2008 in Movies

Movie reviews I have written for movies released theatrically in 2008.

1. Hunger, directed by Steve McQueen (10/10)

The best movie I’ve seen released this year, bar none. It’s pretentious, it’s willfully difficult. It’s brilliant. It’s also extremely hard to watch. For much of the movie, there is little dialogue, and so we are left with the images and the sounds. It is a brilliant approach to prison life, as there is probably little dialogue in solitary.

We are introduced to minor characters, from both sides of prison life way before we meet Sands. When we meet him, there is no movie convention telling us it’s the main character. And everything proceeds like prison life, not like a movie about prison life. Then, out of the blue, there’s a conversation. And it is a long one. That in itself is shocking, just because the film changes so much. It is the whole conversation. So often, in movies, we just get the necessities, but this is the whole conversation. And it makes it all the more powerful because you live it, it is as real as it could get.

I might go so far as to say this is the best prison movie I’ve seen. I’m not sure, I have to think about it. But it is very, very good. I’m not normally a standing-O person (aside from at sports events). But I had to, especially with the director present. I had to let him know how I felt. So I stood up and clapped with about 1/3rd of the audience.

2. The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan (9/10)

It’s a superhero movie. They’re not really supposed to be good. And that’s a problem I have. I keep trying to find ways in which it’s not as good as it is. I keep trying to argue with it, trying to come up with reasons why I shouldn’t give it a 9/10. Though I have only seen it the one time, I can’t argue with it. It is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen and so I have to say, the best superhero movie ever made. It isn’t the best comic book movie ever made, mind you, but I guess it’s second. The only thing keeping it from true transcendence, is its nature.

Making movies about superheroes is somewhat limiting, things must be dumbed down. (Not to say that this is a dumb movie, it’s not.) The philosophical-moral issues are discussed at the superhero level, if you know what I mean. And that’s appropriate. But it’s also limiting.

I didn’t like the first one as much as a lot of people. It was a huge improvement on many entries in the genre – Schumacher’s destruction of Batman as a movie character, Spiderman, etc – but it lacked a certain something I couldn’t characterize. A universality, a transcendence. I don’t know. Whatever it was lacking, the sequel has in spades.

This movies’ epicness is it’s strength. It’s got layers in a way that most more recent superhero movies try to have, but can’t usually accomplish. The Joker is evil, nonsensical ultimate evil. Even the bad guys are scared. He reminds me of the bad guy from No Country for Old Men in a way. He is incomprehensible to everyday human beings. This is something we can all agree exists, even if we might look at good and evil somewhat relativistically. Figures throughout history have been incomprehensibly evil.

And then, with that as its starting point, we have the other characters. There are no absolutely good characters to respond to the absolutely evil one, just as in life. The ones who intend good are forced to do things that could be considered evil. The one reasonably pure-seeming character, Gordon, is almost (almost) impotent.

This movie has the moral weight – not the right word, but I can’t think of it – and sophistication of a great revisionist western. Now all I can hope for is that they don’t go and ruin this franchise trying to profit off The Dark Knight‘s success.

2023 Update: I watched this again and now I see so many flaws; its runtime, its excess of plot, the whole Two Face section (which doesn’t make much sense). I really think I should have never watched it again and now that I have I’m wondering if I can truly say it’s better than Batman or The Batman. I’m honestly not sure. But, because of the experience I had of watching this in a theatre and how much I liked it in the moment, I really don’t want to bump this down lower. I really should, though. Heath Ledger saves this film from being on the level of its sequel, and I’m not sure how that makes this film the best comic book movie ever. I really wish I hadn’t watched it again. Alas.

3. Sauna, directed by Antti-Jussi Annila (9/10)

There are so few good horror movies in this day and age. We either get gore (which is sometimes very difficult to watch, but not necessarily scary) or we get loud noises (which make us jump for a second, but don’t sit in us for days) or we get both. And neither works really. When I say scary, maybe I mean creepy. I’m talking about movies that are still scaring you a week later. I’m also talking about movies that make you think. There are few horror movies that make you think. Well, I found one. Totally by accident. I saw this movie based on a picture in the TIFF guide. If it weren’t for the last couple shots (which are admittedly very creepy and disturbing) this would be the first great horror movie I’ve seen since The Blair Witch Project, all those many years ago. The final shots reveal too much to us, they allow us to substitute what’s on the screen for the intangible dread we were feeling before we saw them. That being said, it’s still the best horror movie released since TBWP (that I’ve seen, obviously). [Note: I saw REC since writing this.] And it isn’t just about getting scared, it’s about many of the great themes of the Christian literary tradition: sin, the attempt at redemption therefrom, regret and dealing with our pasts, and so forth. Setting the movie in the middle of nowhere in the 16th century gives it the feeling of myth, of a story older than our own time, and so therefore somehow carrying more weight. It’s funny. The director’s comments actually undercut the movie. He seemed uninterested in many of the numerous allegorical possibilities. Personally, I would encourage seeing them, despite what he says, because allegories don’t need to be purposeful or conscious to have weight. Anyway, this movie is intelligent and thought-provoking. It is well-made. And it scared the shit out of me.

4. The Wrestler, directed by Darren Aronofsky (9/10)

Here’s another movie that I tried to argue with. I don’t know why, but something about the subject matter, and the fairly matter-of-fact presentation said to me, ‘this can’t be great.’ Yet it is. Even though it’s about wrestling. Even though Micky Rourke’s in it. Even though one of the actors overacts (whoever plays the daughter). It is just really well made (and told). It feels like a documentary. Most (most) of the performances don’t let you think otherwise. If it feels like some kind of major departure for Aranofsky, maybe that’s because he’s a great director. I’m certainly starting to think so. The whole thing feels about as authentic as is possible for a fictional film.

It’s funny, the gay men behind me (knowing what they know about women, obviously, as gay men clearly know more about female beauty than me…so is it an aesthetic thing for them or what? I digress) thought Tomei was ballsy to do this, given that she didn’t wear much (cosmetic) makeup. Well, I thought she looked fantastic. Especially for her age. And I love that there are some “aging” (supposedly) actresses in the world willing to take “risks” (as Hollywood perceives them) to play real characters. This is not the first time she’s done this. Good for her.

The other thing: the ending is awesome.

