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Monday, January 5, 2009
I've come across these tributes to 2008 films over at /Film. They are truly remarkable. It's great to look back at all the wonderful (and the not-so-wonderful) moments in film the past year. I have also added the 2007 tributes. Like fellow FilmStager Dan Mecca wrote, 2007 really was a memorable year for film, but as we can see 2008 had its fair share of defining moments.
Here are the videos:
2008 - A Tribute To the Movies
2008: The Cinescape
and the 2007 Tribute for Drama:
2007 Tribute to Action
Look for our year-end list's tomorrow.
The general consensus of the past year of movies is a rather negative one, from a critical standpoint. "We were spoiled in 2007," seems to be the excuse, and it's a good one. 2007 gave us three perfect masterpieces (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men) and three flawed masterpieces (Sunshine, Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). This year, on the other hand, the only two masterpieces appear to be Slumdog Millionaire and Wall-E.
Many films that were destined to be classics didn't quite make the cut, like the poorly directed, half-assed Doubt or the entirely overwrought Gran Torino. But for every misstep there was a cinematic success that was ignored. Consider Baz Luhrmann's beautiful Australia and Charlie Kaufman's thought-provoking Synecdoche, New York. While one celebrated storytelling of old, the other criticized storytelling as a whole and the inability of people to direct their own life narrative, respectively.
This was also the year of the Great Comedy, featuring at least 5 films that will be remembered for their ability to induce laughter - Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Tropic Thunder topping the list. And don't forget Sex Drive, perhaps the most under-appreciated comedy in the history of comedies, Role Models and Happy-Go-Lucky, which found a way to make someone laugh and tear up at the same exact moment (whoa).
The American independent film fared well too, with small, performance-driven gems like Snow Angels, The Visitor, Son of Rambow and the surprisingly effective In Search of a Midnight Kiss.
Foreign films blossomed, thanks to Let the Right One In specifically, but also Steve McQueen's Hunger and Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven. Not surprisingly, none of them were nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
Granted, period pieces were less lush and more dull (Brideshead Revisited and The Duchess) than years prior, but those were directorial problems amongst top-notch acting (someone give Keira Knightley an Oscar nom for her perfomance!).
But studio films were better than they've been in years. The Dark Knight changed film marketing as a whole while reinventing the superhero genre, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army showcased special effects that did not rely on CGI and computers (praise actual costume and makeup design!) while both Lakeview Terrace and Body of Lies dealt with current issues (racism and war) with a sharp and a stong hand (well at least up until the last 15 minutes of both films - don't you hate when that happens?).
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button achieved visual firsts while providing an epic tale told in today's modern verse, polarizing the critical masses along the way (always the sign of a true classic).
Right now, this year appears to be a bust; a smorgasboard of near-misses and sheer let-downs, sprinkled with only a few surprises. A year from now or longer, I believe the sentiment will be much different, and many of these films will be celebrated.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Recently, fellow FilmStager Jordan Raup posted his "Top 5 Disappointments of 2008," Ridley Scott's Body of Lies in the #4 position. I have finally seen the film and I have to respectly disagree with this criticism. Jordan wrote of the film: "I have seen all this before." While I see what he means in respect to the plot and its general coherence to the "spy thriller" genre, some of the stuff in this movie I have never seen offered up n the way it was before. In general, William Monahan's (who wrote The Departed) screenplay is a combination of several different films, ranging from Sydney Pollock's (R.I.P sir) 1970's paranoia thriller Three Days of the Condor to Steven Gaghan's masterful Syriana. However, Lies properly captures both the abundance and lack of information in today's military world. Everybody, it appears, knows everything, so nobody knows anything. Consider the title; what's a lie if it's true in the eyes of the person you're telling it to? And vice versa? Leo DiCaprio's Roger Ferris must combat with this ambiguity and universal lack of trust throughout the entire film, and he pays for it. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe's Ed Hoffman remains stateside, taking his kids to school and eating bowls of cereal while setting up espionage operations that overlap Ferris's groud operations, creating an ironic warzone built by two people from the same side. This eventually depreciates into the film's biggest point: what sides? When Ferris creates a fictional terroirist group using only hair dye, fast thinking and help from an American government computer whiz, convincing everyone that it is real in order to catch another real terroist group, what is he acheiving? What side is he on?
Granted, Monahan comes up WAY sort at the tail end, choosing to go one way when the film would've most likely been in my top 5 had he gone the other, but do not let this discount the rest of this film. The acting is good (not great - even Leo looks too professional here, only Mark Strong gives a memorable performance as the shady Jordanian Hani), but these characters are only pawns anyway. Had viewers cared about the pawns, the film would have been as good as Syriana, but just because they don't doesn't take away from the complicated message about this war we're fighting, and who exactly we are fighting anymore. As Hoffman says throughout: "Nobody's innocent in this war."
As for the rest of these "War on Terror" films, I'll admit they've been lacking in general. Good premises (Stop-Loss) are crippled by poor execution and solid acting (Lions for Lambs) is crippled by ineffective premises. Movies that should've been this generation's Deer Hunter (Haggis' In the Valley of Elah) play out more artificially than Heaven's Gate. Hell, even movies about older wars feel contrived. I'm looking at you Valkyrie.
Why does his continue to happen?
Instead of asking this question, simply consider another genre: non-fiction. While no one was looking, ambitious reseach filmmakers have given us documentaries 10 times better than The Deer Hunter ever was. Consider No End in Sight, Why We Fight or the 2007 Oscar winner Taxi to the Dark Side. These films are the product of facts that would have been untouchable during Vietnam and presented using filmmaking techniques that were not available 30 years ago.
These films touch on things that are far more important than Leo running through Iraq or Russell Crowe pretending to be a C.I.A mastermind. The real masterminds are getting interviews in these documentaries and try to explain themselves. Now, that's entertainment.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Netflix recently changed the DVD shipping process when your first choice movie is not available at the shipping center nearest you.
"We have 55 shipping centers throughout the U.S., including Anchorage, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii. Previously, if the movie you wanted was not in stock locally, we sent it from another shipping center. Since this DVD was shipped from farther away, it took longer to arrive and you could end up without a DVD for a few days. This was especially inconvenient for our members on 1-disc plans.
Now, if your first choice is not available in your local shipping center, we immediately send the next locally available movie in your Queue, and whenever possible, we also send your first choice from another part of the country.
We want you to receive DVDs as quickly as possible, so we’re taking this extra step to ensure you have another movie to enjoy as a complimentary extra DVD rental if your first choice will be delayed.
This change took effect Dec 11, 2008 and applies to all Netflix members."
This sounds great to me, just add more Watch Instantly titles so I can stream them to my 360!