Thursday, February 05, 2009

08 films to catch

Hey all. Mike here with a helpful last second list to help you catch up with the films you need/needed to see in 2008. Not just the Oscar nominees, but a few that didn't make the Oscar cut. I break it down in terms of Major Nominees in theaters, Minor nominees in theaters, Major Nominees on DVD, Minor Nominees on DVD, and those that were ignored. Most times I don't do a write up on them, but you'll see when I felt the need to bring attention. For the purposes of making this list, the following is what I consider to be major nominations: Picture, Director, the four Acting categories, the two Screenwriting nominations, Documentary, Foreign Language, and Animated Film. Here we go:

What to see Major nominees in theaters: Benjamin Button, Milk, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Doubt,

The Reader (Boy, this feels like this will be work),

Rachel Getting Married (Better then I expected. Anne Hathaway deserves the nomination, and I'd be just fine if she won. I was just fine with the cinema verite style, and with the plot and family background coming in drips and drabs. Not only did I feel the addict struggling to handle the day-to-day issues with her addictions was accurate, I also felt the family, in varying levels of an under siege mentality for not knowing what the addict will say or do next, was well done. It is possible to like the film and hate the main characters with a passion. But the wedding and especially the reception, just went on way too long. You telling me director Demme had to use every shot and every take?!?!?),
The Dark Knight (yes, it's on DVD. But it had now been re-released in some NYC theaters. I think it's back on IMAX as well. See it there if you haven't already, it's fantastic on that size screen),

Revolutionary Road, Waltz With Bashir,

Happy-Go-Lucky (only at the Quad at this point, supposedly won't hit DVD until early March),

The Class (just came out in Manhattan. Comes to Kew Gardens on Feb 20.)

What to see Minor nominees in theaters: Australia (Good luck making me sit through this.), Defiance.

What to see Major nominees on DVD: Wall-E, Tropic Thunder, Dark Knight, Kung Fu Panda,

The Visitor (ok script and story, but great subtle acting work by Richard Jenkins. If Clint couldn't be nominated for Best Actor, glad to see Jenkins get it in his stead. Too bad I saw it in Westbury with a group who only joined me because I talked them all into it. Some of us had seen the barely passable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, some of us had seen the very decent Iron Man, and some of us had seen the only ok Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so our options were limited. One guy in our group pushed to see Speed Racer on the Imax. He said it wasn't very good on the regular big screen, but he still pushed to see all of us to see it on Imax. Oh please. Unfortunately, one hour into The Visitor, the same person said aloud "I'd kill right now for a moment of gratuitous violence. When the same basic group of us sat through the Madagascar sequel, which is mediocre kids fare, I went to them and said" For those who didn't like The Visitor, we're even now."),

Frozen River (playing in the Quad. Not on DVD yet, but will arrive on Feb 10th),

Changeling (not out yet, but comes out on DVD Feb 17th. Thumbs up, with a mostly very good script from the creator of Babylon 5. If you know the show, then you can be assured of the multiple story layers that are brought in here, criss cross and eventually form into a strong whole. But part of the last fifth, devolves into a Few Good Men kind of courtroom drama that becomes cliched very quickly. I liked Angelina, but when her character finally gained enough strength to stop being a complete victim, her persona and public image got in the way of the story. I felt she was no longer acting, and I was taken out of the film for most of her remaining scenes.),

Vicky Christina Barcelona (Match Point was ok, but not the comeback Woody Allen film some people have overpraised over the past few years, this is. Flawless performances up and down. I even liked ScarJo, and that doesn't always happen, especially during The Prestige. It's almost as though Woody took a look at the play/film Closer, agreed with its negative take on lousy relationships, channeled through his filter to make it easier to take and like, while having the balls to keep his vision intact through to the end, unlike Closer. I'm sorry. Test audiences didn't like that Natalie Portman died at the end, so they changed it to have her suddenly walking up Times Square looking like an Angelina Jolie wannabe in that Rolling Stones, and this dilution was a good thing?),

In Bruges (finally gave it a chance on Cinemax, and I liked it. Didn't think I'd say that about any Colin Farrell film not named Minority Report, but there you go. Interesting mix of drama, comedy, with moments of sensitivity, and extreme violence. Not as light hearted as the trailer tried to suggest. Very controlled pacing that the impatient might consider too slow. It may be strange to say, but you literally have to tell yourself "I'm in the mood to see In Bruges.", in order to like it. But I hope you do. That said, while I understand why the screenplay was nominated, I don't agree that it should have been nominated over Vicky Christina Barcelona.),