5. Burn After Reading, directed by Joel Coen (9/10)

It’s not Raising Arizona but it’s close. I know some people are unwilling to heap too much praise on a comedy. I’ve never figured out why. For me, many of the truly great movies of the last century are comedies. Humour is as much a part of life as anything else. So, some may contend that this is somehow “slight,” as people have done with many of the Coens’ movies in the past. Yes, it’s dumb. Yes, not much of ‘consequence’ happens. But this is done with such intelligence, and it is so funny that I don’t see what the problem is. I laughed my ass off. I forgot myself. The ending caught me off guard (almost always a good thing) and when I thought about it I don’t see how else they could have ended it. Surprising but appropriate is about the best thing I can say about any movie’s ending. By the way, it is nothing like The Evil Dead in case you want to know. I know that makes no sense, but now you know that vital piece of information anyway. How does violent comedy imply horror comedy? It shouldn’t.

6. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, directed by Kevin Rafferty (8/10)

To paraphrase my brother, any movie that makes football interesting for non-football fans is pretty good. This movie is about one game. And it’s just game footage and talking heads of the players. That’s all it is. But it is one of the better sports documentaries around. The game was an incredible one, but that’s only half of it. The interviewees are all very enthusiastic about the game, it clearly was a big deal to them, even if it was only an Ivy League football game. Further, their comments are incorporated expertly. The editing allows us to feel the drama, the excitement and the humour (mostly the humour) of the whole situation through their eyes and their reminiscences. Through the interviews, the game becomes important, or at least very enjoyable, to us…even though it was an Ivy League football game played ages before I was even born. Best documentary I’ve seen this year, even if it’s about nothing significant.

7. Let the Right One In, directed by Tomas Alfredson (8/10)

It is so refreshing to see a vampire film that doesn’t go the way of Anne Rice; it feels like practically every vampire film (and show) I see involves secret societies of vampires.

This movie is extremely deliberately paced, but that is for a purpose. The shocks are much more emotionally effective – not to say scary – this way. The character development is also about as deep as you will ever see in a vampire film.

There are a few problems:

  • occasionally the film gets out of hand (particularly with the CGI cats, which look terrible);
  • when it is scored, it is horribly over-scored;
  • and there are a few moments where the viewer is left wondering about which vampire mythology this film has used.

But beyond those small quibbles, this is likely the best vampire movie of the last couple decades.

8. Standard Operating Procedure, directed by Errol Morris (8/10)

As always, Morris takes a unique approach to his subject, this time choosing to focus almost completely on the pictures taken by three cameras.

Morris also only interviews people involved with the incidents, supervisors, and one investigator. This is an interesting approach likely designed to get away from the massive amount of press and “expert” opinions that swirled around this scandal. By letting the participants tell their own story, we see how the circumstances – war, the improper preparation for that war and its consequences, a lack of rules, a lack of communication, the institution of the military itself, etc – put these soldiers in a situation where they lost their moral compasses, where they had few choices but to conform with what some of them knew to be wrong.

The problem with the approach is that few of the participants are smart enough – or big-picture enough rather – to make the final necessary implication: it is war and the military itself – i.e. it is the military industrial complex and the decision to invade other countries simply to justify that complex’s existence – that is the real source of such problems. And because of this missing conclusion, the film is not quite what it could have been.

9. Entre les murs aka The Class, directed by Laurent Cantet (8/10)

Probably the best “How can I reach these kids??!?!” movie ever made. Read the review of The Class.

10. Food, Inc., directed by Robert Kenner (8/10)

This is an important movie that is made fairly well, though it is pretty episodic – which, as someone else noted, has become a bit of a cliche in expose documentaries nowadays. It is essential viewing for anyone who is skeptical of the reasons to eat local / organic.

However, one big flaw is that, like so many other expose documentaries, it is completely one-sided. Yes, multiple companies declined to be interviewed for the film, but am I supposed to believe that not one single advocate of industrialized farming wanted to sit down with the filmmakers to explain their position? Instead we get a few clips of a couple of people on that side, but they don’t exactly defend the position. The film would be stronger if the filmmakers had let those on the other side impeach themselves.

11. The Beaches of Agnes, directed by Agnes Varda (8/10)

First off: I had never seen an Agnes Varda film before. So you would think that would make me the wrong audience for a film by Agnes Varda about Agnes Varda, however…

This is a delightfully eccentric autobiography. Varda uses whims of fancy and various experimental film techniques to complement her narration, the usual pictures and interviews, and clips from her films, to create an engaging, entertaining, self-portrait that also serves as a personal history of the 20th century in France and the US from WWII to nearly the present.

It says a lot about Varda’s abilities as a filmmaker that she can make this interesting – and entertaining – for a person who knows literally nothing about her.

A cool movie. And the kind of autobiography I like.

12. Appaloosa, directed by Ed Harris (8/10)

This appears to be Harris’ attempt at making a classic western, though there are plenty of elements that update it, making it more revisionist than it really seems.

The film has the pace of a classic western and the same kind of plot / scenarios and most of the characters. But Harris’ character – who has more than a little Seth Bullock in him, at least in one scene – is a little more flawed than the classic western heroes (though Mortensen’s isn’t really) and Zellweger’s character is entirely not a woman you’d see in an old western.

And the way the plot unfolds feels much more natural than in either the classic films – which always build directly to a climax – or the revisionist films, which try to subvert the patterns of the classic films. This film bridges the gap more than it doesn’t.

So this is a worthy addition to the cannon and, given there are so few decent westerns any more, it’s well worth seeing.

13. Bigger Stronger Faster*, directed by Chris Bell (8/10)

This is an entertaining and thought provoking documentary about steroids in particular, and performance-enhancing drugs in general, in the US. The filmmaker uses the often annoying framing device of how the filmmaker and his family is affected by the issue, but here it actually works as it turns out the family is a bit of a microcosm of American society at large.

This movie raises many legitimate questions about why steroids in sports are bad, when numerous other substances are legal when either the health risks are worse or they are just as “performance enhancing.” It’s well worth it if you’re a sports fan or interested in drug policy.

