Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 in Review: An Introduction and Thoughts

(Note: this is not a great piece of writing, and I know that. It's meant to be a lengthy intro to the year we just finished. The great writing has been saved for the other articles.)

The year 2008 has been different. Looking at my current top ten, only three films came out in the fall months of September through December. Five films were released during the summer, including four of the top five. The other two were released in the spring. That’s diversity right there.

January was a terrible month (as it always is), but out of the three films I saw, there was one gem: “Cloverfield”. The other two, put mildly, were pieces of radioactive sludge. Still, “Cloverfield” was a breath of fresh air, a terrifying thrill ride that I knew would be hard to beat when it came to entertainment. February was pretty uneventful, starting off with the iffy “The Eye,” the disastrously unfunny “Fool’s Gold,” and the scant “Jumper,” which was one of my more anticipated of Spring 2008. I found the time to be thrilled by “Vantage Point,” but the real surprise was the brilliant “Penelope,” a tiny and forgotten gem every inch of which I loved to death.

March was a good month, though it admittedly started off with the abysmal “10,000 B.C.” Just the week after, however, there was the delightful and hilarious “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” The week after that, another small gem called “Married Life” came and went practically unseen, much like “Penelope.” Then the spoof genre had a savior in the witty and sweet “Superhero Movie,” which was the best outright comedy I’d seen so far. I only saw three films from the month of April: the fun “The Forbidden Kingdom,” a return for the floundering Jackie Chan, “Son of Rambow,” which also was a forgotten, underseen near-masterpiece, and the charming if uneven “Baby Mama,” which I saw on a whim.

So, good but disappointing were the early months of the year, but I did have four wonderful choices for the end of the year list (note: only one makes it to the final top ten). Then summer came, as it does, and turned things around.

May was a very good, if not great, month for summer blockbusters. For every great “Iron Man” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” type of success, there was a “Speed Racer” disaster and a “The Strangers” letdown to cloud one’s vision of the good stuff (then again, neither of the latter made much money, so there was an upside). In the middle of them all was the thrilling “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” and a little masterpiece called “The Fall” to hold them together. June was one of two months of excessive movie-going for me. I saw the following: the funny and exciting “Kung Fu Panda,” the awful “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” the underrated “The Happening,” the dumbly fun “The Incredible Hulk,” the equally funny “Get Smart” and “The Love Guru,” and the masterworks-for-different-reasons “WALL-E” and “Wanted.” It was a refreshingly good month, but “WALL-E” beating out “Cloverfield” for the top prize was unexpected, as nothing else had done so. My thought at the time was that even the long-awaited “The Dark Knight” would have to perfect in order to beat it.

July started off with the disappointing “Hancock,” which turned out to be much ado about not much. The weekend of July 11 brought me to the theaters for all three big films: the surprisingly not awful “Meet Dave,” the fun “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” the biggest comeback for superhero movies since May’s “Iron Man.” But then “The Dark Knight” came out. I had my winner for the entire year, even the months that had not yet passed. It was an utter masterpiece and a work of pure genius—and that’s just the late Heath Ledger’s performance. Other movies after that paled in comparison, until the evening of August 15. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I also saw “Space Chimps,” which depressed me, and “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” which lifted my spirits.

My impending move to college and my brother’s wedding dampened August’s movie-going experiences, and I didn’t see a film for two weeks. Perhaps this affected my liking “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” The following week, a comedic masterpiece in Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder” and three weeks after that, the brilliant thriller “Traitor.”

After this point, movies became few and far between. I was more busy than I’d ever been, but I did find the time to see the brilliant “Lakeview Terrace” and the entertainingly paranoid “Eagle Eye.” In October, I saw the hauntingly scary “Quarantine,” a film I was dreading with my every fiber of being, and the resonant “Changeling,” a film that left a big impression on me. In November, the films I saw were okay, but the only major disappointment was “Quantum of Solace,” the incoherent follow-up to “Casino Royale.”

But December has been pretty good. The first movie I saw was the disappointing “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and next the sappy “Seven Pounds.” I liked its comedies, such as “Yes Man” and “Bedtime Stories,” as well as the thriller “Valkyrie.” But in the final week of the year, I saw a film so powerful and so resonant as to make me question the chances for “The Dark Knight” to be on the top spot at the end of the year: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

For the last two days, it’s been haunting me. I can’t stop thinking about it. Which film beat which? I’ve made my choice, and it was, for me, a hard one to make. Both films are masterpieces of their respective genres. Both are those kinds of rarities I call perfect. I’m not entirely happy which choosing one over the other, but alas I must. You shall see in two days.

Let us start the journey…

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