Saturday, 10 January 2009

Listmania! The Films of 2008, Part 4

I think this shall represent the final purging of the trivia rattling around my brain from 2008.

Welcome Miscellaneous Events of the Year: Nicholas Stoller and David Koepp making good use of Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais

I'm not really a fan of either British comedian, but in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Ghost Town both were great, playing to their strengths and their public personas perfectly. It's even made me like them a bit. It's miraculous.

Honourable Mentions:
Kate Beckinsale's strong performance in Snow Angels. So much better when not modelling rubber pants.
Seeing RADA-trained Shakespearean actor Adrian Lester playing a gun-toting hardass in Doomsday and seemingly relishing it.
The arrival of Rebecca Hall as a formidable screen presence.
Tim Roth's excellent performance as Emil Blonsky in The Incredible Hulk (usually I'm not a fan of his).

Unwelcome Miscellaneous Events of the Year: Fox being the biggest assholes in the world for trying to ruin the release of Watchmen. Will there be a boycott of X-Men Origins: Wolverine as a result? I'd like to hope it happens.

Dishonourable Mentions:
The incomprehensibility of the action scenes in Quantum of Solace and Eagle Eye.
The truly disheartening career choices of Al Pacino.
Taraji P. Henson's bizarre stereotypical acting choices in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
George Lucas's decision to make the character of Ziro the Hutt a weird lisping cross-dresser with Truman Capote's voice in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. An entire planet says, "WTF?"

Best Poster: The Dark Knight

Worst Poster: Bangkok Dangerous

Best Advertising Campaign of the Year: Cloverfield

After the trailer from last year, the campaign never really put a foot wrong. By the time the movie came out, there was no way even the worst reviews would have stopped us watching it.

Worst Advertising Campaign of the Year: The Incredible Hulk

Slender trailers, a couple of crappy TV spots, an inability to control the grouchy star (other than a funny bit on Jimmy Kimmel), and eventually, just before the release, a huge emphasis on the appearance of Robert Downey Jr., and the end of the movie being re-edited to give that tiny scene more prominence. No wonder the movie didn't make as much money as hoped. It all made the movie look like this rush-job trying to find an empty weekend during the busy summer season, but even a cursory look at the extras on the DVD show the astonishing amount of hard work and thought that went into it. Such a shame. Anyway, here's the Kimmel thing. It's the only vaguely good thing to come out of the shockingly mishandled campaign.

Least Discreet Advertising Campaign of the Year:

Wanted's many trailers gave away pretty much every WOW moment of the film. As the plot (minus the crazy Loom of Fate and exploding rats stuff) was very similar to the comic, it felt like a waste of time actually sitting through the movie. I can see that the movie was a tough sell, but couldn't they have kept some more stuff back for the film?

Coolest and Most Apt Cameo Sadly Relegated to a Deleted Scene on a DVD: Ghostface Killah in Iron Man

Most Deliriously Batshit Action Movie of the Year: Rambo

Honourable Mentions: Vantage Point, Eagle Eye, Chocolate

Vocal Sound Effect of the Year: “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” (Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino)

Catchphrase of the Year: "Let! Us! Fuck!" (Zack and Miri Make A Porno)

Most Welcome Trend of the Year (Other Than The Grudging Critical Respect Aimed At The Superhero Genre): The New Horror Renaissance

It's been going on for a while now, but even so, this year we were lucky enough to get Eden Lake, [Rec], The Orphanage, Let The Right One In and, arguably, the interesting adaptation of Scott Smith's horror classic The Ruins, all of which were of varying degrees of quality but definitely in the "very good" column. I feel like adding Neil Marshall's hugely entertaining Doomsday to that list, for being in such debt to John Carpenter, James Cameron, and George Miller, who all know how to make a suspenseful or horrifying movie. Marshall has shown he can duplicate those talents with ease. If I'm going to add that, I'll even make a case for Stuart Gordon's excellent Stuck, which is macabre, ghoulish, nail-biting suspense, as well as being a terrific comment on poverty and the pressures put on the working class, and features an excellent performance from Stephen Rea. It's been a long time since I was excited by the horror genre, and it's an odd feeling.

Least Welcome Trend of the Year: Post-Modern Cinema-Verite Movies about the War in Iraq

Don't get me wrong, it's vital we keep our eye on that war, and never forget that people are suffering there in simply horrible ways, but whereas documentaries like No End in Sight, Taxi To The Dark Side, and Standard Operating Procedure do their best to illuminate by giving voice to as many different observers as possible, Nick Broomfield's Battle For Haditha and Brian De Palma's Redacted try to create a different kind of "truth" by either recreating an atrocity or by staging a po-mo video collage of a fictional atrocity based on a real one. Both movies come from an honest place but mangle the truth through their different approaches; Broomfield with his docu-drama retelling, De Palma with his formalist tricks (fake French documentary footage, YouTube videos, CCTV, hand-held camera shots from soldiers documenting the events). Both movies intentionally feature non-actors playing unconvincing characters (more like avatars) saying clunky expositional dialogue, and featuring some bizarre choices.

For instance, Broomfield invents a composite character who is a major protagonist during the horrifying massacre of innocents. If you don't see the accompanying documentary (the name of which eludes me, regrettably) then you wouldn't know this, and you would assume that somehow that person had given his consent to Broomfield that he could show him in the film, or had had some hand in telling Broomfield what he was thinking and feeling throughout. As he didn't, all of that is now suspect, and whatever horrors the film presents are dulled by that knowledge. Just as annoying, Redacted is not based on a real event, due to legal difficulties, and as such seems like little more than a remake of Casualties of War. Even though we know there was indeed an incident similar to this, the film just muddies the waters and makes it harder for the viewer to figure out what is really going on over there.

