Pete’s Top 10 Films Of 2008

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 10: Speed Racer

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I posted a list of my least favourite films of 2008 back in January. Worst films are easy, they stick with you in a certain way that the decisiveness a list based analysis needs can easily be rustled up. Favourite films change through time however, what really impresses and sticks with you can fade. Films which suffer through time are often slight, the perfectly made but nothing special indie movie you rave about when leaving can suddenly be a pile of nothing in memory. So I decided not to post a list of my favourite films of 2008 until much later in the year. It is much later, so here goes.

But before I briefly mention the film that will possibly turn you off of the list in itself, here’s a few that suffered the six month wait.
Tropic Thunder: More than a belly full of laughs in the cinema, it struck me a few months later as being a little lazy in its use of Jack Black.
Kung-Fu Panda: Easily the best designed non-Pixar animation of the year, it struck me a few months later as being a little lazy in its use of Jack Black.
Man On Wire: Would have had more suspense if it had used Jack Black. Etc Etc…

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 9: The Edge Of Heaven

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I loved “Head On”, Fatih Akın’s previous film which was a gutsy violent Turkish / German romance. It was proper European cinema, no pussyfooting around with its depth of emotion between two characters both drawn together and who hated each other. A great little personal story which also could be unfolded into a relationship between Turkey and Germany, a messy relationship one would say. But it didn’t come out in 2008, The Edge Of Heaven did, and whilst I liked The Edge Of Heaven, it is fair to say I was initially a bit disappointed. And yet it has stayed with me for a lot longer than expected.

What was my problem with The Edge Of Heaven? Too much plot. Its a film about immigration, legal, illegal and attitudes towards it. It is also a film about forgiveness and regret.

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 8: You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

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I don’t like Adam Sandler films. I have actually got into a fight once (with a minor physical altercation) over the fact that I believe Punch Drunk Love to be rubbish AND a waste of a good track from the Popeye musical. The whole manchild / anger management thing as portrayed by Sandler has done absolutely nothing for me in his ten year career. So why did I see You Don’t Mess With The Zohan? Pure and simply I wanted to see exactly how a Jewish New Yorker would approach a comedy about Israel and Palestine. I have to admit, I expected nothing.

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan is one of Sandler’s silliest films. I’d put it on a par with say Ben Stiller’s Zoolander as to its silliness, considering that at its core we have to accept Sandler himself as the most adept, most skilled Mossad agent of all time. A Mossad agent who deep down wants to be a hairdresser.

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 7: I’m Not There (& W.)

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Biopics. Nearly always rubbish right? I can’t be doing with their sanding down of the rough edges of life to turn them into some sort of narrative that makes sense. Whose life has an arc (Noah excepted and Evan Almighty I guess but he’s not real or any good)? Really the number 7 here is I’m Not There, which I found remarkably entertaining, especially as I normally find Todd Haynes a touch difficult. Look Me, and lots of other people talked about I’m Not There here, and you know what, we’re all still right. I’m Not There is a way of telling a story about a life where the life isn’t as interesting or as important as the music, but is just about interesting enough. The group banality of the six actors playing Dylan point you towards the music, there is an impressionistic centre to the movie but it is constantly distracting you. It is the right way to make a biopic about a slippery creature like Dylan.

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 6: The Fall

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I am a sucker for films about films. The Fall is a film about an injured silent movie stuntman trying to commit suicide. It is a ridiculously opulent film, seemingly pieced together from oblique advertising shots and somewhat portentous in tone. But it is also a film about innocence, storytelling and death. It plays the reverse Scheherazade trick – our hero delays his own suicide to finish his story. That his story is quite this dumb, or indeed that it ever has to involve swimming elephants doesn’t really matter. Tarseem Singh, in making this somewhat idiocyncratic piece of fluff, accidentally makes the ur-Gilliam film. It is Time Bandits, The Fisher King, Tideland and especially Baron Munchausen rolled into one. And its nice to know there is someone else who shares some of Gilliam’s strange never say die attitude towards getting what he wants on film. Even if what they want is quite silly.