14. Rachel Getting Married, directed by Jonathan Demme (8/10)

First, I should just mention that saying a movie is terrible because it bugs you or the characters annoy you is hardly fair. That has nothing to do with how well it is made, or the quality of the acting. One would think that we can all appreciate actors and writers who can get under our skin like that, but one might be wrong based on some of the other reviews. This is a nice and somewhat fitting tribute to Altman, though it’s got nothing on Altman’s A Wedding, which to my mind is the greatest wedding film of all time. The acting is great and the entire thing is very believable. I might even like it more than Baumbach’s attempt at this, which was also pretty good. But yes, it is somewhat hilarious that privileged people like this could have so many problems, even though it’s true.

15. Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard (8/10)

Lost my review.

16. Recount, directed by Jay Roach (8/10)

This is a very biased but quite decent account of the 2000 election. As a 19 year old Frosh, I didn’t really pay enough attention to this and it sort of rankles me how terrible this whole SNAFU was (at least how it is portrayed as happening). Still, the subject requires a less partial documentary, made without American money, for a truly fair treatment. This movie, though, is pretty great, on the whole. It is suspenseful even though we know what’s going to happen. And though there are a number of cliché “idea” scenes and the like, the cast is very strong and they usually let you forget about the sometimes very cliché staging.

17. Anvil! The Story of Anvil, directed by Sacha Gervasi (8/10)

This really is Spinal Tap.

Many years ago friends of mine dragged me to a metal show in Montreal (headlined, I believe, by Helloween). There were four bands, some better (or at least less bad) than others.But at one point, one of the bands launched into a “fantasy metal” song with narration. Aside from the missing embarrassingly small copy of Stonehenge, it was pretty much straight out of the “Stonehenge” scene from Spinal Tap. Life was imitating art. But only two of us in the entire place seemed to be aware of that.

The story of Anvil has so many Tapian moments that its hard to even describe. The film is full of these, from the terrible female manager screwing one of the band members, to the embarrassingly low concert turnouts to the successful trip to Japan. Lips’ lyrics could easily be parodies of metal lyrics. It is Spinal Tap made flesh. It would be funny if it weren’t real.

The difficulties in the film – is this the story of Anvil or is this the story of Anvil’s latest tour and album? – are significantly lessened by this incredible story and the two protagonists, who are so lost. I’m glad the movie turned their career around.

PS This confirms This is Spinal Tap as the greatest mockumentary of all-time. I would strongly recommend that Tap doubters to watch this movie and then re-watch Tap.

18. Tropic Thunder, directed by Ben Stiller (8/10)

This is a great parody of Vietnam war films (of which I must say I’ve seen a lot) combined with a perhaps too obvious satire of the blockbuster production factory.

Most of the jokes work (and one of the best parts is that there is a ton of them so I suspect it would hold up over time) and unlike so many parodies of the ZAZ (Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker) school, these jokes are often rooted in situation and character, instead of just slapstick.

19. Bronson, directed by Nicholas Wending Refn (8/10)

Ridiculously over the top in the most enjoyable way. Read the review of Bronson.

20. Religulous, directed by Larry Charles (8/10)

There is this norm, that became really apparent with Borat (speaking of Larry Charles), that filmmakers owe it to their interviewee’s not to embarrass them, not to make them look stupid. As a society, we seem to feel that these folks are preying on the innocent, or something like that. Bull fucking shit.

Why are so many people eager to be in movies or on TV? I don’t know, but count me out of that seemingly large group. I don’t want to be in a movie. I see a camera and I avoid it. I feel like it is the prerogative of the filmmaker to use their interviews as they see fit. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that I am an atheist, and I have the same “how the fuck can they believe that?” wonderment that Bill Maher has. This movie is supposedly unfair because they edited the interviews (though the vast majority of filmed interviews are edited, but let’s forget about that for the moment) and because they make fun of the interviewees post-interview, it is supposedly unfair because it presents only ‘one side’ of the story, and it is unfair because Maher wasn’t objective. Well, as I said, I believe it is the filmmakers’ prerogative to edit interviews. It is also their prerogative to insert comments post-interview. Maher didn’t think up these comments during the interviews, but he thinks up some pretty funny (and pretty ballsy) comments during some of them anyway. Everyone has a comeback after the fact. Nothing wrong with airing them when you’re not pretending you said them at the time. The notion that a movie about how crazy religious people’s views are should present the other side of things is a little wonky on its own, but this argument has other problems. What is this ‘other side of the story’ they speak of? Talking snakes are real? Or were, once upon a time? The earth is only 6000 years old? As the Catholics in the film (who come off as the most sane, which is some scary shit) admit, the Bible isn’t exactly factually correct. In fact, it’s quite the opposite in many cases. So what other side are we talking about? The literalist interpretation of the Bible as the actual history of the planet or the universe is wrong. That is a fact. Also, in actual recorded history, snakes don’t talk, people don’t live in the bellies of whales (oh sorry, I mean fishes), floods don’t cover the earth, and so forth. We are normally very tolerant of all of this, however. Maher isn’t. And I sympathize. I also have a very hard time understanding what the hell is going on in someone’s head, especially someone I know and like, or someone who’s views I respect on other issues.

As a product of the TDSB, I have learned an excessive amount of tolerance, so Maher’s ending rant bothered me a little…until I realized it was almost on par with my own views. Almost. I don’t think an atheist political party would do anything, but more importantly I think the very idea of atheist parties or even lobby groups is dumb. What kind of public policy is atheism? No God…now what? Besides that one problem, I admire any American who can stand up to the evangelicals and make fun of them. Incidentally, he does ask honest, earnest questions a fair amount of the time, even if these are played for laughs to a great extent.

Before I move to the next movie I want to ask you – yes you – something: if you are a believer, instead of just being outraged at this movie because you can (and it’s easy, it’s the easiest response), ask yourself some questions: can the Bible (or another of the Abrahmic religious texts) really be the literal history of the world when human experience (in the form of science) denies this? (Incidentally, it can’t be anyway, because it has been changed so much, but that’s a whole other story.) If it isn’t the literal truth, what exactly do we learn from it? Can we know the nature of this thing called “god” from a book that (aside from being different from the actual text of thousands of years ago) isn’t literal? Maybe it tells us lots of stuff about the nature of human beings, but so do lots of other great books, and few would claim a comprehensive view of the nature of the universe based on…oh I don’t know, The Gorgias or something like that. I could go on and on, but since I have other priorities this day, I will stop ranting about religion and review another movie. This one, though, is hilarious.

