Friday, February 6, 2009

2008: My Year End Top Ten Movies

Every year I make up a list of my ten favorite movies. I know it's kind of narcissistic to think anyone would care about the movies I enjoyed. However, it helps me process my thoughts on what I find to be good filmmaking versus wretched filmmaking (which applies to most movies I saw this year).

When I was in high school, I found a way to absolutely love every single movie I saw. That was a problem. Ever since I started working in Hollywood, I've found that being more discerning in what I choose to give the "Will Sherrod Brand of Approval" is more important than trying to feel like I got something out of the $12.oo I spent on, say, Mamma Mia! (Sorry Mom! I thoroughly enjoyed going to the movies and watching it with you. I just didn't really love the movie itself.)

Before we kick this off...2008 was a bit of a rough year for me. Okay, let's be honest, can anyone REALLY say that 2008 was a great year? I'm gonna warn you that I tended to connect with much bleaker films than in years past. Granted I dind't put Blindness on here (one of the bleakest films I've ever seen); but let's just say that out of the two comic book movies I went back and forth over including on my list, I chose The Dark Knight over Iron Man because I feel like it was the most grim option of the two movies and a better representation of 2008 as a whole.

Without further adieu... here's my list:

#10. The Dark Knight
Now that we're in the middle of a recession, I think my favorite scene is the one where the Joker burns an entire pile of money with a businessman on top. Granted, I still think the movie suffers from a weak third act. Personally, I find the scene with the two ferries to be a little hokey. Also, the Joker's plot is just a little too perfectly conceived. But, even with all its failures and minor annoyances, The Dark Knight features one of the best magic tricks I've ever seen...

"I'm gonna make this pencil disappear."

#9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This is a film that I think will grow on me in years to come. Most of David Fincher's movies get better and better upon repeat viewing (especially Zodiac). While this is his most mainstream film since Panic Room, it also grapples with some pretty big themes. Watching life in reverse really does bring a little more clarity to the dying process.

Also, the special effects used to make Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett look younger were incredible.

#8. Slumdog Millionaire
Surprise! I didn't say ALL my picks were totally bleak...just most of them. Slumdog Millionaire is a beautiful movie that has a strong pulse. Danny Boyle's unique camera moves mixed with some wild editing make the slums (and cities) of India come to vivid life on the big screen. I'm gonna go out on a (very sturdy) limb and say that is gonna win Best Picture this year. And, to be totally honest, I think it's deserved.

Any movie that ends with an enormous dance sequence (other than Mamma Mia!) deserves a little extra credit.

#7. Revolutionary Road
Nobody handles American suburban angst quite like British director Sam Mendes. However, you'll find none of the humor from American Beauty in this draining film about a failing marriage. One thing that I love about this movie is hearing different people's reactions to whether Frank or April Wheeler is right. Even if somebody says that they're both clearly in the wrong, you can always tell that they side with one of the characters.

Spoiler: My favorite scene is the second to last scene. Shep Campbell asks his wife Milly if they can agree to never talk about the Wheelers again...moments before sinking back into their idyllic suburan home.

#6. Milk
I saw Milk a few weeks after the state of California banned same-sex marriage. As a biopic, I felt like it was rather paint-by-numbers. However, as a glimpse at a movement in the 70's, it's inspiring. It certainly was not made to sway the minds of people who would vote "yes" on a proposition that takes rights away from homosexuals. Instead, I think it was made for people who would proudly vote "no" but need to actually let their voices be heard BEFORE the votes are tallied...rather than after. It's sad that they could beat something like Prop 6 (firing teachers and school board officials because of their sexual orientation) in 1978, but something like Prop 8 wins thirty years later.

Additionally, this movie had some stellar performances from some of the best actors working today.

#5. Son of Rambow
Son of Rambow is the movie that left me feeling the happiest and most nostalgic for the days when I'd sit in my front yard with an enormous video camera and a bunch of dinosaur toys reenacting scenes from Jurassic Park. It reminded me that, while the road is never easy, the privilege of making movies is one that I should never take for granted.

Side note for all you Gossip Girl fans...Ed Westwick (you know him as Chuck Bass) plays the devious older brother to the film's hero. This wasn't exactly a selling point for me, but if it gets more people to add a great (underrated) movie to their Netflix queue, then I'm all about hyping the star power.

#4. The Reader
A friend of mine complained that the characters in The Reader were a bit too "morally ambiguous." I have to admit, the biggest draw for me was the fact that I'd start out loving a character and routing for him/her to succeed, only to find myself loathing them and their stomach-churning decisions a few moments later. The characters just felt real to me. I haven't reacted to characters' decisions that passionately in a long time.

