As with last year, I saw a lot of movies in the last twelve months. I even managed to see a decent number of (good) flicks the old fashioned way, in the popcorn stadium! So, here we go, the ones that made the greatest impression on me.
In the Theater
- There Will Be Blood: Yeah, it was released (to lots of critical praise) late last year, but I didn't get around to it until early January. Fueled by a brilliant performance by Daniel Day Lewis and a terrific score by Johnny Greenwood (of Radiohead), I thought it was excellent. One of my fellow WV bloggers (can't remember which, sorry) said it reminded him of Kubrick, which makes sense to me.
- The Dark Knight: You probably didn't hear anything about this understated little independent film, right? Driven by another monstrous performance (the late Heath Ledger's psychotic take on The Joker), this was the comic book movie as high art. Worthy of all the praise and popular success it received.
- Hellboy II - The Golden Army: If The Dark Knight was the height of the comic book movie as art, this one was a pretty damn good example of the comic book movie as pure entertainment. Big, loud, and great fun to look at (what else would you expect from Guillermo del Toro?), it was a solid mid summer big picture experience.
- Slumdog Millionaire: Scottish director Danny Boyle goes to India to make a movie infused with Bollywood flair that hangs on the outcome of the local version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Sound like a recipe for disaster or, at best, a glorious mess? It certainly could have been. Instead, Boyle uses the frame of the game show to tell the backstory ("bizarrely plausible," as one character puts it) of the main character and develop an epic love story. Does it all work? Not really. Does enough of it work, particularly the visual style, to make you overlook the shortcomings? You bet.
- 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007): I've seen this on several "best of" lists for 2008, but I'm pretty sure it was released last year. Regardless of when it arrived, this is a brilliant film full of observations on life under the reign of Ceauşescu in Romania in the 1980s. Nominally about a very grounded woman helping her flightier friend obtain an (illegal, of course) abortion, it really reaches out beyond that issue. Highly recommended.
- Network (1976): I blogged about the continuing relevance of this classic mass media satire back when I first watched. Nothing more to add to that, really.
- The Conversation (1974) & The Lives of Others (2006): Two movies, separated by a generation, but both about those who listen and the impact on them of what they hear. In The Conversation, the listener is Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a private and paranoid professional eavesdropper. When he allows himself to care about what he thinks he hears, his world comes unraveled. In The Lives of Others, the listener is Wiesler, a member of the East German secret police assigned to listen in to the lives of a playwright and his girlfriend who may be enemies of the state. Wiesler's attempts to protect the couple after he begins to sympathize with them lead to an unravelling of his world. Both are excellent (The Lives of Others is brilliant) and would make an interesting double bill.
- Journey From the Fall (2006): Another film I saw for the first time this year was The Killing Fields, which left me cold and felt a bit distant. I think that was because I saw this film first, one of the girlfriend's picks. It's the story of a South Vietnamese family that is separated during the fall of Saigon. Mom, son, and mother-in-law escape to a new, strange life in Los Angeles, while the father is packed off to a"reeducation" camp. The movie's two strands, showing the family's survival, are equally moving in their own way.
- Paprika (2006): I watched this film twice in the space of a week and I'm still not really sure what it's about. It has something to do dreams, people getting into each others dreams, and a general breakdown of the barrier between reality and the subconscious. Did I mention that it was a Japanese animated flim? It would almost have to be, wouldn't it? At times incomprehensible, at times brilliant, it's one of those movies that are best enjoyed by just laying back and letting it wash over you.
- Zodiac (2007): I've never been particularly fond of David Fincher's work (I reamed Fight Club last year as "an overrated piece of crap!"), but this long meditation on the corrosive power of the search for truth is a great piece of work. It covers almost the whole breadth of the investigation into the Zodiac killings in Northern California, from the crimes themselves (two of them shown in their entirety), to the police investigation, and finally to the amateur sleuthing of a newspaper cartoonist (upon whose books the film is based). There's no closure, as the case has never been solved (and, we learn in text at the end, the cartoonist's prime suspect was later exonerated with DNA testing), but it hardly feels like a cop out.