21. Unwanted Witness, directed by Juan Jose Lozano (8/10)

The subject of this one used to be on TV in Colombia. Frankly, I’m surprised they let him, even though they put his show at the worst time-slot ever. He chronicles the stuff that nobody else covers. He is very self-righteous, but that no doubt comes with the territory (maybe it’s a requirement). He is also brave. Braver than me, that’s for sure. Maybe he’s reckless more than brave. In any case, he was performing a very valuable service. There are some terrible things happening in Colombia, and we don’t know very much about them. The Colombian government reminded me of the Aussies and their immigrant prisons. The Colombians use paramilitary groups, whom they do not officially support, and so they supposedly don’t control them. That makes it easy to do nothing about it. The Colombian peasants are the drug war victims we don’t hear about. In this movie, they are herbicided by their own government, trying to stamp out coca production in order to keep the States happy. He reports this kind of thing. He is not popular. They threaten him. His family is protected by bodyguards. Now his show is canceled, supposedly because of low ratings. I didn’t know much about Colombia and I still don’t. The thing that this movie most convinces me of is the need, always, for an independent press. So support PBS.

22. In Bruges, directed by Martin McDonagh (8/10)

I love black comedies. But I find most black comedies cop out at the end. Either the makers or the funders can’t handle the inevitable, so they mess with the film’s tone, because apparently we viewers can’t handle dark. Well, this one doesn’t cop out. That alone is a great thing. It is everything I want from this kind of film: it is funny, and the violence is part of the plot, not superfluous. It also made me want to visit Bruges, so people shouldn’t be so upset about Ferrell’s slagging of the city.

23. The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (8/10)

Lost my review. Hate that ending.

24. Pineapple Express, directed by David Gordon Green (8/10)

Lost my review but I have seen it twice. Hysterical.

25. Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation (8/10)

Lost my review. Interesting film about under-known national cinema.

26. Doubt, directed by John Patrick Shanley (8/10)

Lost my review.

27. Witness to Jonestown, director not credited (8/10)

Lost my review.

28. Ce qu’il faut pour vivre aka The Necessities of Life, directed by Benoit Pilon

Affecting and slightly amusing. Read the review of The Necessities of Life.

29. Synecdoche, New York, directed by Charlie Kaufman (7/10)

An extremely ambitious and complicated movie that lacks the coherence of his other work. Read the review of Synecdoche, New York.

30. Che, directed by Steven Soderbergh (7/10)

An ambitious film. Read the review of Che.

31. The Brothers Bloom, directed by Rian Johnson (7/10)

I have now seen this twice but didn’t review it the first time and it’s been months since I watched it the second time.

Sure, this doesn’t take place in reality. But do most con movies take place in reality? Hardly. I think we can excuse the world it takes place in if we want to enjoy it. And it’s very enjoyable.

32. Adam Resurrected, directed by Paul Schrader (7/10)

I struggle with Schrader as a filmmaker – the man has written some of the great American films, but those films are always directed by someone else (Scorsese among others). As a director I always wish that someone else had made his movies (with the exception of Mishima), and this one is no different. Read the full review of Adam Resurrected.

33. Body of Lies, directed by Ridley Scott (7/10)

I have no idea whether or not this film is accurate as to the day to day actions of CIA operatives in the Middle East – I doubt it, but it is a fictional film after all – but, for much of its run, it is an effective political thriller with a strong sense of place and grounded in what feels like a realistic portrayal of CIA operations in Iraq and Jordan during the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. Crowe and DeCaprio are both excellent, as is the supporting cast, which makes it easy to like the movie, even while it mostly fails to address any of the larger political issues.

But the film (or, perhaps, the novel its based on) lacks the courage of its convictions and the idea that Americans don’t know enough about the Middle East, which is why they are bungling around in it, doesn’t hit home enough in part because of the deus ex machina ending. Having DeCaprio’s character get saved by the Jordanian secret police enforces the idea that the Americans are meddling where they shouldn’t, as does his character’s decision to stay in Amman. But what really would have emphasized the idea, and what would have felt more authentic – and what would have been the brave decision – would be to omit the deus ex machina and have DeCaprio’s character become yet another Western victim of a Jihad video. That would have been a powerful film.

34. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, directed by Mark Herman (7/10)

This is a deeply affecting holocaust drama that has a few moments of brilliance, but which is somewhat undercut by some basic story problems (which may or may not exist in the source material). The opening montage is particularly effective, as for once we see what life was like for (very very British) Germans who weren’t persecuted, and we can perhaps understand why it was so hard for so many to recognize or realize the horror that was taking place. The biggest problem is the mother-son relationship: the boy goes out to play in the front yard, disappears for hours on end and we’re not supposed to worry that the mother hasn’t noticed.

35. Be Kind Rewind, directed by Michel Gondry (7/10)

It’s silly, it’s whimsical, it’s coy. But it’s entertaining. Those remakes are funny, regardless of how unbelievable it all is. I couldn’t help enjoying the ending too, even though it’s the kind of ending I usually despise. I guess that’s because I sympathize with the theme. For example, we shouldn’t spend history trying to play Mozart or Beethoven exactly as they would have conducted their own music. Art shouldn’t stay the same, it should live and change. This causes a major problem for copyright. Part of me really does sympathize with throwing that all out the window, but we can’t. If someone gets nothing for their work, what are the odds they will keep producing (some do, but they are few out of the total human population). So there’s a push-pull thing going on, and it’s something we will always have to fight over. In the movie world sometimes we know the answer to such a question. That’s pure fantasy, but it’s nice in (small) doses.

36. Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, directed by Stefan Forbes (7/10)

This is a TV-quality documentary that offers a lot of insight into the man it’s about, but also the South and modern American politics. There’s a lot here to chew on that’s worthwhile. But, there’s also a number of problems, including a lack of context for non-American viewers and an odd structure that veers between straight-chronological and episodic.

The lessons of Atwater’s life, if there are any, are extremely relevant to the US today so, for that reason alone, this is worth watching.