As for the hand-held camera, it's not a convention I usually object to. I just think it really only works in movies like Cloverfield and [Rec], where using the participant frame as a method of generating new ways of delivering shocks to the audience is far more tasteful than, say De Palma's use of it. Even more annoying is that is has been proved that a docu-drama can be made that hews as close to the objective truth as it is possible to. Paul Greengrass' astonishing United 93 should be a template to follow, made with as much attention to detail and first-hand accounting as it is possible to. Admittedly Broomfield couldn't get the same level of access to the real participants as Greengrass, but still, there are avoidable choices made that damage his movie.

It's doubly frustrating because these are stories that need to be told and, especially in the case of Haditha, were done with such incredibly good intentions. This article by Broomfield shows how committed he was to telling this story to the best of his abilities. Unfortunately, in the telling of them, by blurring the lines of fact and fiction, and by filling the characters' mouths with words that no normal person would ever say, they have inadvertently distanced the audience from the real horrors. They're still essential viewing, though.

Most Relentless Use of Religious Imagery in a Science Fiction Tale: Dante 01

Dishonourable Mention: Wall*E

Best Hair: Viggo Mortensen's face fuzz (Appaloosa)

He looks like a bit of a dandy but he will fuck you up, for reals.

Worst Hair: Nicolas Cage (Bangkok Dangerous)

Does using shampoo ruin his deadly assassin's aim or something?

Most Improbably Styled Hair: Camilla Belle's pristine dreads in 10000 B.C.

Apparently we're descended from Rasta Valley Girls.

Best Use of Kristen Wiig: Ghost Town

Worst Use of Kristen Wiig: Cutting her entirely out of the cinema release of Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Adorable Screen Couple of the Year: Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man)

Honourable Mentions:
Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri Make a Porno), Mos Def and Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind)

Crap Screen Couple of the Year: Vin Diesel and Mélanie Thierry (Babylon A.D.)

Dishonourable Mentions: Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan (Eagle Eye), Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson (Jumper)

Inappropriate and Just Downright Creepy Screen Couple of the Year: Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson (Let The Right One In)

"Oh Man, At Last!" Couple of the Year: Harrison Ford and Karen Allen (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)

"Jesus, Just Split Up Already!" Couple of the Year: Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel (The Happening)

Dishonourable Mention: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road), Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (The Strangers)

Most Awkward and Unconvincing Couple of the Year: Edward Norton and Liv Tyler (The Incredible Hulk)

Utterly Improbable Couple of the Year: James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie (Wanted)

Dishonourable Mention: Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth (21)

Most Gratuitous Kissing Between Two Hotties Just So The Director Can Get His Rocks Off: Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Worst Ending to a Relationship: Kate Beckinsale and Hott Sam Rockwell in Snow Angels

Dishonourable Mentions: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road), Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (The Strangers)

Likeable Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the Year: Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis - Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

Honourable Mention: Chloë - (Clémence Poésy - In Bruges)

Unlikeable Manic Pixie Dream Girl - Valentina (Natalya Rudakova - Transporter 3)

Dishonourable Mention: Fox (Angelina Jolie - Wanted)

Convincing Lust Object of the Year: Daniel Craig (Quantum of Solace)

Honourable Mention: Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)

Unconvincing Lust Object of the Year: Al Pacino (88 Minutes)

Dishonourable Mention: Kate Bosworth (21)

"Kate Winslet In Little Children" Award For Least Believable Unattractiveness: Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler

We're supposed to think Tomei, as stripper Cassidy, looks so old that no one wants her to dance for them? Bullshit. She's looking as good as ever, though kudos to her for selling that plot point.

Most Amusing Critical Crush of the Year: Stephanie Zacharek's potentially compromising soft spot for Jason Statham

At the end of the year, Stephanie Zacharek, film critic for Salon, had her end of year list (somewhat smaller than mine), with a big list of honourable mentions. Among the usual suspects, there was also The Bank Job and Transporter 3, two movies that really are just not that good. When we had a closer look at her reviews for both movies, we found out why: Stephanie + Jason 4evah!

Hilariously, her reviews for both movies (and Death Race, which she was also easy on), were basically mash notes to the Brit Bruiser. Here are some highlights:

"Statham is sexy all right, with that beefcake-pinup chest, but the sexiest thing about him is what's going on upstairs, and his voice alone is delectable: It sounds like a cat's tongue feels." (Transporter 3)

"The look in Statham's eyes reassures [Keeley Hawes] more than his words ever could -- they have a melting quality that counterbalances the rough, masculine raspiness of his voice. In the press notes for "The Bank Job," Donaldson says that Statham reminds him of a British Steve McQueen, and the comparison makes sense. In "The Bank Job," Statham is a sex symbol with a soul..." (The Bank Job)

"Anderson's camera [casts] its unapologetically erotic view on Statham's perfectly chiseled mug -- his stubble is so artfully dappled it could have been painted by Carravagio... There's no doubt he makes a fine physical specimen in any picture: His muscles have that mysterious filmic quality of looking both rock-hard and pillowy at once... Statham moves with such easy grace that you don't have to work hard to believe him. And if he can stand up to Joan Allen, melting her predatory stare with his own molten gaze, then it's clear he's not just the prettiest guy on the prison block, but also the toughest." (Death Race)

I wish she had reviewed In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale as well. I'd wager she definitely owns it.

Okay, I reckon that should be enough. Normal service can be resumed now.

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