Marcus Doidge's Top Ten 2008
Our reviewer Marcus Doidge lists his favourite movies of the year gone by...
I’ve opted for a top ten list of movies I’ve enjoyed this year as opposed to a list of the best releases. This is mostly down to the fact that I don’t think there’s been enough stand out all-rounders this year and whilst there’ve been a few that have stood out over the rest, it’s seemed to be only for one element, whether it be picture, sound or a few good features.
As for 2008’s movie year, we’ve had a pretty great year overall, with plenty to go see and lots to enjoy. Countering that though, despite there being a lot of great movies on offer in 2008 and a great deal that I had a lot of fun with, I have to say there hasn’t been a lot that I truly fell for. In fact, I’d say that it was probably only my top five that I one hundred percent connected to and had a mini love affair with but hey, that’s just me.
So without further ado, let’s commence with the first entry in my top ten of 2008.
I was hooked on this one from that very first preview on Superbad. Then with the first proper trailer featuring the MIA 'Paper Planes' track, Pineapple Express escalated to one of my most anticipated comedies of the year. As you can see with its appearance in my top ten, I wasn’t disappointed (the same can't be said of a certain other porno related Seth Rogan film this year—but that's for another time).
Pineapple Express fits into the age old comedy formula of a couple of hapless guys who get involved with some crime lords by no fault of their own. As with the formula, the hapless guys freak out with some comic hi-jinks and the bad guys mistakenly assume that they are dealing with some ‘real pros’. This is a tried and tested set up which I’ve always adored in films like Dumb and Dumber and See No Evil, Hear No Evil.
Pineapple Express brings its own slant via writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. These two, with a little help from Judd Apatow (who just owns the comedy scene at the moment) and the gold just carries on. At the forefront of this caper movie is one of the funniest and most lovable double acts of the year: Seth Rogan’s Dale Denton and James Franco’s Saul Silver; a fantastic duo whose relationship evolves beautifully over the course of the movie. Highlights for me are their long sleep in the car, Dale’s wrist-watch stopping and the borrowing of Dale’s jacket but there are a vast amount more laughs on offer here and I can’t tell you how much I giggled at Dale’s girlfriends dad threatening to ‘fuck you in the street’.
The Disc:Not actually out until January 2009, but by the looks of it, Pineapple Express’s release seems to follow the Apatow checklist. Gag Reels, Line-o-ramas, on set laughs... I’m hoping for great things from this release.
Yes, another comedy and yes another Apatow produced movie, but this time it’s one that hardly anyone saw and those who did, didn’t like it. The negative reaction totally puzzles me. I loved Walk Hard when it came out at the beginning of 2008 and have since seen it over and over on Blu-ray and it grows on me more with every viewing.
Generally, I’m not a fan of the spoof. I usually find they go for the simple laughs at the expense of any sort of story or believability. Walk Hard goes way beyond the confines of the simple laughs. Dewey Cox (John C Reiley) is a fully developed character despite taking all of his life story elements from classic music history icons. The journey Cox goes on from rising star to lifetime achievement award winner is incredibly enjoyable and all of the supporting cast are just as memorable. The songs, that are as funny as they are well written, fill out Cox’s career with a sense of a genuine alternative music history and the actual look of the film is way beyond what you’d expect.
As well as thoroughly enjoying Dewey Cox’s life story, I also love what else Walk Hard achieves. It fires a lethal blow at the biopic genre that has become so generic of late. Walk the Line and Ray are the two biggies it takes down (as well as a handful that are yet to be made) by highlighting some of the more lazy story telling clichés these films rely on so heavily. The evils of success and drugs, rehab and womanising are all played on with such comedy genius that it almost feels as if no future biographies should even attempt to take the same trodden in avenues without feeling comedic. So, frankly not only is Walk Hard a movie I can laugh at but does its best to ensure that future biopics might actually be interesting. Good Job!