37. Shooting Robert King aka Blood Trail, directed by Richard Parry (7/10)

The film itself is not very well made. There are loads of documentary clichés in this movie and the music is not very well done either. However, two things make the movie stand out: the length of time the director followed the subject and the subject himself. The time makes it far more illuminating than it could have been. The subject makes things really interesting. He is not what I pictured a war photographer would be. He is a normal guy. Very normal, let me emphasize that. Maybe embarrassingly normal to people who think journalists are superhuman. He is certainly a far cry from the guy in Unwanted Witness. It’s his job and he does it because he likes to do it. I found this, well, somewhat shocking. He caries the film. It’s his story, and he makes it worth watching. If he weren’t so normal, and therefore so interesting, this movie would probably suck.

38. Addicted to Plastic, directed by Ian Connacher (7/10)

This should be an important film – the problem of plastic is a major problem for our time. Unfortunately, this is one of those ‘journey of self-discovery’ documentaries, where the host is omnipresent and his “I’m just an everyday guy” shtick is difficult. (As are the children’s cartoons created to explain stuff to us.)

Fortunately, the host is realistic in his condemnation of the industry, understanding that everyone uses this material, no matter what the long-term risks. This is the tragedy of the commons (well, one half of it) and it’s good of him to recognize it.

The film is educational, but its style removes its punch.

39. Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau (7/10)

I think I would have enjoyed this more had I not seen The Avengers first and so been previously exposed to Downey’s charms in this role.

That being said, I think I like this more than the early X-Men films and certainly more than most of the other Marvel films I’ve seen. It’s entertaining and enjoyable and it does a good job for this side (the light side) of the comic book movie spectrum.

40. Burma VJ, directed by Anders Ostergaard (7/10)

Out of date as of 2011 but worth your time if you are interested in human rights or protests or Myanmar. Read the review of Burma VJ.

41. Futurama: Bender’s Game, directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill (7/10)

I generally find the Futurama movies to lag a lot and find they really just don’t work as movies. But this one definitely had more and better jokes than the other two I have seen. It’s still just a very long cartoon comedy episode, but it’s stronger, I think, than their other attempts. That’s because of the extended parody, which doesn’t really fit, but which makes the whole thing a little easier, I think, to sustain over a length the medium isn’t really suited for.

42. It Might Get Loud, directed by Davis Guggenheim (7*/10)

I can’t say that I find the idea all that fascinating: three guitarists from three generations of rock music. There are so many guitarists out there, selecting three seems arbitrary. The further arbitrariness is that two of these are blues based guitarists and one isn’t. The Edge genuinely seems out of place, and not just because of his technical limitations. Individually, the stories are interesting, but they could all be part of separate movies. I can’t say I didn’t like it. I like much of it, but it still seems odd that it even exists and the “summit” never lives up to its potential – as these things rarely do (except for briefly during “In My Time of Dying”).

43. Quantum of Solace, directed by Marc Forster (7/10)

Lost my review.

44. A Christmas Tale, directed by Arnaud Desplechin (7/10)

I’ve seen too many of these at this point. Read the review of A Christmas Tale.

45. Troubled Water, directed by Erik Poppe (7/10)

Though this is well-acted and well put together I found the plot more and more contrived as it went on. I don’t know that I buy Agnes’ actions at all, which is a major problem for me (and the film).

46. Step Brothers, directed by Adam McKay (7/10)

This movie is so damn stupid I don’t know where to begin. That being said, it is hysterical for the vast majority of the time. One of the funniest movies of that year. And I normally do not like Ferrell’s shtick at all. Definitely watch the extended version.

47. I.O.U.S.A., directed by Patrick Creadon (7/10)

Lost my review but I’m guessing some of what was said in this hasn’t proven correct.

48. I Think We’re Alone Now, directed by Sean Donnelly (7/10)

Lost my review.

49. Gran Torino, directed by Clint Eastwood (6/10)

Lost my review.

50. C’est pas moi, je le jure!, directed by Philippe Falardeau (6/10)

This kid is just the worst. Read my review of It’s Not Me, I Swear!

51. The Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier (6/10)

A little less ambitious than some later MCU films, which is good. The climax is a little ridiculous, though. Read the review of The Incredible Hulk.

52. Transsiberian, directed by Brad Anderson (6/10)

A pretty good thriller that, um, goes off the rails in the third act. Read the review of Transsiberian.

53. Before Tomorrow, directed by Marie Helene Cousineau (6/10)

This is the third Inuktitut-language film to be released, to my knowledge, and the first one not to be made directly by the people behind Atanarjuat (though I believe they funded this one). All three films embody a similar aesthetic, even if this film tells a significantly different story than the other two.

There’s a certain fatigue I feel, not for Inuit stories, but the way Canadian filmmakers seem to feel they have to tell them. This will sound awful, but I feel like once you’ve seen Atanarjuat, which is the gold standard here, anyway, you’ve experienced this style of filmmaking at its peak. I’m not going to stop watching these films, but I do feel like I don’t quite sense a distinct voice here – and I’m sure that opinion will bother some people – or at least a voice distinct enough from that behind Atanarjuat for me to notice alternative views within this film micro-industry.

54. Choke, directed by Clark Gregg (6/10)

This is reasonably entertaining but I agree that it could have been much more.

There’s certainly enough material to do something fairly special here, but instead the pacing is really off and many of the jokes don’t work as well as they could. (On the other hand some work very well.)

A better director would have definitely helped.

55. The Children of Huang Shi, directed by Roger Spottiswoode (6/10)

This is an incredible story and it deserves a great film, unfortunately this is not that film.

The film is not exactly historically accurate – though that really isn’t the problem – as a quick investigation discovers a number of really big liberties the filmmakers took with the story.

The real issue is pacing related. I guess they already had a pretty long movie on their hands, but the opening, for example, is extremely rushed – so rushed that a minor character never speaks and is only discussed. And the pacing is that problematic throughout. It might have been better to focus on just the journey, or just on the causes of the journey, but not both. There are effective scenes but many feel lost between what is a rather large and awkward film.

Still nice to look at, and an incredible story – even with the liberties – but a bit of a mess.

56. One Week, directed by Michael McGowan (6/10)

So this is generally a good flick. It’s what I might do if I got diagnosed with cancer, and it’s a funny version of that.

The editing is a little messed up, a couple times shots from other parts of the country are used to represent specific places. This probably doesn’t bother most people, but it’s too bad they did that.

