Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday Top Ten: Best of the Year (Thus Far)

tuesday top ten: for the listmaker in me and the listlover in you

Naturally the year will get better from here. "It will, won't it?" he asked in a panicky sweat. These are the ten best of 2008 from January to June (from what I've seen). The most serious omission on my part is In Bruges which won fine reviews. I'll get to it soon. [UPDATE: Have now seen it and would place it at #3 on this list and make the double feature must see, a triple feature] I expect only two of these to make my year-end top ten list. I'm discounting stuff that didn't or won't be getting proper theatrical releases though some (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Russia's Cargo 200 and miniscule indie True Love) are better than those that did.

10 Iron Man
The year's most popular picture is a fun ride. It lags a little at times, that final action sequence sure was drab (The Incredible Hulk's is much stronger for what it's worth) and I'm less impressed than most about that teaser coda but I'm totally ready for the sequel so it must have done something several things right. The most obvious smart move was casting Tony Stark to perfection rather than casting on bankability. Well done Marvel Studios. You must be feeling pretty 'hot rod red' cocky right about now. So, challenge yourself with something a little riskier and less instantly saleable. See how much of a movie empire you can build: Cloak & Dagger, The StarJammers, Doctor Strange ... surprise us! And for gods sake... if something needs a 'pretend it didn't exist' shame-faced reboot It's not Ang Lee's Hulk, it's The Fantastic Four or Daredevil. Get on it.

09 Savage Grace
Remember when Julianne Moore used to say the word "cock" all the time in movies. Yeah. They had me at 'Julianne Moore has a dirty mouth again' (review)

08 Roman de Gare
A French thriller with two very fine performances (Dominique Pinon and César nominated Audrey Dana) saving the movie from its structural red herrings and plotholes (review)

07 Stop-Loss (review)

06 Under the Same Moon (review)

05 Sex & The City: The Movie
I realize this ranking overstates its case. It's not without sizeable problems (chief among them time spent with Jennifer Hudson in an embarrassing role when the movie was already so long) but with 80% of the critical population trying desperately to undermine it any ludicrous way they can, I'm just here for a little balance. Consider the reviews for Wanted versus the reviews for Sex & The City and be alarmed that so many critics think the former was all in good fun and yet called the second for shallow and morally questionable. Hmmmm.

Anyway, my point is this: It was fun. The clothes were a hoot. The familiar friendships were lovingly put on display for one last nostalgic round. Best of all, with Samantha's plotline they corrected the biggest stumble of the series finale. Despite a fine last season on air, the finale had a weird need to pair everyone up. The series was always about the trial and error of the romantic journey
--and the friends with whom you walked that road --rather than the 'happily ever after' part. I hope they don't make a sequel but I'm glad they made this.

04 Young @ Heart
I resisted. Like the film at #6, I went in with a not entirely open mind. I'm allergic to excessive sentiment in movies so if a film has that in its very DNA, I'm always wary. (It's why I don't trust Steven Spielberg the way everyone else does) But by the time an old grieving man with oxygen sits down to croak out a lived-in cover of Coldplay's "Fix You" I was a goner. The movie got to me. [sniffle]

okay I'm just going to tear up again

03 Kung Fu Panda
A total surprise. Who knew that Dreamworks Animation, so previously reliant on instantly stale pop-culture humor (think Shrek) and bad anthropomorphics (think Shark Tale) had this gorgeously animated comedy in them? Panda's got a sophisticated color palette plus action sequences that are more inventive than anything in The Incredible Hulk or Iron Man... and a pathetic-schlub-becomes-an-incredible-force-of-nature plot that isn't quite as mainstream pandering or morally repugnant as the office dweeb turned super assassin plot of Wanted. I don't want to overstate its quality but I thoroughly enjoyed.

Double Feature Must-See ~What are you waiting for?

02 Wall•E
Post-acolyptic fare with heart? Oh my. Pixar recovered easily from their one stumble (that'd be Cars) with Ratatouille and the follow up is just as rewarding. This tale of a lonely trash collector might even be right up there with The Incredibles (i.e. better than most live-action films) as its vivid with invention, smart but accessible humor and sweet humanity... even though it's about robots.

