Ledger and Christian Bale in The Dark Knight
By CAINE GARDNER
In a year where superheroes dominated the box office and flicks that were sure things fell as flat as pancakes, 2008 has been anything but a typical year at the movies.
We saw movies become phenomena, the return of a beloved adventurer and a surprisingly strong box office in light of trying economic times. We laughed, we cried, there were triumphs, but 2008 will undoubtedly be remembered as a year of tragedy.
After compiling my Top 5 of '08, I noticed that some other films were deserving of distinction. Some were good, some were bad, but all help comprise a cool year at the movies.
The Dark Knight
Powered by the hype of the late Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker The Dark Knight lit up multiplexes and box office receipts alike. It was clear from opening night that the newest installment of the Batman franchise would be something to keep your eye on -- and it didn't disappoint.
What separated this film from the pack was its reinvention of the genre. Gone are the campy, overblown and story forgotten floppers of years before. The Dark Knight contained perhaps the best story arc of any movie that hit the silver screen this summer.
The flick is peppered with great performances, but it was Ledger who stole the show. Going into the film, one might wonder if the hype was warranted. After the Joker's official introduction, not one person in the theater could have doubted the sheer brilliance in which Ledger captured the Joker. A performance that should merit an Oscar, not just a nomination.
The best robotic dynamic duo since R2-D2 and C-3PO, Wall*E and Eve stole the hearts of millions in 2008. A romance at its core, the film makes a statement, shouts it loud and leaves you smiling the entire time.
The best film to drop from Pixar since Finding Nemo, Wall*E is an achievement most didn't anticipate. Already winning the Los Angeles Film Critics award for Best Picture, the film is sure to be a force when Feb. 22 roles around.
He is Iron man. Robert Downey Jr. delivered an exquisite and unexpected performance as billionaire Tony Stark that catapulted Iron Man to No. 2 at the box office this year. Not thought of as a hot action hero, Downey fill the shoes well and has signed on to appears as the iron clad superhero for three more pictures.
Downey and director Jon Favreau presented a flick that exceeded expectations and showed just how good a film based on comic book material could be. After two Hulk movies, one might begin to wonder.
The chemistry between Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges is undeniably powerful. The believability of the trio is what gives this film substance and turned what could have been an ordinary movie into something that was talked about throughout the summer.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
A film that was a lightening rod for criticism due to its subject matter, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of the most overlooked flicks of 2008.
Powerful performances from David Thewlis, Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon push a taut tale told through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy to an unspeakable conclusion. This is a must see flick.
Under the Same Moon
I juggled with my fifth movie for many days, but I kept coming back to Under the Same Moon.
Another little heard of movie that packs a big punch. There are no groundbreaking effects, high-priced stars, just a sweet story that is heartbreaking at time, but inspirational throughout.
Adrian Alonso who plays Carlos, delivers a performance well beyond his years and Kate Del Castillo, who played his mother, also puts in a wonderful performance. The star of the film is Eugenio Derbez. His character Enrique befriends young Carlos and helps him on his journey to find his mother. In Derbez, we get to see a truly gifted actor at work. Don't be surprised if Under the Same Moon pops up on other Top 10 lists.
Most Disappointing film
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Besides The Dark Knight, there wasn't a movie I was looking more forward to seeing than the latest adventures of Mulder and Scully.
I expected a tale of aliens, government conspiracies or a new twist in the X-Files universe. What I got was a story that failed to deliver on any mythos of the series and left me hoping it earned enough money for Fox to greenlight another movie so Chris Carter can do the right thing.
Worst Film of the Year
This distinction had a clear cut winner -- Wild Country. Although initially released in 2006, the DVD was released in Dec., just in time for the holidays.
I hate bashing a movie, but I watched this after a long night at work and sat motionless on the couch until four in the morning. My lack of motion had nothing to do with the brilliance of the film, but more the lack of every basic element of film. I actually attempted to stay on board, until the lead actress turns into a wolf at the end of the picture and a suckling baby turns into a pup.
Normally, I don't give away endings, but I'm pretty confident that no one who reads this will be rushing to the video story to pick up a copy.
This was a tough one. I could go sugary sweet with Wall*E, dark and disturbing with The Dark Knight or absolutely heartbreaking with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I decided to take the easy way out -- I chose two.
Gas Chamber (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas)
What a powerful way to end a film. The gravity of the ending is what makes this movie something special. After Bruno sneaks into the concentration camp to help Shmuel find his father, the scenes with David Thewlis racing to save his son from an inevitable fate is heart wrenching.
Interrogation room (The Dark Knight)
Again, another powerhouse moment of 2008. This is the first time we see a villain truly get into Batman's head and I loved every minute of it.
Ledger's performance, with his twisted movements and razor sharp dialog, is the best performance of the year -- hands down. It's the first time in the flick where we see the madman behind the joker face. Ledger's performance is utterly terrifying and deliciously decadent.
Mad Men: Season 1
Not only is Mad Men the best series on television, but also the packaging of its first season is amazing. The metal case is made to resemble a Zippo lighter and the disks are red, stagger stacked inside. The extra features are wonderfully insightful, although I warn you some are a tad long. By a tab I mean you could go the store, shop and be home before they are done.
The Dark Knight
The desire to see Ledger in his last compete performance fueled a fury at the box office. You would assume the DVD release would be packed with information about the actor and his creation right? Wrong.
There is not a mention of Ledger in the supplemental materials and the lack of a commentary track only added to the disappointment. I wouldn't be surprised to see a deluxe edition of the film come out in the future to accommodate the desire of the fans.
With a plethora of awesome films coming into view on the 2009 horizon, it looks like it will be another great year at the movies. Watchmen, Public Enemies, Wolverine, G.I. Joe, Star Trek and the sixth installment of the Harry Potter franchise are just a few of the highly anticipated flicks awaiting us in the '09 season.
Next week Cinematic Impulse will feature a preview and offer preditions for the Golden Globes awards Jan. 11
See you at the movies.