Why so serious?
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight will go down movie history as one of the most haunting masterpieces ever made (complete with unforgettable characters), but having to live through 2008 with other fine but intense films like Joe Wright’s heartbreaking Atonement and Paul Thomas Anderson’s powerful There Will Be Blood? One’s a story of guilt and redemption, the other’s a chronicle of greed and power, but both feature excellent award winning performances – you don’t know what you are missing out if you haven’t seen these films.
Thankfully, the troubled 2008 (think global recession) is lightened up by the likes of a wacky movie duo in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, a gang of motley crew in the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, a lonely robot in Andrew Stanton’s Wall·E and a talking American White Shepherd in Chris Williams and Byron Howard’s Bolt. While inducing laughs, these charming folks (thanks to clever scripting and movie making, of course) made us reflect and to (cue the familiar tune) always look on the bright side of life.
Over in Asia closer to home, Johnnie To’s cinematic experience Sparrow (Hong Kong), Wei Te-sheng’s phenomenal love story Cape No. 7 (Taiwan) and Aditya Chopra’s Bollywood extravaganza Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (India) gave us a few important lessons on how to take things easy (even if pickpockets lurk around every corner in the beautiful city of Hong Kong), how to achieve the triumphant human spirit (even if life seems to be going against you in every way in a small Taiwan town), and how to remember what it is like to experience love again (in the midst of dancing and singing in a crowded India state).
With so much to see, hear and experience in 2008, you’d think to yourself – why so serious?
2008 started with a choice so harrowing in its moral clauses and so heinous in its ramifications that it shone new light on a featherweight actor through his frighteningly assured feature debut— Gone Baby Gone is director Ben Affleck’s noir vision of Dennis Lehane’s novel that in its palpitating bleakness, cry out the film’s grim declarations. Cormac McCarthy and Upton Sinclair form the deliriously eccentric narrative tracts on American greed through the great auteurs, the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson in their immaculately conceived magnum opuses of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood—both films complemented by equally extraordinary performances: Javier Bardem’s eerie Death incarnate serial killer and Daniel Day-Lewis’s mesmerising, inspired oilman ranks among the most memorable performances of the decade.
The futuristic exodus of mankind is indelibly perceived through the expressive eyes of a pantomime trash compactor, Wall·E—a brilliantly evocative step up for the genre into noble, soulful animation—another great American classic is realised through that great bastion of family friendly fare, Pixar. A tragedy, a personal odyssey, a thriller and a cautionary tale all wrapped in the enigma of existence on earth—Sharkwater speaks more to the soul through a single, haunting blink of a de-finned shark just before it’s thrown back into the ocean than anything else.
All hail Asia Argento; her furious passion is the nexus of Catherine Breillat’s The Last Mistress, a film so captivatingly sensual and so damningly deviant that its intensity turns gender roles on its head. Horror is next on the agenda and they could not be any more diverse: [Rec] approximates the best of Romero’s legacy with the understanding of its genre’s limitations and serves up one of the most visceral experiences of the year in its pitch-perfect shocks, while Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, from Tim Burton, delivers a glorious marriage of style and execution into a Grand Guignol finale of mutual ruin and deranged despair.
If Burton proved that an A-list production can churn out artistry alongside pure entertainment, then Christopher Nolan plain nails it in The Dark Knight, by making the most definitive ideological treatise about the nature of terrorism ever put into a mainstream film and also creating the year’s greatest action extravaganza. But what of the personal, understated aspects of cinema? Lee Chang-dong has that covered in an uncompromising dissertation on human suffering, and the year’s best film— Secret Sunshine, remains an instantly sobering, brutally honest character piece on the reverberations of loss and a graceful memento mori that resonates with a striking density of thought.
It seems that my love for comics had subconsciously affected my choice of top ten favorite movies this year. I loved them for stretching the limits of imagination once again while still relatable and reflect in certain realistic manner. Evangelion for the magic of re-editing, Le Grand Chef for the various sob subplots, Hellboy 2 for the camaraderie among characters, 20th Century Boys for the uncertainly in life, The Day The Earth Stood Still (was adapted for Marvel Comics once) for ignorance and arrogance of mankind and The Dark Knight for the kickass portrayal of and interaction between Batman, Joker, Harvey Dent and Commission Gordon.
non comics based entries are Sparrow,
Yes Man, 2 Faces of My
Girlfriend and The Mist.
Each of them had charmed me for the whole duration
of the film and beyond. Sparrow
for it’s mesmerizing soundtracks and
lovely cinematography, Yes Man
for it’s motivational positivity stance,
2 Faces of My Girlfriend for
it’s depiction of the different phase
of love and The Mist for
kicking the balls of Christian fanatics!