Man On Wire (still playing at Landmark Sunshine, but you might as well catch it on DVD instead. Entertaining doc about Phillippe Petit's back and forth wire cross between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974. You see clips of his previous walks across Notre Dame and the Sydney Harbor bridge, home movies of the practices and strategy on how to do the World Trade Center, and pictures of the group's first recon trip to the Towers when they posed as journalists! We also get interviews with those involved, including the very likable and probably insane Petit and a blow by blow of the actual "break in" by the gang who figuratively could barely shoot straight but got VERY VERY lucky. Most of the last 20 minutes show the pictures of the actual crossings, and the pictures are amazing and awe-inspiring.),

Encounters at the End of the World (interesting Oscar nominated documentary from our favorite wackjob Werner Herzog. Here he does an unconventional Antartica doc. Despite wonderful Arctic visuals, and not so wonderful but just as interesting {the research station looks like a cross between a strip mine and Detroit}; Werner's real interest is finding out what kind of person would go so far away and be cut off from society at large. A highlight: when Werner asks the penguin expert, a man who has cut himself off from most humans for about thirteen years, if there are any gay penguins. The look on that man's face is priceless.),

The Counterfeiters, Mongol (These last two were the Oscar winner for and fellow nominee for Foreign Language film last year. Their U.S. releases were also in 2008, so they count toward ones' possible best of 08 list.),

Taxi To The Dark Side (last year's Oscar winning Documentary got a U.S. release last Jan., so it counts toward the 2008 Best of list. On DVD. I was surprised it beat the other nominated Iraq doc No End In Sight, but after seeing it, I get why now. Will not be popular with the Fox News crowd, but pretty good. From director Alex Gibney, of the well done Enron documentary, so sorry, you can't dismiss this. In fact, for those who may not like this. I DARE you to see it and give it an honest chance. I'll know from your comments if you didn't . . . )

What to see Minor nominees on DVD: The Duchess, Hellboy 2, Iron Man,

Wanted (Visually outrageous action film. Works on its own loopy logic. Check your brain at the door and have fun. Try seeing it widescreen, because seeing at full screen won't cut it.)

Also what to see despite not being nominated: Gran Torino, Summer Place, Gonzo, (both on DVD),
Gomorrah (Had a one week Oscar qualifying run in L.A. last year, so it counts toward a Best of 2008 list. Comes out at both IFC Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Feb 13. The subject of controversy on two fronts. First, the depiction of young Mafioso types, applying their trade in Naples caused the real life director to be threatened by actual Mafioso. Second, when the film didn't make the short list for Best Foreign Language Film, critics who so it are wondering who the hell is doing the voting. The first part, plus having Scorsese's seal of approval {he's "presenting" it; must be some sort of executive producer}, is good enough for me.),
Tell No One (only playing in the late afternoon at Cinema Village, but will have 2 screenings a day starting this Friday. One in the middle of the afternoon, one in the evening. Go. Doesn't come out on DVD until March 31.),

Four Months Three Weeks Two Days (remember what I wrote earlier about Gomorrah, where L.A. critics where wondering who the hell you had to screw {figuratively} in order to qualify for the short list for Best Foreign Language Film? Well the same exact controversy happened the year before over there, regarding this film. Sorry it's been ignored here. On DVD. Well done drama, about two University women, trying to arrange an illegal abortion in Communist Romania. Very similar to a typical Robert Altman film, with its long shots of some scenes, as well as sequences of overlapping dialogue. I really liked Anamaria Marinca as the woman trying to arrange the abortion for her friend, and flailing to keep her head above water and out of jail. But we had another entry into the modern villain hall of fame with Vlad Ivanov, as the abortionist who becomes more repellent the longer he's onscreen.),

The Last Mistress (on DVD. You may not expect the director of Fat Girl Catherine Breilant, to pull off a costume drama. But it off she does, because she doesn't forget there are human beings in the fancy costumes, like Sofia Coppolla seemed to ignore in Marie Antoinette. Believable erotic tension as a playboy-type tries to marry a good girl, but can't shake the ex-wife/mistress who will not be ignored. Asia Argento makes a perfect anachronistic choice for the title role. Catch this ignored film.),

Mamma Mia (by the time Meryl Streep sings the title song, even the most cynical viewer should be won over. One part weather porn with great Greek isle visuals, one part light-hearted escapist fun. Strong support by the other women helps. The fact that the male leads, Pierce Brosnan in particular, CAN'T sing hurts. And Streep really shines when she sings "The Winner Takes It All". Add a half to one star if you're female and/or an ABBA fan.)
There's your guide, hope it helps. Later all.

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