Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The (almost final) top 10 for 2008

It's the last day of the year and I am almost ready with my top 10 of the year (YAY!!).. There are still some movies that haven't opened in my city yet (and some others that I missed earlier in the year) that can probably bump some of the movies in this list later but I don't expect any major changes.

Some of these movies that I haven't seen (in order of decreasing probability of appearing in the top 10) are:

So.... some special mentions first.. And some of these will probably figure in my top-10 list if you ask me a month from now as these things are hardly ever that clear-cut. But, I am making this list right now, and they don't figure in the list right now...

12. Doubt

That brings us to the top 10. But I must say something about the overall quality of these movies. While some of these (top 3-4) are really good and would've deserved to be in top 10-15 movies of most recent years, the others are really there because of lack of quality competition this year (or, maybe the movies that I haven't seen yet will change this impression). Anyway, to the list then..

10. In Bruges: It released quite early in the year and has probably slipped from most people's mind by now. Quite an interesting, though a tad slow in patches, mixture of drama, comedy and perhaps even thriller. Really good performances by both leads (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) and a nice cameo by Ralph Fiennes. There are times when it seems to meander, but by the end everything comes together beautifully. Not unmissable, certainly, but definitely worth a watch.

9. Milk: I am still not sure why this movie is so low in my list. It seemed to be quite good. Most of the parts (performances, screenplay, cinematography etc) are great and yet, overall it still left me a little aloof. As I had said in its mini-review, it is probably because it is a biopic and works within the overall framework that most biopics follow. There is no reason why it won't rise 2-3 spots in this list once I get to see it again. I would put it in unmissable category for the movies of this year, if only for the story that is worth being aware of and the absolutely amazing performance by Sean Penn.

8. Slumdog Millionaire: I've already talked about this before. Most of it is quite entertaining, but that is about as far as it goes. No real "aftertaste". It might seem amazing to non-indian critics to see hindu-muslim riots sewn into the narrative the way it is, but for indian viewers it probably seems very unoriginal. It's funny that I am actually writing negative things about this movie while including it in the top 10 list! :D As I said before, this was probably a weak year in terms of movie quality. As entertaining as a large part of this movie is, it probably wouldn't have figured in my top 10 list in any other year.

7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Woody Allen falls in love with Barcelona (and makes us fall in love too, with an amazing "Barcelona" song running in the background throughout). So, the best thing he could do was put some really good looking actors in that city and spin a story around them. Some of the situations here are quite funny, but really it's Penelope Cruz's and Rebecca Hall's characters and performances that make this movie as good as it is. Quite a fun movie. Penelope Cruz will probably be nominated for this and might even win it.

6. The Visitor: Talked about it here.

5. Mithya: Easily the best indian movie that I saw this year. (I should say hindi movie since I haven't seen any non-hindi indian movie this year). By all accounts, that might change once they release the DVD of Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! but Mithya clearly holds its own even against some of the better movies released in the US this year. It takes the basic concept of Don and twists it around in an unexpected manner. The movie has some funny scenes and dialogue even before this twist, but it REALLY goes to another plane after that point. I thought it was really impressive when I saw it but I didn't think I will start liking it so much even without watching it again. This is what I call "aftertaste"! :)

4. Frost/Nixon: Martin Sheen Michael Sheen becomes a superb interviewer and the actors around him are all in form. But all they really do is prepare a setting in which Frank Langella shines brightly as Richard Nixon. Langella will get a well deserved nomination here as should the screenplay and direction. The political-historical drama genre is something that makes compelling viewing if done well (The Queen, Good Night and Good Luck, All the President's Men etc). It is a pity that no one attempts it in Hindi cinema because they don't think it is viable. This is one of the more engrossing movies of its kind that you'd have seen.

3. Let the Right One In: Again, talked about it before. It has only gone up in my estimation since then. Along with Mithya, and possibly In Bruges, this is one of those movies in this list that you will probably not hear as much of as the other more famous movies. Yet, it is easily a must-watch. Don't reject this movie because you have heard that it is a vampire movie, or because you didn't like the trailer. This is really a gem.

2. WALL-E: Sigh! Pixar... They clearly don't get tired of living up to all of our expectations. And yet, WALL-E has shown the Pixar has its own problems. The kids/teenage targeting frachise is such a huge money spinner and Pixar quality animation is such an expensive undertaking that they end up compromising just a little here. As cute as WALL-E is, it is actually absolutely unbelievably unqualified masterpiece material during its first half. The second half has its own great moments (the definition of dance that WALL-E and EVE present outside Axiom when the captain says "Define dance!" is one of the greatest moments EVER in a film...), and yet all the running around of crazy bots and the fight with Auto are purely there for the young ones in the theatre. That this is still at number 2 for the year (and one of the best animation movies ever) only goes to show the greatness of the rest of the movie.
(aside: initial reports are suggesting that Pixar's next "UP" is probably going to be similar. i.e. it has an amazing first half where the movie seems almost like a great grown up drama but then it probably changes into something more palatable to children's taste... we'll see... if the first half as great as in WALL-E, maybe we can live with some battles with monsters etc!)

1. The Dark Knight: I can't talk about this movie. I really can't. Every time I thought about writing a mini-review, I just didn't know where to start. I can write all the great adjectives I can think of and yet will find myself feeling that I didn't do justice to it. So, maybe I'll try to write about things that I didn't like. Some of the "two-face" stuff was probably average. As was the IR-vision stuff. But that is really about it. Virtually every other scene of the movie was jaw-droppingly great. WOW!! Christopher Nolan is a genius. I can't wait for whatever he does next. Heath Ledger will get his oscar, and it will be a pity that anyone who hasn't seen the movie will always assume that his death had something to do with it. Philip Seymour Hoffman is great in Doubt, and some of the awards are acknowledging Josh Brolin in Milk, but if you ask me, no one comes even close to Heath's Joker. TDK made my year!

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