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 5: Wall-E

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Why is the UK always the very last territory that Pixar films are released in? What is wrong with our summer holidays that means they shun us? I was in France in July and Up was happily doing what I believe is called Boffo business everywhere. Here, we still have to wait a few more weeks. Sure the summer schedule is rammed full of exploding action heroes, but one assumes that the Pixar brand has earned more than enough trust with the entire world that they could make a Charlie Chaplin film starring a robot ripped off of Short Circuit and people will go and see it. And they did.

Wall-E is all the things usually trumped up as Pixar’s high points. Story led, not frenetic, well plotted and beautifully designed. A wonderfully suspenseful love story / fairy tale (its a fairytale love story) which shows a healthy regard for the joys of musicals.

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 4. Planet Terror

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I was initially disappointed to find out that this was not a sci-fi film about some rogue wine makers terraforming a whole planet to make the best wine int he universe. But hey, someone else can make Planet Terroir.

I am not going to use this as an opportunity to slag off Quentin Tarantino. OK, maybe a bit. The whole Grindhouse project had at its heart great intentions to spread the love of shoddy, poorly written, poorly made, poorly acted exploitation movies. But given a much larger budget, better actors and a couple of film makers who already have a track record for making pretty good movies. All they can ever have made were pastiches. And a loving pastiche is lots of fun, but the difference between Planet Terror and Death Proof is that what Rodriguez wanted to pastiche was HIS ultimate Grindhouse film. And what Rodriguez has always been good at, if at the expense of other aspects sometimes, is throwing ideas at the screen and telling a story. El Mariachi is a Grindhouse film, Spy Kids is to all intents and purposes a Grindhouse film. There is a reason Tarantino didn’t direct From Dusk Til Dawn, when its about frenetic action and cheap effects Rodriguez is your man.

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 3: Definitely, Maybe

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The worst thing about Definitely, Maybe is its title. Despite it being the only good Oasis album, the Oasis stink permeates the name, possibly warning off the one group of people who really would enjoy it. Something else that might put you off is that its a romantic comedy. And as often bemoaned recently, where have all the good romantic comedies gone? Oh, it was also released for Valentines Day in 2008 (usually a very bad sign – its a date movie for people who NEED date movies), has a kid in it (Oscar nominated Abigail Breslin) and is produced by Working Title, the people who pay for Richard Curtis’s vomitorias. It is no standard rom-com though. For one, the lead character searching for love is a bloke. Secondly he is divorced with a kid. And third, it is brutally honest that happily ever after doesn’t really happen. Oh and fourth, it is the first proper nineties nostalgia film.

Nineties nostalgia seems a bit misplaced in 2008, it seemed all too soon. But the nineties Definitely Maybe (in itself a nineties nostalgic name) leapt upon was framed by the political optimism of the 1992 election and the Clinton campaign.

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 2: The Orphanage

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I often wonder if certain movie “scenes” are really just cobbled together because you get one outstanding film from a country and then everyone looks a bit closer at the others. The last major horror scene before the recent interest in Spain, was J-Horror, and looking back at it, the products were a bit woeful. We got one classic (Ringu), a few OK films which seemed original because of a different cultural view of ghosts and spirits and a hell of a lot of hair, eyes and creepy kids. Oh, and I daresay the odd university film essay on technophobia (I know, I wrote one!) And even worse US remakes.

The Spanish horror wave of the last few years is also slowly being remade by Hollywood, but there is much more of a shared cultural connection between the two on the surface. But the Spanish horror films of the last few years, which often have been more ghost movies than horror anyway, have had at their heart Spain’s turbulent last one hundred years. In particular the Spanish civil war and the forty years of Franco and fascism.

Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 1.5: Summer Hours

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(Doesn’t count cos I saw it on DVD).

Perhaps I wasn’t clear at the start of this little project, but the list of favourite films from last year were films I saw in the cinema. This is not a problem because I tend to see over 100 films in the cinema a year, and so rarely miss something I want to see. It does mean occasionally I catch something on DVD later which is good, but usually i am excited enough about a release for it to get me to see it. Summer Hours, last years pastoral piece by Olivier Assayas managed to sneak past me in the summer. Possibly because I didn’t find the description (middle class family bicker about what to do with the family house when the inherit it) very exciting. But I really like Olivier Assayas, Irma Vep, Demonlover even Clean are all really good films to me. But DVD was how I saw Summer Hours, and yet it gripped me like no other DVD I have ever seen.