<-- 01 Reprise
Yes, clearly I'm on a mission to get you to this film about two young novelists in Oslo, Norway. But it's not just me who wants you to go. Consider Manohla Dargis's rave, smartly trumpeted in the trailer.
...one of the most passionately and intellectually uninhibited works from a young director I've seen in ages...

has a lightness of touch to match its seriousness of mind, and it may move you to laughter as well as tears.
What she said. Smart girl. We both insist that you go.

Later this week: 2008's best performances thus far
Previous Top Tens: new Academy members, 2008 box office, cinematic princes, TV shows, weirdos and more...


gabrieloak said...

I wanted to see Reprise this weekend in NYC and it was gone. And it played exactly one week at the cinema in CT near me.

I wanted to see the film on the large screen but it doesn't look likely.

My friends who know my film tastes well tell me I will love it.

John P. said...

I've wanted to see Young@Heart since I saw the clip of their performance of 'Schizophrenia' by Sonic Youth. At least half of my friends are die hard SY fans and we all agreed it was one of the coolest things we had ever seen.

Also, I saw Wall*E yesterday and loved it... but wouldn't you agree, Nat, that it perpetuates the lamentable Hollywood trope wherein the unattainable hot chick falls for the awkward schlub? *hyuk*


i would totally agree with that BUT that's 80% of all movies. As someone who loves watching hot men as well as hot chicks it's depressing for me but I'm learning to live with it ;)

Hollywood knows its audience.

scary film reviewer said...

iron man? really? that's on here?

i might be the only guy that didn't like iron man.


well just barely ;) the year is very young. Hollywood's so withholding.

John P. said...

I should add that I have no problem with schlubs, speaking as one. Schlubs need love too. But when we get to the point where Jonah Hill is supposed to be a credible match for this month's Teen Beat starlet, it bruises my head.

I was just kidding about WALL*E, though, because he was way too goddamned adorable. Pixar knew exactly what they were doing making him look like Johnny 5 - anyone who was a kid in the '80s doesn't stand a chance.

Rob said...

Still can't believe you liked "Under the Same Moon." I totally fell for "Young @ Heart," but the former still makes me cringe just thinking about it.

elgringo said...

My #1 of the year is Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories." It's an amazing film produced by David Gordon Green.

I agree 100% about "Under the Same Moon" and have been dying to see "Young@Heart."

I'm also going to keep my eye out for "Reprise." Thanks for campaigning for it.


Kurtis O said...

Psh. "Young@Heart." Can we say 'default?' What about "In Bruges?" By far my favorite movie of 2008 thus far (with "Iron Man" sneaking up at a close second). I cannot wait to see "Reprise."

El Gigante said...

I finally saw Reprise at your recommendation several weeks ago Nate and I've been shouting about its wonderfulness to everyone who will listen ever since. I'm not wild about the fairly sentimental and obvious placing of SATC and Under the Same Moon but the top three more than make up for it.

Plenty of good stuff to come but Reprise is a wonderful antidote to people already warn out by the pretty colors and loud noises of summer.

Hayden said...

I'm glad you gave a little nod to the Polanski doc. It was really excellent.

Glenn said...

I quite liked Reprise, but I wasnt as keen on it as you are, Nat. Still, I really liked its visual style and the way the dialogue sounded like it was coming straight out of one of those high-fallutin' books that the main characters wrote.

I havent seen enough good movies to make a top ten yet. I'd barely have a top two that isnt embarassing!

Rural Juror said...

You continue to champion Reprise! There is no shame in it. I absolutely agree. The more people that see this wonderful film the better.

Wall E was not a schlubby loser. He was adorable.

Nate Tyson said...

I'm trying my damndest to see Reprise. Next weekend, most likely.

My performance of the year has to be Robert Downey Jr, however. Up there with Capt. Jack Sparrow as far as brilliant popcorn tightrope walks.

whitney said...

This is completely off topic, but I just noticed your Film Experience picture at the top of your blog with all of the winks. Amazing! I love it so much!

Also, I too am a fan of Julianne Moore swearing a lot. If I met her on the street I would hope she called me a cock sucker.


JS said...

The more praise In Bruges gets, the more I'm able to resist it.

rosengje said...

My favorite domestic releases thus far would probably be Wall-E and In Bruges. Just saw the latter last night and I was really impressed, particularly with the screenplay and Colin Farell's performance. Plus: there is never too much Ralph.