The Disc:The region free two disc US Blu-ray is a fantastic little package. It comes with great picture and sound, some hilarious extra features as well as an extended version of the film. There’s a fake documentary about how Dewy Cox influenced artists like Jewel, Sheryl Crow and a handful of others, loads of ‘original’ recordings of Cox’s songs and the awesomely funny advertisement for Cox Sausages (‘It doesn’t say Cox, unless I say it tastes like Cox’). In fact, this is probably one of the best Blu-ray packages I’ve seen this year.
I can hardly believe that this came out in 2008 (I know, in the US it was 2007). No Country For Old Men just feels like a movie that’s been around for ages, with that beautifully timeless Coen Brothers feel. The use of landscape and Tommy Lee Jones’s voiceover all making this feel like a modern classic.
To much critical acclaim, Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh instantly became one of the greatest movie villains of all time. Every moment that he’s on screen makes you feel uneasy; his accent, his tone, his haircut. It all adds a weight to his presence and all this before he even pulls out his bolt pistol which is the cherry on this killer's cake. After watching this performance (and partly fuelled by my wife falling in love with him after his Oscar acceptance speech and demanding we see more of his movies) I’ve taken great delight in catching up with nearly all of Javier’s film catalogue this year and he really is one hell of an actor that 2008 opened my eyes up to. The Coen’s also had a pretty great year in 2008, what with this and Burn After Reading.
This was one of my early Blu-ray purchases and the picture quality is fantastic. Natural lighting, detailed images and great colours all make for a highly satisfactory viewing experience for this great movie. The special features are a little thin, but then the Coens’ movies have never been too strong in that department anyway. So at least they’re consistent.
While I wouldn’t say 2008 was the strongest of years for movies that I’ve fallen in love with, there have been an awful lot of great ones, here a few that deserve a mention despite not being included in the top ten list.
Well first off, what would a 2008 review be without mentioning Wall-E? Despite Wall-E not being in my overall top ten, there’s no denying the greatness of it. Pixar once again produced one hell of a movie and a character that is an all time classic, but for me the movie didn’t quite live up to the greatness of Wall-E as a character. I adore about seventy-five percent% of the movie (basically all that is Wall-E-centric) but the human element left me cold and a little underwhelmed. .
Aside from Wall-E, some other movies I really dug in 2008, were Dedication, which provided yet another fantastic Billy Crudup performance and In Bruges, which was probably Colin Farrell at his best since Tigerland, probably even better actually. Dan is Real Life was an under-loved gem which had some of 2008’s most heartfelt moments. Speed Racer was a family driven delight which looked amazing, the action scenes in The Incredible Hulk were some of the year’s best for me, but then Hulk has to do very little to impress me, just smash a few army trucks and cause a lot of devastation and I’m in! HULK SMASH!
Now back to the top ten...
Okay, I’ll admit that on my first viewing I wasn’t sure if I actually liked this new Indiana Jones instalment or if it had gone a little too far with its Fifties sci-fi subject matter, but now after multiple viewings I just love hanging out with Indy as much as I always have.
The new adventure is a solid one and while it’s by no means perfect, or indeed as slick as it might have been, there’s just so much fun to be had from the tried and trusted Indy formula. It’s refreshing to see some old school adventure storytelling without the lacklustre modern twists and goofiness that are offered up with the likes of The Mummy franchise and as I mentioned in my recent review here it all just comes down to Indiana Jones as a character and with Harrison Ford being this spot on in, everything else just gravitates around the legendary movie icon, making for feel good Spielberg/Lucas adventure greatness.
With the Blu-ray offering some pretty damn great video and audio, this Indiana Jones adventure is made all the more fun to revisit. From the opening Elvis track to the ‘you better not put that damn hat on Shia’ ending there is very little to complain about with this HD transfer. As for features, I personally found the main documentary a little too formulaic and failed to grasp the excitement of having the man with the hat and whip back on our screens but it’s still very detailed and watchable. As for the smaller featurettes, there’s enough to enjoy but this is Spielberg and Lucas so you know there’s still plenty to milk out of this release in future editions and unsurprisingly you might find yourself craving a little bit more.