Also, the moral dilemma in the film is one that stayed with me for a couple days. That's another reaction I haven't had to a film in a long time.

#3. The Signal
It wouldn't be a Will Sherrod List of Favorite Movies without at least one horror flick. I was a little nervous that I wouldn't have one to include this year. Most of the horror films (I'm looking at you, The Strangers) I saw were terrible. Un-scary. Un-funny. Just grotesque...which doesn't do anything for me anymore. Luckily, I caught this just a few weeks before thinking about this list. The Signal is a brilliant blend of action and bizarre comedy. It's very gory, but in a 1980's fun house kind of way. Like any good horror film, it contains veiled social commentary...always a plus in my book.

Side note: The Signal cost less than $500,000 to make. In my opinion, it looks better and more cinematic than a lot of the $40 million films I saw this year (eyes over here, Baby Mama).

#2. Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof Complex)
I know what you're thinking. I can hear you saying..."Will's trying to be all 'artsy' and put a foreign film that's nominated for an Oscar near the top of the list." Well, let me just tell you that with car explosions, plane hijackings, bank robberies, and point-blank executions, this is not Farewell, My Concubine. Uli Edel's brilliant look at the inner workings of the band of young political dissidents who eventually formed Germany's Red Army Faction is harrowing. The movie dares to put you in the shoes of the terrorists. It tries to make you understand why they're doing what they're doing. It clearly shows how misguided passion can send anyone barreling down a collision course of insufferable cruelty. Writer/Director Edel grew up in Germany and followed the writings of journalist Ulrike Meinhof as she suddenly went from being an observer to an instigator of many politcally motivated, heinous crimes. This is a project that is more than twenty years in the making. It is powerful and riveting.

Special Note: Just so you understand how much care went into the making of the film... the director claims that all of the dialogue is reconstructed from journals, tape recordings, and first hand accounts. There are more than 130 speaking parts because he hated the idea of combining multiple real life witnesses into single "representative" characters. That kind of attention to detail is NOT something to scoff at.

#1. WALL-E
I prefer the grown-up Pixar movies (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) to their more juvenile offerings (Finding Nemo, Cars). This film is in a league of its own.


I was tempted to call this an "Honorable Mention" but decided against the term because that implies that's it's not quite as good as the other films on the list. Truth be told, I caught this movie at its premiere at ScreamFest in Los Angeles. If you notice the original release date at the top of the poster, you'll realize that this film has now missed two chances at a wide release. I feel like even more of an elitist putting a movie on my list that's not possible for anyone else to see. So, I'm just telling you that whenever Warner Bros gets around to firing their current executives in charge of theatrical distribution (highly likely the way studios are laying off people these days) and puts in some "fresh blood" that will take a chance on releasing a non-remake, non-sequel, non-sequel-remake, non-PG-13-fluff, non-torture-porn, (please read, ORIGINAL) horror film...TRICK 'R TREAT will be on the top of my list. The movie is gory. The movie is hilarious. The movie is one of the rare examples of a multiple-character, alternating story arc film that I actually enjoyed. Most of all, it just feels original (I can't say that word enough, it seems). Fresh. And since I'm a firm believer that the road most traveled (i.e., Friday the 13th, Saw I-V, any PG-13 Japanese horror remake) is less creepy than setting out on a new trail...I'm gonna give Trick 'R Treat my thumbs up as the best horror film since Slither.


danast said...

Solid list, Sherrod. I just didn't dig 'The Reader', kinda forgot all about 'The Signal' and still haven't seen 'Der Baader Meinhof Komplex' or 'Trick R' Treat', but over all I think we're on the same page. Totally agree with you on 'Zodiac', too. I go back and forth between that and 'Seven' being my favorite Fincher film. Guess I don't need to create my own list now. I'll just continue making fun of you.

Bethany said...

I am so upset! I have only seen three of the ten movies on your list! I think that is my worst record EVER...I must get out more!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've only seen two of them! I must got out more too! This is a good list...even if you don't have Mama Mia on it! I must put Son of Rambow on my list! I'll be reminded of the Jurassic Park action figures/video camera days! :-)

ChillwithWill said...

Lemme guess...

Bethany has seen WALL-E, Slumdog, and Dark Knight.

Anonymous (Mom) has only seen WALL-E and Slumdog.

J. said...

What about Let the Right One In??!?!

ChillwithWill said...

I was a very big fan of 'Let the Right One In.' And, to be honest, I've considered taking 'Benjamin Button' down a couple of times and replacing it with 'Let the Right One In.'

If I had a longer list, it would include:

Let the Right One In
Frozen River
In Bruges
Iron Man