Including films from Cannes my favorite might actually be Synecodche, New York. While I was initially hesitant toward Kaufman's effort and more receptive toward Changeling, the former has the most enduring impact. I really hope it gets a fair stateside distribution deal. And that Philip Seymour Hoffman fatigue doesn't set in because he wholly deserves any praise he gets for his role.

Liz said...

I've been hearing such surprisingly great things about Kung Fu Panda. I really need to check it out.

Rural Juror said...

By the way, when are we getting your Reprise podcast? I'm eager to hear your thoughts.

J.D. said...

I didn't know Eddie Redmayne was in Reprise! He's in everything nowadays, ain't he?

Bill said...

My five favorite films thus far:

2) El Violin
3) In Bruges
4) Young @ Heart
5) Shotgun Stories

Ray said...

Nathaniel, I understand that you're a homosexual, but SERIOUSLY ... you endanger your reputation as any kind of film critic or film fan if you place SEX AND THE CITY in the top ten of this year. And above IRON MAN, which was vastly superior in every way.

Yes, I'm sure it was giddy fun to see the transvestite-ish Sarah Jessica Parker gallop around in a variety of eye-catching outfits. But there is truly nothing here that earns the film a spot like this. Shame, shame, shame.


OMG... this is so NOT A REAL TOP TEN. those don't come till December and January. nothing below #3 has any chance of making my top ten list. Even if the year sucks... there's always enough B+ movies to fill a top ten list by December.

and besides, I already endanger my critical reputation every year by refusing to accept the critical notion that all masculine focused art is superior to all feminine focused art.

and i'm ok with that ;)

John T said...

You've convinced me Nathaniel-Reprise is going on the Netflix list.

And bravo on at least mentioning what solid fun Sex and the City was. One of the best shows of the last 20 years, and a fine capper to the series.

J.D. said...

My own top ten at this point has The Other Boleyn Girl, Charlie Bartlett and Prince Caspian on it.

Can't I just put Australia at #1 and be done with it already? *sigh*


well, you could but i suggest pretending that it will be Baz's worst film ever so that you're only slightly explosive with glee when it turns out as great as all the others.

Eric Kimberly said...

Definitely missing In Bruges, but not even a mention of The Fall from any other commentors?

Rural Juror said...

j.d. I don't think he was in Reprise. It's Norwegian, after all.

Piper said...

Alright, you're little quip about Savage Grace makes me want to see it. There was always a little mischief involved with Moore that I missed when she became more mainstream. You know, all that wearing pants with no underwear kind of stuff. I miss that. Hopefully it will come back with this.

And Kung-Fu Panda huh? I'll have to check it out.

Arkaan said...

You know, ray, I haven't seen Sex and the City, but surely you realize that starting a criticism with "I understand you're a homosexual, but..." makes you sound like a dickhead, right?

Nathaniel, I've gotta say I'm very curious about the Wanted/SatC comparison now.

Bloc said...

My top ten would include 'The Visitor' but apart from that nothing's really blown me sideways yet.


oh yeah. THE VISITOR is one i still need to see. seeing IN BRUGES over the holidays.

Catherine said...

That 'Bloc' thing is me, by the way. No idea where that came from...curiouser and curiouser. Anyway: yeah, you should definitely see 'The Vistor'. I saw it yesterday followed by a Q&A with Tom McCarthy (really charming, funny, interesting guy). It's a great little film, political without ever veering into preachy, determined to avoid falling into any clichéd traps and with great acting to boot. I don't know if love it as much as 'The Station Agent', but definitely headed for my top ten.

Casey Fiore said...

So where does In Bruges fit in now that you've seen it?

Chad said...

Young@Heart is insufferably poor filmmaking. I have to assume that you are judging it merely on content and not form, which is extremely common in the documentary world but I think that's a mistake. To anybody that hasn't seen it, I'd recommend just watching that youtube clip and you'll still get all of the emotion from the film without the terrible editing, annoying narration and maudlin scoring.

Rick said...

you have got to be kidding with Savage Grace ... it was the most amateurish movie I have seen this year.

Yih said...

Look I will watch Reprise cause you seem to know what you're talking about...but Sex and the City in your top ten?? Really??? It was better than IronMan?