(just kidding, I loved The Mist for the portrayal
of mass hysterical and having the balls to end
it the way it did)
Other notable films that couldn’t get squeezed into my Top Ten are:
to Yuma, The Diving Bell and
the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le papillon),
Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon
If I were Superman 슈퍼맨이었던
사나이 , Kallang Roar
, Ip Man 葉問 , Iron
Man, Shattered ( Butterfly
on a Wheel), Muallaf,
Run Fat Boy Run, Breath
was an effort to plough through and weed out
my Top 10 films for this year, given the sheer
quantity that I had to park by the side as Special
Mentions instead. But there you go, after sweat
and tears to whittle it down to the list that
you see. No surprises as to how The Dark Knight
got up there, and I would presume it would make
it to any decent list out there as well. It's
colossal, and would take another juggernaut
to knock it off the perch of memorable films
of the last decade.
There's a lot of love
in my list somehow, ranging from that involving
robots in Wall.E and Cyborg
She, and plenty of one-sided, unrequited
affairs in all the others, save Ip Man
which was a top notch action flick. Bollywood,
Japanese, Singapore+Malaysia, I guess that's
the common denominator in dealing with affairs
of the heart, providing fuel for an additional
powerful lift to stories in Hancock
and The Dark Knight as well,
without which would make them lack certain drive.
I’ve always enjoyed compiling my Top 10 list every year but I’ve always had one grouse. Our distributors here in Singapore usually release the Oscar bait offerings closer to the awards season in hopes of securing a better audience. This leaves the reviewers and critics in Singapore with a mish mash of films from the previous and current year. So, this is my Top 10 for movies released in Singapore cinemas for the year 2008.
It wasn’t an easy task to narrow my list to the ten best. I’m probably one of the few reviewers who has excluded fan-favourite Wall-E from his list. After I completed my list, I realized that this was generally a year of laughs for me, with comedies filling about half the list. I was also pleasantly surprised to see two horror flicks on the list, considering I’m more of a musical fan (I would have loved to have been biased and place High School Musical 3 and Mamma Mia! in the list) than a horror one.
There are some curious choices in the list like Cloverfield and Dan in Real Life that might probably make you go, "What was this guy thinking?" but I’ve based my list on the movies that have captivated me the most this year. Cloverfield may not have ended the way most audiences would have wanted it to but the way I was kept intrigued and glued to my seat was amazing. As for Dan in Real Life, I sympathized with Steve Carrell who had to endure several heartbreaking moments in the movie.
Juno and Zack and Miri Make A Porno I felt were gems that captured the reality of love at different stages of our lives in the modern world. It’s often easy to pass the movies as boring and crude respectively but I suppose everyone has different palates. Burn After Reading and Tropic Thunder are two other vehicles that got me laughing a lot in 2008 and they both were comedies of different kinds. One was dark and the other was over-the-top but both had several LOL moments.
I must single out The Mist as the one movie of 2008 that had an ending so twisted that it’s still stuck in my head long after. I remember leaving the cinema in utter shock and it probably is 'the ending' of the year. [REC] is the only foreign language movie in the list and it too is of the horror genre. If Cloverfield got me stuck on the edge of my seat, this movie had my eyes glued to the screen, drawing me into the tense happenings and leaving me reeling in the end.
Making its way into the list as a last minute addition is the epic Australia. Any film with a sweeping landscape, war and a love story for the ages deserves to be in the list! And alas, my #1 was determined the first time I saw it and it is undoubtedly the movie of 2008 for all the right reasons. I saw it thrice at the cinemas and I will watch it again and again. This is master storytelling and there just seems to be able to do no wrong. This is The Dark Knight’s year and there is no denying that.
As compared to last year, 2008 is far more exciting with more prolific releases, blockbusters, arthouse dramas and fewer sequels, prequels to hog the theatres.
On the Asia side, the made-in-China, war epic Assembly deserved a mention for its incredibly detailed technical aspects which matches a typical Hollywood production and Accuracy of Death paints a beautiful poignant picture of the word 'death', all thanks to Takeshi Kaneshiro’s charismatic performance as the somewhat goofy Grim Reaper. Ip Man showcases one of the best HK martial-arts movie in recent years while John Woo’s comeback effort, Red Cliff pinned itself in the third spot with its sheer sincerity to bring a beloved Chinese classic tale to the big screen.
The first dud of the summer blockbuster wave, Speed Racer was a fun, cheesy ride to me at least. Get past all those CG enhanced backdrops and indulge in the Wachowski Brothers’ madness. The fake trailers and the spot-on performance of the cast makes Tropic Thunder the must-see comedy of the year. DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda was a huge surprise with all those laugh-out-loud humour bits and eye-popping action sequences. Pixar of course maintain their standards with the lovable Wall·E.
Just when everyone is getting tiresome of those lame Marvel comics movie adaptations, Iron Man under the helm of Jon Favreau swopped in with such amazing intensity and fun that it truly deserved the second spot in my top ten. Why The Dark Knight? So much has been said, I guess I shall leave it to you to check things out if you haven’t.
Remember our date. See you in the theatres comes 2009!
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