As mentioned just before Christmas in the Gift Guide Article here I was torn between the this here Kung Fu Panda and Disney’s Wall-E. Having got to watch these again on Blu-ray, I’ve got to go with the Panda as my animated movie of the year. Judging by most of the other ‘Best of the Year’ articles in the media, I’m feeling that I’m very much in the minority on this one, but there’s just something about Kung Fu Panda that stuck with me a little more.
This is Dreamwork’s biggest fluke since the first Shrek. Maybe it’s because this project doesn’t feel like a riff on a Disney idea or it could be that it’s not clogged up with weak gags and references to current fads. Maybe it’s just that ‘there is no secret ingredient’. Whatever Panda has, it has it in spades. There’s something infectious about Po the Panda’s geek love of his Kung Fu; his admiration of the Furious Five or his ability to take the pain because he just loves being there so much. I love Dustin Hoffman‘s Shifu and the journey this character goes on, I totally dig the Turtle Master and every single thing he says and how he moves saying it and it’s refreshing to see a villain like Tai Lung in an animated movie. Seriously that final showdown is bad ass—‘Skadoosh!’
Dreamworks know how to put together some beautiful looking HD transfers and Kung Fu Panda is one of the most colourful I’ve seen to date. There are so many wow moments in this transfer I think I lost count. The selection of the Dragon Master, with its bright blue skies, colourful buildings, multiple characters and ticker tape falling everywhere is astonishing and the bold use of colour is striking throughout.
Features wise, typically a bit fluffy, with its music video and learn the dance steps stuff for the kids all present and correct but hey, maybe I’m not exactly its audience (or maybe I just sucked trying to learn the dance moves). Oh and Dreamworks, next time, include all the features form the DVD editions on the Blu-ray. Some of us completists might want to find out 'The Secrets of the Furious Five' as well.
The journey towards the release date of 01-18-08 might not have been quite as exciting in the UK, considering we didn’t get it till February, but that didn’t stop the excitement for this J.J Abrams produced project building up pretty damn high in the Doidge household. I, like many, was hooked on this one from the first trailer. From not knowing anything about it, through getting the confirmation it was a monster movie, right up to release and for me an early ‘region free’ purchase on my new Blu-ray player. This is one of those movies that wasn’t only great, but was made even more so by being a title I couldn’t wait to get hold of on home release.
Basically Godzilla told with a home movie style mixed with a lot of 9/11 imagery, Cloverfield had just the right amount of smarts to win me over. Yes, Hud should have put the camera down multiple times and yes, everyone is a little too pretty to be believable, but frankly I don’t care. I actually dig the simple draw of a guy going out on a limb to save the one he loves and how the struggle is made harder with a giant sea beast kicking New York’s ass over the drip fed info on the monster element itself. Back that up with the background easter eggs that may just give us a few more hints about the monster's origins and you've got yourself an awesome event-driven monster movie.
Hand-held camera footage has never looked this good and it has certainly never sounded this good either. Seriously, the sound on this release could blow a window out and it’s awesome. Also there’s a nice set of features, a good commentary and some great insight into just how clever the CGI work was here which is astonishing considering the budget.
As another little side order there were a good deal of Blu-rays this year that deserve an honourable mention for various reasons.
For starters Speed Racer is absolutely stunning in the picture department. Seriously, the colours and sheer amounts of stuff going on in this Wachowski come-back movie is enough to make a TV set beg for mercy through being overworked and the audio on The Incredible Hulk is just about enough to blow out some double glazed windows, especially in the final smack down with Abomination.