It’s slightly too contrived at a few moments, with the advice from strangers thing. (I did the same thing and got very little advice from strangers.) But mostly it’s good.

I’d like to make a version of this with a shy person…

57. Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle (6/10)

It’s mostly a good movie. Mostly.

For much of the film, we have an engaging, entertaining and revealing story about life in Mumbai. Millionaire is a genius way of introducing the audience into another culture because it was so ubiquitous here, most of us know it, and so it is an effective device for bringing us to a different culture. And everything is fine for a while, it is a story that is sad but also funny, it is both, like life, and it is effective because it is measured.

And then the end comes. The end is ridiculous. It is offensive, in fact. The tone of the whole rest of the film is suddenly irrelevant, as the ending must be happy. No wonder this won the Audience Award at TIFF, it almost seems designed this way. I don’t know how anyone can defend this ending. It could have easily ended differently and believably. But instead we get what feels like some major Bollywood clichés (I wouldn’t know exactly as I try to avoid that stuff as much as possible, but they’re Hollywood ones, pretty much). This is reinforced by a credit dance-sequence which was just the icing on the cake.

What is a pretty good movie is just ruined by the ending. I give it 6 because it was good for most of it.

58. Detroit Metal City, directed by Toshio Lee (6/10)

This movie is crazy, like many Japanese films it is clearly the product of a culture I don’t entirely get. That being said, it’s very entertaining for most of the film. It is hilarious, in fact, at many points. However, like the above Slumdog Millionaire, this movie experiences a dramatic change in tone part of the way through. In addition, the ending is a big let down, because it is so over-hyped by the film itself, if that makes any sense. We know it’s coming, and when it comes it’s the least funny part of the movie. But it’s funny, and it’s typically out there. I have a hard time bashing Japanese movies that aren’t great if only because so many of them seem to exist in a world where many movie rules don’t apply, and I like that…a lot.

59. Sukai Kurora aka the Sky Crawlers, directed by Mamoru Oshii (6/10)

This movie thinks a lot of itself. Or the makers think a lot of their ideas, or whatever. I can’t help liking anything that mentions Camus, and the whole setting is interesting: a world where the air-war is a permanent thing to keep the peace everywhere else. But the whole thing seems very ponderous. They are trying to be deeply philosophical but something is amiss. Maybe it’s the translation, but the attempt at an allegory for our condition comes off sounding as if were created by teenagers (maybe that’s the idea, as the permakids might be prone to a lack of sophistication, I don’t know). This might be forgivable on its own, but there is a bigger problem. The film mixes two kinds of animation: CG and drawn, and they don’t work together. The CG air battles are amazing to look at, but the change to drawn animation is jarring, to say the least. You think, “what the hell happened to the film?” every time it reverts back to conventional animation. I can find no reason for the two styles that would reinforce the thrust of the film.

60. Role Models, directed by David Wain (6/10)

I was trying to avoid this re-imagining of Problem Child like the plague. Somehow I still saw it. Somehow I didn’t hate it. As Ebert pointed out when this movie first premiered, this works because the humour is part of the plot and connected to the characters. It’s so much better than it has any right to be. It’s still very formulaic, and therefore it’s not about to knock anyone’s socks off, but it’s good for what it is. Also, it’s amazing it’s not Problem Child-bad. Thank science.

61. Harold & Kumar Escape Guantanamo Bay, directed by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg (6/10)

Lost my review.

62. Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs, directed by Peter Avanzino (6/10)

This is sporadically funny and, just like the other Futurama movie I’ve seen, a little too long for its own good. I don’t remember that one very well, but I’d like to think this one was a little funnier.

I don’t know. I don’t think this show does as well in 90 minute formats.

63. Nothing but the Truth, directed by Rod Lurie (6/10)

I think it would have been better to make a dramatization of what actually happened, rather than creating this rather hysterical fictional version (which, being an American film, somehow manages to include a murder…can’t have a movie without a murder, can we?). This is too bad because I heavily sympathize with the message; I just think the execution is pretty weak (and the ending is just so ridiculous: it doesn’t matter who the source is folks; making it what they do is so typical yet so unnecessary).

64. Cloverfield, directed by Matt Reeves (6/10)

Despite some problems (the camera work isn’t bad enough, the battery never runs out, the military would have seized / destroyed the camera), the first hour of this movie is truly awesome. It’s half of a great film. And then the protagonists climb 57 flights of stairs (after running around and being attacked for hours and hours). Then they climb down 18. Then they do it in reverse. From that point on, things get less and less realistic and more and more dumb. Too bad.

65. Yes Man, directed by Peyton Reed (6/10)

I had not the slightest interest in this movie. None. It is essentially another Liar Liar. But it’s better. It is consistently funny. It avoids most of the schmaltz most of these types of movies are plagued by (though there is some at the end, obviously). I was pleasantly surprised.

66. The Secret Life of Bees, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (6/10)

This is a decent film. The performances are all good and the story is reasonably compelling (if slightly unbelievable; it’s the kind of thing that works better as a novel). But unless this is your cup of tea, there isn’t anything extraordinary to recommend it. It’s fine, that’s about all I can say for it. Better than many films, but hardly notable beyond that.

67. Bangkok Dangerous, directed by Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang (6/10)

I was really pleasantly surprised. Everything I heard about this movie said “stay away.” It’s not that it’s particularly good, it’s just far from horrible. Cage manages to be less like himself than normal. Very few of his infamous ticks are visible in the majority of the film, which is very very welcome. The direction is nowhere near as over the top as I was expecting, which was also a nice surprise. Competent and entertaining.

68. Changeling, directed by Clint Eastwood (5/10)

A bit of a mess of a film; hard to understand the acclaim. Read the review of Changeling.

69. Redbelt, directed by David Mamet (5/10)

This is an interesting film for much of its runtime. As usual for Mamet, there is clearly something else going on, but we don’t know what it is. It seems like he is almost commenting on his own genre, once the explanation comes out. But then there is this bizarre climax after the anti-climax that I really can’t get my head around. The tone changes and I just don’t like it.

