December 26, 2008
2008: Another year that ends
As a quick glance to the archives of the site may prove, here at W-Cinema the main concern tends to be films older than 1970, however, I do try to watch a fair amount of modern movies as well, specially films the releases of the year. Unfortunately, the volume of recent releases I watch is enormously inferior to the amount of older films I watch, but while this year that tendency did not change (to date I've I watched 190 movies this year, and only 16 of those were 2008 films), I managed to build up a humble top 10.
Granted, 16 films are not exactly a good measure of how was the year, specially since most of the films of 2008 that I saw verged towards horror, fantasy and documentaries; but still, I wanted to list these 10 films mainly because I may not be able to fully write about them for a while. By the way, four films on my list were superhero films, and while very different from each other, the four had in common that the story and characters had more weight than the special effects. Perhaps the sub-genre has reached maturity at last:
Badly marketed as a parody of superhero films, "Hancock" was actually more a character study about the concept of superhero and the real implications of a super powered being roaming around the cities. Don't get me wrong, this Will Smith vehicle had its fair share of superhero comedy, but it was more on the style of "The Incredibles" (albeit on a very much darker tone) than on the one of "Super Hero Movie". Peter Berg's film was not without its flaws (including special effects that left a lot to be desired), but "Hancock" was a big surprise for me.
9) "Kung Fu Panda"
I have a soft spot for Dreamworks animated films, but while I have enjoyed their movies probably more than what I should, I've always thought that their overuse of cultural references is a severe flaw that tragically dates their films and eliminates any chance of them existing beyond their release year. Well, "Kung Fu Panda" it's the first of their films that I can see having a lifetime of more than 2 years. A loving homage to Kung Fu films (the whole thing seems as if it had been shot by Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan, whom actually lends his voice to a character), "Kung Fu Panda" is an excellent tale of adventure that, without being a masterpiece, places Dreamworks closer to Pixar's level.
8) "Iron Man"
I must admit I wasn't really interested in the film because, while "Iron Man" is one of my favorite characters and Robert Downey Jr. one of my favorite actors, all the trailers that were released showed a film that in my opinion, was nothing but explosions and shallow one liners. Fortunately, I was wrong. True, the film has a good amount of explosions and shallow one liners, but it also has a key factor: complete understanding of the character. Without making any compromise, director Favreau and Downey Jr. portrayal Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, as what he has always been: an arrogant prick. This choice may not make him the friendliest superhero of the bunch, but it made up a good story that hopefully will get even better in the sequels (it's planned as a trilogy).
7) "Be Kind Rewind"
In the story of two friends who decide to remake the erased tapes of a rental video store, director Michael Gondry creates one of the best tributes to cinema since "Nuovo Cinema Paradiso". And a funnier one at that too. Jack Black and Mos Def's characters use extremely limited resources to make their movies, but beyond their naiveté, creativity and willpower, what makes them special is the heart they put in them. "Be Kind Rewind" is about the many ways cinema affects those who make the movies, and those who watch them, and makes a strong point about how the importance of money seems to have taken away the magic from movies. Because to the characters of "Be Kind Rewind", films are more than mere entertainment, more than successful blockbusters and box office hits, to them films are part of the collective memory of their culture.
6) "Vampiro: Angel, Devil, Hero"
A dedicated fan of wrestling, Canadian director Lee Demarbre decided to follow professional wrestler Ian Hodgkinson, better known as Vampiro, in his tour across Europe to make a film. What he got was more than a simple sports documentary, but a very intimate view on Vampiro, an inside look to what really happens behind the scenes and what probably is the best film about that mix of show and sport that is pro-wrestling. "Vampiro: Angel, Devil, Hero", recounts the story of Vampiro from his troubled youth in his native Canada to his meteoric rise to stardom in Mexico, and then his sudden fall from grace. In the mean time, we see Vampiro preparing his biggest show ever as a promoter, and of course, the tour he did in Europe. With an excellent work of editing, independent filmmaker Demarbre makes of this movie his best work to date.
5) "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"
Guillermo Del Toro returns to his favorite comic book character in a sequel filled with lots of action and black humor. Having already introduced Hellboy in the first film, Del Toro uses this sequel to let us know more about the secondary characters, while at the same time keep developing the relationship between the demonic hero and his pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz. Still, the most interesting theme is the whole gang's relationship with the world, a world that they are supposed to protect, but that considers them freaks at best, and monsters at worst. While this may sound kind of clichéd, Del Toro's film is full of twists and turns and makes for a thrilling second chapter in the saga of the big red guy.
4) "Niño Fidencio... de Roma a Espinazo"
Directed by Juan Farre, "Niño Fidencio... de Roma a Espinazo" (literally "Niño Fidencio... From Rome to Espinazo") is a Mexican documentary about the different beliefs surrounding the figure of Niño Fidencio, a mystic and healer who lived in a small town called Espinazo in the years after the Mexican Revolution. After his death, his persona has become the center of diverse religious ideas that go from those who think he should be canonized by the Catholic Church to those who consider themselves a new religion based on his teachings. Farre recollects a lot of information about the life of the real Niño Fidencio, and then goes on a very objective overview about the diverse religious and cultural manifestations that take place in the deserted town of Espinazo, where people goes to find spiritual and physical healing. A very complete and tastefully done documentary.
3) "The Dark Knight"
Probably the most discussed film of the year, Christopher Nolan's second "Batman" film was definitely one of the most expected movies of the year, and it didn't disappoint. However, I must say that to me Heath Ledger's performance wasn't the star of the film, to me the movie's real highlights are the Nolans script and Aaron Eckhart. True, this Joker was awesome, but I think that a lot of that comes from the way the story was developed, in the sense that for once the duel between Batman and the Joker is like it should had been in the first place: a duel between a detective and a terrorist, taken to the extreme of course. About Aaron Eckhart, I'll just say that I find his role more challenging that Ledger's and Bale's on the basis that unlike them, he has no mask, no ticks, no extreme personality to explode; and yet he has to make us believe in Harvey Dent. While its politic ideas may be debatable, it's still a remarkably done crime thriller.
Personally, I think this movie is the closest Pixar has been to a perfect masterpiece in its history. There are almost no dialogs in the film, but through the visuals, they have created a story of comedy and romance of a beauty akin to what Charlie Chaplin used to make. Wall-E's attempt to find love in Eve makes the basis of some of the most beautiful and charming scenes in an animated film in a while. Sadly, I think that the last third gets messy as the characters and their love story seem to go the backseat in favor of a more typical conclusion and the somewhat forced inclusion of a social commentary that, while I personally find relevant and truly important, still feels like a terrible stop from what to that point had been a pleasant trip as it has the subtlety of a hammer. Despite this, it's the closest Pixar has been to a perfect film.
1) "Låt den rätte komma in"
Easily the best horror and fantasy film about vampires in quite a long, long time. Straight from Sweden, director Tomas Alfredson comes up with the years greatest surprise, in a beautiful tale of romance and horror that truly blows that soap opera named "Twilight" out of the water. Shot with more imagination than resources, "Låt den rätte komma in" or, "Let the Right One In", is proof that horror genre is not dead, that it's not all about guts and gore, and that with nothing more than creativity and talent, it still can be the source of great artistry.