Wall-E is pretty much a stand out disc across the board for picture, audio and features and The Nightmare Before Christmas had a transfer that really showed off how an HD transfer can make a viewing experience even more of a delight by showing off all of the detail in its model work. Risky Business has a Tom Cruise video commentary which was a blast to watch and the catalogue release of JFK was a hell of a revisit to a much loved classic.
As for stand out features, Dark City probably takes the prize for most enjoyable documentary of the year and despite being let down by Batman: Gotham Knight as a project, there’s no denying the features were more than enough to warrant the purchase of the disc. Oh and TV wise, as always the latest season of LOST (season 4) was well worth the upgrade to HD with some cracking features.
Now onto the top four...
Because of the lack of Blu-ray release for this, I’ve only actually seen Lars and the Real Girl once, but that once was more than enough for me to fall in love with the movie. Ryan Gosling’s performance as Lars is fantastic, every mannerism packed with genuine feeling and there’s so much going on under the surface here you can’t help but be sucked into the story.
What really makes this one of the best movies of 2008 for me is how the community around Lars go along with pretty bizarre situation of a man and his life-like doll as if they are a genuine couple. How this affects Lars as a person and how he grows over the course of the movie is a pleasure to watch and just writing down these few paragraphs makes me want to watch it again right now.
I never actually picked this up due to the lack of Blu-ray release, but by the looks of the things it seems like there isn’t that much on the DVD anyway. Saying that, if this came out bare bones on Blu-ray tomorrow, I’d snap it up in a heartbeat. Damn I need to see this movie again!
This is another movie that feels a hell of a lot older than it is, but the UK didn’t get this until February, so 2008 it is. Juno is just one of those movies that I’m genetically built to like I think. I love a little indie drama with smart dialogue and great characters and Juno comes with both. Once you get through the clunky opening scene in the store, the film just becomes a delight. Ellen Page proves she’s a great lead who has a knack for making ultra cool dialogue sound natural, Jason Bateman provides a performance that skims the line of being a dude and being a douche and Jennifer Garner just melts your heart.
Supporting all this and adding yet another layer to the greatness of the movie is one of J.K Simmons’ finest performances to date, Allison Janney plays the step mum that dreams are made of and of course another star turn by the fantastic Michael Cera, whose act is always guaranteed to make me chuckle. Juno is just crammed full of heart without being too mushy and is genuinely a movie I could watch over and over.
I love being stunned by a good a low budget movies can look in HD and the Juno Blu-ray was pretty stunning to behold and with the great soundtrack sounding good too. Features wise there was also a lot to enjoy here. The fun and funky costume test is an interesting watch as well as some decent little featurettes and a solid commentary too.
The Mist is a movie that, in the handful of times I’ve watched it, works as well as it did the first time. Frank Darabont grabs you pretty much immediately and doesn’t let you go until that punch to the stomach ending (and what an ending it is).
Tom Jane once again proves to be one of my favourite actors, despite doing very little in regards to quality movies. His presence fits this character perfectly and he plays one of those characters you are just immediately behind with every decision he makes, no matter how dangerous they may be. The Mist also comes loaded with one of the best villains of the year, that being Marcia Gay Harden’s venomous Mrs Carmody, rather than the many mist-living beasties. She demands an audience reaction and my blood boils more as her influence grows over the store’s prisoners.
For me, The Mist is a modern classic to add to Frank Darabont’s ever growing filmography of classic movies and deserves a far wider audience that it seems to have received at this point in time. Read my full review here.
One of my favourite all-rounders of the year. Packed with some luscious visuals (especially in the black and white version), some effective audio and a nice batch of extras, including a Frank Darabont and Stephen King sit down chat and a great making of, this one really was one of the highlights to grace my TV screen in 2008.
Now seems a good time to acknowledge the ones that really didn’t do anything for me.
By far the two worst movies of the year for me were St Trinians, which even Russell Brand couldn’t save, and more so (on sheer disappointment) was AVP 2: Requiem, which single handily killed my last thread of hope for two of my most beloved franchises. I actually felt pretty ill after watching that one.