70. Until the Light Takes Us, directed by Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites (5/10)

Here is a subject seemingly perfect for a documentary: why the founders of Norwegian black metal were compelled to commit the crimes that they did. And here are interviews with many of the principals which would also seem great fodder for a documentary: they are remarkably candid. And yet the film just doesn’t work:

  • it is badly edited and paced, horribly over-scored (sometimes with music that seems ridiculously inappropriate to the subject),
  • features some truly ridiculous location titles (“Oslo, Norway” is followed by “Oslo, Norway”…)
  • and barely gives any sense of context if you are not from Norway, or if you don’t remember the church burnings on the news in the early ’90s.

It’s as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide whether they were telling a story or making art that breaks away from traditional narrative. I swear they even took on the black metal practice of using bad sound equipment; the sound is terrible.

That sure is a valid artistic decision if you are making some kind of film collage about the movement. But that’s not what this is. This is clearly, at some level, trying to tell the story of the movement’s principals, too bad it does a pretty brutal job of it.

71. Vinyan, directed by Fabrice du Welz (5/10)

It starts off good. Maybe even great (I’ve seen it only the once). And the sound is something to behold. If I had been in a different setting, or farther away from the speaker, I might be able to better appreciate the sound design. I think it might have been brilliant. However, what starts off as a compelling movie about two inevitably white people (non-Westerners didn’t suffer in the tsunami…) searching for their kid lost in the tsunami soon turns into the typical white fear of “primitives.” There have been many of these movies, many stories about whites wandering into some foreign place and dying because of the kinds of people that live in these places. It is an old thing. This movie connects to the version of this tale found in ’70s Italian cannibals-in-Brazil movies. That is not a compliment. In fact, it seems like a cross between these Italian cannibal movies and Don’t Look Now (for example, the missing kid is wearing a red shirt). As such, it’s not very original. I was never a fan of this genre, and I was not blown away by DLN, so maybe that’s why I don’t like this. But here are some other reasons: putting white people as the victims in a massive storm that killed hundreds of thousands of non-Westerners is just ridiculous and difficult to overlook. Also, the woman always goes crazy in these movies. And so, in this movie, she goes crazy.

72. Bottle Shock, directed by Randall Miller (5/10)

Apparently nobody making this film was sure whether they were telling the story of a family wine-making enterprise in 1970s northern California, or the competition they happened to win.

As a result, the movie veers between the two stories very haphazardly. We get scenes that belong in one of those movies mixed with scenes that would belong in the other. Characters disappear for an eternity because of the editing. We have a romantic triangle subplot that does absolutely nothing for the film.

And this is a pretty unfunny comedy. Perhaps they should have stuck to docudrama?

73. Delta, directed by Kornel Mondruczo (5/10)

Sometimes having little dialogue works, but sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t work especially when your actors’ faces aren’t really expressive enough for you to understand their motivations. It is difficult to empathize with characters when you don’t understand them, even at some basic level. Another problem is that I thought this movie was leading us on, I thought it was going to suggest the incest, and then have it not happen, and we’d be expecting it, and it would condemn us in some way, and I liked that idea. But instead it just went straight for the incest. Now, I’m not one to describe any movie as cruel, but that’s kind of how I felt about this one (even though it was beautiful to look at). Is this necessary? Why was this story told exactly? I often hate it when people ask those questions about movies I like, but they popped into my head watching this one. It seems like it’s a tragedy without the moral (though there is one we can draw from it: don’t sleep with your sister and fail to cover it up) and without the insight of good tragedies.

74. Secrecy, directed by Peter Galison, Rob Moss (5/10)

What is this movie? Is it a history of government secrecy in the United States? Is it about specific cases? Is it about the general issue of whether or not a government can / should keep “national” secrets? I really don’t think anybody involved decided what they were making. There are the germs of numerous great documentaries herein, but they couldn’t make up their minds about which one they wanted to make. So they didn’t make any of them. Instead they just took the interviews they got and attempted to create a film out of it.

This material could have made a number of absolutely great films but instead we get a film that may be relatively balanced but incoherent examination of this topic.

75. Wanted, directed by Timur Bekmambetov (5/10)

This movie is ridiculous from pretty much the outset. However, for the first half or so it has a sense of humour. It seems to be aware of its own ridiculousness. This makes it much more bearable. However, the sense of humour sort of wanes as the movie goes on, and it gets harder and harder to put up with the ever more ridiculous scenes.

76. The Meerkats, directed by James Honeyborne (5/10)

This takes the anthropomorphism of some of these narrative wildlife “documentaries” to new extremes; it is almost like watching a Disney movie but with real animals. It’s not quite Homeward Bound but jesus, it’s close. To be fair, there are some amazing shots, some of which must have taken the crew weeks or months to get. But why impose the Hollywood story line and – worst of all – ending? This is supposed to be a documentary about meerkats, not a “and Kolo lived happily ever after” piece of Hollywood fantasy. At least that’s what I thought before I watched it.

77. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, directed by Andrew Adamson (4/10)

I don’t know whether it’s CS Lewis’ fault or the adapters, but despite an apparently bigger budget, this is somehow weaker than the first. The basic plotting is all wrong:

  • people who should do things do the opposite – for example the man who didn’t know Narnians existed knows more than the Kings and Queens do about Narnia;
  • time definitely shifts depending on where we are during the climactic scenes;
  • there are apparently all these citizens of whatever the hell the human city is called, but they are shown twice, and the first time is 80 minutes into the movie;
  • etc.

Again, I don’t know if it’s Lewis’ fault for writing a stupid story – which appears to rip off Tolkien, but I have yet to check the dates – or if it’s the adaptors’ fault. Either way, this film takes the first film’s mistakes – or the first novel’s really – and amplifies them.

Also, it’s very clearly filmed in new locations, so that’s off-putting from about the first scene.

Oh and Dinklage has drastically improved his accent since this movie.

78. Cadillac Records, directed by Darnell Martin (4/10)

This is not the story of Chess Records. Read the review of Cadillac Records.

79. Inkheart, directed by Iain Softley (4/10)

I can imagine the pitch meeting where someone thought this was a good idea. And though I later learned it came from a book – I have not read it, obviously – it doesn’t make me think that pitch meeting was any more reasonable. Ideas like this always sound good, but it takes a lot imagination to make them work on the page. And, aside from the obvious problems of having characters whose very acts of reading aloud create – what happens if they read philosophy? math? etc – the filmmakers failed to be imaginative enough. Everything feels like second rate fantasy, looks like second rate fantasy. (Maybe third rate…) The source material evokes certain existing books and stories, but the author at the centre of the story isn’t real and so his books aren’t either. If you’re going to go that route you have to be creative (think Williams Goldman) and it’s not clear to me that the author was. If she was, well then something got lost in translating it to the screen.

