynamics of the Racer family play out in this story, I felt that in it's way the Wachowskis were making a film about the sheer joy of family, of all these disparate people coming together and making something wonderful. Is it perfect? No, there's stretches in the film that are slow. It could do with about 20 minutes shaved off it. But that final race, where 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY blasts through Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, is as beautiful as film art can be.
5. THE DARK KNIGHT
Is it a comic movie? A crime film? Happily, it's both. We've got some distance now from Heath Ledger's death, and I think we can judge his performance fairly without that tragedy clouding the issue, and it's safe to say that Ledger probably gives the acting performance of the year. He made the Joker completely his own, and lived up to the potential of that role. I'd say my favorite scene of his is when the Joker corrects Gamble when he say the Joker is crazy: "No I'm not. No. I'm. Not." And everyone gives good performances in this film, especially Aaron Eckhart, who if not for Ledger would be getting some accolades of his own. Sure, I could do without Batman's Oscar The Grouch intimidation voice, but that's a minor nitpick. The best Batman film yet, and it suggests the superhero genre can be taken seriously now. Perhaps if all the lawsuit crap can get sorted out, next year's WATCHMEN can elevate the genre more. Can't wait to find out.
There's just no way that this film wouldn't make the list. I claim no objectivity here - Pixar is the God-studio. Even their lesser films are classic. Next year's UP, if they don't drop the ball in the second half, is probably a guarantee to be on next year's Top 10. As for WALL-E, I first saw it with an enthusiastic crowd in Austin and I knew it was special when the audience applauded at the end of the film, watched the credits, and applauded again. It's a wonderful love story, an environmental cautionary tale that's never preachy. If people are tired of me praising Pixar, then tell Pixar to start making lousy films. The track record is astonishing, and expect more greatness with UP next year.
3. DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO HIS SON ABOUT HIS FATHER
You want superheroes? I've got two for you: Kate and David Bagby, parents of Dr. Andrew Bagby. In 2001, Dr. Bagby was murdered by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner. In a fit of rage Shirley shot Andrew 5 times and fled to Canada, where the byzantine extradition laws kept her from being tried in the United States. Then a bombshell drops - she's pregnant with Andrew's child. Desperate to keep some kind of link to their son alive, the Bagbys move from California to Newfoundland to fight Shirley for custody. It gets to the point where they have to get visitation to see Zachary from the woman who murdered their son. When she's sent to prison in Canada to await extradition, The Bagbys bond with their grandchild. And Kurt Kuenne, filmmaker, decides to make a movie documenting his good friend Andrew's life by driving cross-country to interview Andrew's many friends and acquaintances, hopefully for an historical document for Zachary. But life hardly coincides with what we expect.
Bring boxes of tissue for this one. As far as documentaries go, DEAR ZACHARY doesn't exactly break the mold. It's mostly talking heads telling the many stories of Andrew's life. Kurt Kuenne doesn't even attempt to claim objectivity - this was his good friend murdered, and his rage at that act is palpable, and his bias to the subject gives the film much of its power. But when the film takes a horribly tragic turn, it becomes a testament to the bravery of two people - Kate and David Bagby, who more than any of the other cinematic heroes of 2008 earn that description. This film isn't for the emotionally squeamish - it's a hard, hard road. At times I thought that the way the film reveals its story was approaching manipulative, but Kuenne wants the viewer to feel how he felt as each event happened, and what he's made here is one of the most riveting and powerful documentaries I've ever seen. And if you want to learn more or order the DVD, go to www.dearzachary.com for more information.
2. THE WRESTLER
Mickey Rourke is extraordinary as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler whose age and life choices catch up with him, but he still wants that final go round in the ring. I'm a big fan of Darren Aronofsky - his FOUNTAIN is my pick for best film of 2006 - but as broad and as emotional as that film was he's remarkably restrained here and the film is all the better for it. Marisa Tomei continues to make superb acting choices with her roles and she's terrific in this as well. What I loved most about the film is that while it follows the plot of most sports films to a t, what we're feeling emotionally is the direct opposite of what we're seeing on screen. When he steps into that ring at the climax, it's an abject failure and the final shot, while on the surface seems victorious, is actually a lie. The love that the Ram seeks is fleeting and he rejects the loves that last. It's a hell of a movie, and like RAGING BULL, a study of a deeply flawed man. I made a real attempt to not let Rourke's public story cloud how I viewed his performance and it would be easy to say that he was born to play this role. But there's moments where the Ram as a character is emotionally stripped on screen, and that can't just be Rourke's past. It's an acting triumph, and he's deserving of all the accolades thrown his way.
1. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
It's very easy to overhype this movie. Much of it is quiet, and it's not paced like most films of this genre. Much of the gore is only suggested, and there isn't one single cheap scare to be found in the film. On one level it's a tender coming-of-age romance, and on another it's a chilling master/slave story, and what makes it so amazing is that both levels work as well as they do at the same time. This come-out-of-nowhere instant horror classic blew me away the first time I saw it, and on subsequent viewings it just grows stronger. Most child performances feel phony, but Tomas Alfredson pulls amazing work, seemingly without trying, out of Kare Hedebrant and especially Lina Leandersson. I haven't read the novel on which the film is based, which expands Eli's history, but I love how the film suggests aspects of Eli's relationships without being overt. I love the pool scene, easily the best climax of a movie this year. I love everything about this film, and it's sure to be talked about for quite some time to come. A stunning achievement.
Worst Film Of The Year: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL - This hurts, it really does. As everyone who knows me can attest, I'm a Spielberg freak. So it comes to this, the worst Spielberg film since HOOK (I have a warm spot in my heart for 1941, so don't bother). People keep telling me that you shouldn't hold SKULL to the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK standard, but that's bullshit. Maybe it can't be as good, but it sure as hell can try. Instead of real guys under real trucks, we get CGI to choke a supercomputer. Instead of compelling performances, we get a director who, it felt, would obviously rather be making something else and actors who are seemingly just trying to make it through the next take so to get some of that top-notch catering. Harrison Ford, at times, seemed to be engaged, but mostly, it just wasn't the Indiana Jones of the first three films. And as for George Lucas, he's not interested in any kind of art. He's sure interested in commerce, though. I can't wait to see LINCOLN or INTERSTELLAR or any other film that gets Steven Spielberg excited again. But this is definitely a low point in the man's catalog, and I guess I can't blame him for being bored with this story. It certainly bored me. A vine-swinging Shia LeBeouf? Really, George?
And that about wraps it up. 2009 has the potential to be fantastic. 2008 wasn't terrible, but it can't compare to the juggernauts of 2007. Still, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN can hold itself high as the real genuine masterpiece of 2008. Thanks for reading.