The Happening wasn’t just terrible, it left me feeling abused. Being a massive Shyamalan supporter over the years and defending him against many of my friends meant dealing with the unquestionable badness of The Happening was just an all round bad experience. Also the likes of Deception deserve a mention in this section as it felt like a movie someone had discovered unreleased in the Fox vaults from the mid-nineties and Eagle Eye, which was just crud, repetitive and some sort of joke, considering the twist was as age-old as VHS, goes to show that even the big stars can easily make turkeys.
There are a few more I could mention ( Slipstream, Mutant Chronicles, 27 Dresses) but I won’t. Why bother with the yawn-fests when we can get to the main event.
(Drumroll please) My favourite movie of 2008 is...
Finally a blockbuster event movie that not only lived up to the hype but blew a massive bat-sized flaming hole through the other side of it. I’ve already written way to much about The Dark Knight See my review here but The Dark Knight is a movie that totally worked for me. As a long time Bat-fan it was a joy to see Batman and the Joker back on our screens and handled with this much attention to detail.
There has been much hype over Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker and hopefully this will continue through awards season as the praise is totally justified. The more I watch The Dark Knight the more he just shines as the main element of what makes this movie so much more than it would have been without him. It helps that he’s playing the Joker, who in all honesty would demand this sort of presence anyway but the fact that Heath managed to capture the Joker almost exactly as he deserved to be portrayed on film is one hell of an achievement and it’s a shame that his untimely death will prevent that lightning striking twice.
The Dark Knight sits snugly at the top of my 2008 list mainly because it’s something I could enjoy again and again and more than likely will do over the coming years but also because it comes with one of my favourite scenes of the year (the Batman and Joker conversation in the interrogation room). Plus, as an extra special personal delight, I’m loving the fact that not only an event movie, but a superhero event movie managed to be the movie that hit my top spot—this just doesn’t happen much for me nowadays. Batman once again owns the superhero genre and frankly that’s exactly how it should be. Bring on another sequel...
Despite a few ‘issues’ with the video and audio that are fairly forgivable and easily ignored while viewing, this Blu-ray experience was generally a great one with the IMAX shots working wonders despite the odds stacked against them. The features are fifty-fifty with a great first disc and a very fluffy second. It’s a bit of a shame that one of the biggest movies of the year wasn’t as rewarding on home release as I’d have liked but as I said in my review, this won’t be the last edition we see of The Dark Knight.
So, with 2008 behind us, 2009 is already looking like a hell of a year. For starters and not too far off (hopefully) Watchmen finally makes it to our screens. This one has been a long time coming and judging from the trailers, is already shaping up to be movie of the year, for me at least. On top of that, we already know we’re getting multiple editions on home release, with the theatrical cut, the extended edition and a special ‘Black Freighter’ animated feature. This one has me hyped beyond belief right now.
Beyond that, there’s the Wolverine movie that might work, but Gambit and Deadpool have a way to go to convince me. Transformers 2 better have at least one straight hour or more of robots fighting. JJ Abrams has done the impossible and made me want to see a Star Trek movie on the big screen (well, him and seeing Diora Baird as a green skinned Orion slave girl).
But that’s not all. We get a new Terminator movie that will hopefully win us all back over after T3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button looks to be quite the movie, though once again the UK get that way later than the US. The Road and The Time Travellers Wife might finally get released, Pixar’s, Up will no doubt capture all of our imaginations and probably most exciting James Cameron is back with Avatar.
Now Jimmy C’s return hasn’t quite got me ga-ga just yet, mainly due to it being quite a way off, but let’s face it, when the first trailer hits this could very well be the event of the year. James Cameron... Sci-Fi... Ten or so years of build up... who am I kidding? it’s gonna be a huge movie event. 2009 could really be quite special and I‘ll see you there. Happy New Year!
Editorial by Marcus Doidge
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