Though I admittedly missed the opening scenes of the film, I spent a hell of a lot of time trying to wrap my head around the film’s internal logic – this is a family film, that shouldn’t be hard – and struggling to really understand the motivations of the literary characters in particular. Sigh.

80. Adoration, directed by Atom Egoyan (4/10)

Oh, Egoyan’s attempts to understand the past through contrivances and meta-narratives! Gotta love’em. Whereas with Ararat, Egoyan tried to get us to understand the Armenian genocide through making a movie about making a movie about it (yeesh), here he tries to get us to understand suicide bombing and terrorism by making a movie about a kid who…Read the spoilerific review of Adoration.

81. Doomsday, directed by Neil Marshall (4/10)

So there are loads of ideas in this movie, a few of which would probably stand alone as separate films. But the movie is too short (and too frenetic) to really explore all or even most of them properly. There is way too much going on in this movie, as there are subplots galore – few of which are really adequately resolved or even explored – and a huge number of questions.

For example, if Kane’s clan really are content at returning to the middle ages, where exactly did they get the clothes? A museum? The castle they took over? Why wouldn’t they just wear newer clothes? There must have been enough in the various stores of Glasgow to last a few decades. Certainly more new clothes than medieval clothes. And that’s just a perfectly legitimate question about one aspect of one small part of the movie.

The reason these questions are never explained in any way seems to be either laziness or a desire to provide a fairly relentless action movie, rather than worry about… you know… sense.

It’s too bad, because many of the ideas are pretty neat.

82. Istoria 52 aka Tale 52, directed by Alexis Alexiou (4/10)

This movie is a mess. Apparently, we’re supposed to be creeped out by the number 52 and unsteady camera work. Whereas Vinyan at least started off well and had good sound, and Delta was pretty to look at, there is little to recommend this. Yes, there are a few genuinely creepy moments here and there, and maybe in surer hands we might have actually had something. But the protagonist is nuts pretty much right from the beginning. We don’t even have time to empathize with the guy before he’s bat-shit crazy. The mood they were trying to set might have worked a lot better if they hadn’t been so determined on having the camera reflect the perspective of the nut-job. That’s always a risky tactic. Occasionally it works, but not in this movie.

83. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, directed by Steven Spielberg (4/10)

Dumb. Too much CGI. Read the review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.

84. Outlander, directed by Howard McCain (3/10)

I really wish movies like this would try just a little. Just a little.

This is essentially Vikings and Aliens but it wouldn’t be so horrible if a little more effort was put into it:

  • Canada substitutes for Norway – which might not be so bad if the CGI weren’t so terrible but it regularly feels like the actors are standing in front of a good old Hollywood backdrop
  • the character motivations are the same as every other movie like this,
  • everything is amped up to the ridiculous
  • and, yes, the CGI is legendarily bad.

But it’s the ridiculousness of some of the set pieces that is probably the worst part.

  • For example, they don’t just have to defeat the creature – which looks ridiculous, by the way – they have to defeat two.
  • They don’t just have to defeat the creatures underground, with magma to deal with, they have to defeat it on a sheer cliff hundreds of feet above the ocean. (How did that happen if they were underground?)
  • Caviezel doesn’t just have to swim to the bottom of a lake with the creature in it, this lake is actually hundreds of feet deep.
  • Etc.

There are numerous moments where the movie takes its ridiculous premise and makes the whole situation more ridiculous by making the scenes too far-fetched to give us anything to grab onto.

85. Pretty Bird, directed by Paul Schneider (3/10)

Exactly what PFHLTB [a user on the now deceased zip.ca] said :

“Not much to discuss here. It’s not a comedy, it’s not funny, it just exists. It should never have been made. Where did the ending go? There isn’t one. It simply looks like they ran out of money and stopped the production. To make it look like it was all planned, they matched the beginning with the so-called ending.

It’s one of those quiet dramas without much going on. I watched the entire thing without FFwrding because I liked all the actors and really thought it was going to go somewhere interesting … but it didn’t. It just died. What a shame.

I didn’t hate it, but I was extremely disappointed that it ran out of steam towards the middle and then limped its way to the end credits. Simply a waste of talented actors and my time.”

It is extraordinarily clunky. They try to be funny for the first hour or so. They aren’t. Then they try to get more serious, only it just gets more bizarre, more “what is happening in this ‘film’?” And yes, what is with that “ending”? PFHLTB is exactly right. This just is, and it’s hard to know how that happened.

86. Resurrection County, directed by Matt Zettell (3/10)

Ooh, an entire county that’s scary! When I heard the title it made me think of zombies, not religious cults. Shows you what I know.

Plausibility is stretched from the very, very beginning as we are basically told that there is a county in the US that is fatal but nobody seems to have done anything about that (or know better).

The typical horror movie transgressions have gone from the usual sins to… um, trespassing. I feel like the tagline should have been “ATVing on someone else’s property is bad, umkay.”

Nothing about this movie is scary, clever, original or interesting. Few character choices make sense.

At the same time, it is far from the worst movie I have ever seen if only because the production values are average.

87. The Love Guru, directed by Marco Schnabel (3/10)

This movie is terrible. Just terrible. However, I laughed a few times. And there were some actors in it with bit parts who didn’t (totally) embarrass themselves. I have seen many movies that are far worse (incredible as that may seem) so that’s why it warrants a 3, instead of a 2 or a 1. (A movie has to be really, really, really terrible to get a 1 from me, because I’ve seen too much shit.) All that aside, someone at some point in this process should have said “stop this right now!” We’d all be much happier that way. I guess that’s just a comment on Hollywood, though. I mean, people probably thought that when they watched it before it was released. But then someone brought up the total gross for all the Austin Powers movies and they stopped thinking it was so bad.

88. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, directed by Nathan Frankowski (1/10)

Lost my review.

I used to really enjoy Ben Stein before he went insane – or before he made public his insanity.

This movie has no basis in fact. It is propaganda and it’s not even competent propaganda.