Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This is my 4th end of year best films list and once again I am breaking the films down into 5 categories (The best films of the year, the worst films of the year, the surprises of the year, the disappointments of the year and the last is what I like to call my WTF!!!) (WTF=why in the Frack was this film made)

2008 was an interesting year in film. We saw Brad Pitt grow into a baby. We saw A Slumdog become a millionaire. We saw a Panda learn Kung Fu. We also tried to dance on a Greek island with ABBA songs and we all said goodbye to a man who asked us, "Why so Serious?" As always, I saw films from all over the world and there will be a few non-English films in this list.

Some of these films have not been released yet in Korea and I have included their release date, if known, into the preview of each film. Please let me know if you agree or disagree with the list.

The Top 21 films of the Year 2008 are as follows...

21. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

This film was one of the rare occasions that I had read the book first before I saw the film. I remembered reading a few years ago about this book and thought that it would make a good movie. The films idea is easy enough. What if you are a German lad during the Nazi regime and your father is made the commander of Auschwitz? But when you arrive at the camp, you sees the nearby concentration camp as a ‘farm’ and wonders why its inhabitants are always wearing striped pajamas. Eventually the lad becomes friends with a Jewish boy his own age who lives on the other side of the fence. A German Nazi boy and a Jewish child become best friends. The films shows the logic and the insanity of their friendship. The films' haunting ending is what I will remember most about this film. A small good film became a great one with this ending.

20. The Tour. My Review

A brief synopsis about this film that it's set during the 1990’s Civil War in Serbia and that the film was a joint Serbian/Bosnia And Herzegovinan film. This alone was the deciding factor of me wanting to see this film and I am glad that I did. I saw a very different film that the one that I was expecting. What I really liked about this film was that it showed all sides in this civil war and what all sides really thought of these famous actors. It was my favorite film at the PIFF this year.

19. My Blueberry Nights

This was directors Kar Wai Wong first English film, If the name sounds familiar, he was also the director of, "2046". What was nice about this film is that you start and end this film with New York and you get to take an adventure with a young lady as she tries to find her way in the world. The supporting cast here is excellent and they are not wasted here in their small roles that they play to help the heroine in this film. I also liked the sub-plot about the keys and why they become very important throughout this film. The ending of this film left this viewers wanting to see more or Kar's future work.

18. The Crossing

This film was South Korea's choice for consideration as Best Foreign Film nominee at the 2009 Academy Awards. The film opens up and you see a family in North Korea just trying to get by. You see a sick mother a worried father and a boy and his dog. They are trying to work and stay alive in North Korea. Something is very wrong with the mother and her health is slowly getting worse. It get to the point where the father can not get food nor medicine to feed that family and they have to resort to eating the family dog. You are also introduced to a black market person who likes the father and his son. They have a daughter and they are about the same age, she shows him a simple pencil sharpener and he looks with amazement. The men drink bootlegged Jack Daniels and they talk about life. Then one day the black market person’s family just simply vanishes and the father decides that he has to try and get a job, in China, to save his wife and to get a soccer ball for his son. The rest of the story tells about how he tries, with a lot of outside help, to reunite the family in South Korea. When i saw this film in Korea, the ending had the audience in tears. It was sad to see how this film ended.

17. Bolt

I had zero expectations for this film. It stars John Travolta and the latest Disney Teen queen Miley Cyrus. The plot was about a super dog protecting a girl. I was thinking, "Great, another super hero/dog film. Who really wants to see this?" As I started to watch the film, the more I started to like the film and by the end of the film, I realized that Disney had finally recaptured their once, lost magic. What the audience really seemed to like about this film was the role of Rhino (Voiced by Mark Walton), he is a hamster who has always wanted to work with his super hero fanboy crush, Bolt. The scene where Bolt warns Rhino about joining his quest had me laughing at all of the humor and heart that was shown at this scene. The film sticks with what works for Disney, A good hero, loyal friends, great music and one heck of an ending.

16. Revolutionary Road

This was the first time that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio had worked together since "Titanic" and if this is the result, then lets have more of these 2 great actors working together. The idea of this film is so simple, The film is set in 1955 where Kate and Leo live in a place where they see themselves as very different from their neighbors in the Revolutionary Hill Estates. They think that they are better than everybody else but when they discover that the are becoming like everyone else, this is where the film goes into the next level. What I really liked about this film was the small role of Michael Shannon, who plays the institutionalized son of local Realtor, is able to see what's simmering beneath their surface. The film ending was not what I was expecting but it made this small film into a great one that opens in Korea on 19 February 2009.

15. Yes Man. To be very honest here, I am not a huge fan of Jim Carrey. I have really hated the majority of his films and the only reason I went to see this film the first time was because I had misread the online movie schedule. I had no idea that I really would like this film a lot after I saw it. I really have no idea why I like this film, Its a simple love story with some cute jokes (When he speaks Korean in this film, the Korean audience simply loved it), But to me the films works because is is just that, a well done and told simple love story about a man who must say "yes" to everything in life. You get to enjoy this man ride and at the end maybe it is OK just to say say yes and see what happens.

14. Changeling: I knew as soon as I heard that Clint Eastwood was going to direct a film with Angelina Jolie in it, that i would have to go see the film. The film tells the story of The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders and the aftermath of of the victims, Walter Collins and his mother Christine Collins (Jolie). What I liked about this film was the time that Eastwood takes on each of the main players and shows just how badly mistreated Ms. Collins was in this case and in real life when she said that the boy that the LAPD returned to her was not her son. The ending might make a few people scratching their heads but, as in real life, sometime there is not a real ending in life, just too many questions that will never be answered. A well directed film by Clint that deserves a rental when it arrives on DVD in a few months.

13. Hamlet 2 I had first heard of this film because of a great review that came out of this film from the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. I watched the preview, and I must admit that it looked very different. I eagerly awaited a copy of the film. When I was able to watch the film, i could not believe how much I actually would laugh at this film. As the New York Times noted of the film, "It made sure to take shots at Christians, gays, Latinos, Jews, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Elisabeth Shue, one of its lead actresses." I really should have hated the film but it was just too funny and too good not to be included on this list. Please watch the dance number with the "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" song, It just sounded too weird but it works and should be seen when you can get a copy of this film.

12. Bottle Shock

This is A small film that tells the story of the events back in 1976 that led up to a test in which (Not so famous back then Napa Valley) California wine beat French wine in a blind taste test. This event has now historically been called the Judgment of Paris. Once again I had head a little about this film when it hit the 2008 Sundance festival but I had forgotten all about it until on night in Korea, when friends of mine all had misread the time schedule and this was the only English film playing. I recalled the film and said, "How about this one?" We, as a group, went and I could not believe that we were seeing this great of a film all because of Julian's mistake. It is a small film that tells you exactly how Napa Valley became the legendary wine making Valley that it is today. please watch for the speech at the end about wine. It's so true, if you look at how many different countries now make wine. Chris Pine wa also in this film and if that name rings a bell, he will be playing James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek movie.

11. Seven Pounds

To be honest I have never been that much of a Will Smith fan. I have either liked his films (Hitch, Id4) or really hated (Wild Wild West, Hancock and I Am Legend). When I was able to get a screener copy of this film, before it even opened in the USA, I knew that I had to watch it. The first minute of the film when Smith is calling 911 to report his own death in a minute, I knew that this film was not going to be normal. The film needs to be seen spoiler free and all i will say about it is when he calls his best friend (Barry Pepper) to set his final idea into motion, it just tears your guard down and you can not top to watch what comes next. Please see this film when it opens in Korea on 5 Feb 2009.

10. Kung Fu Panda- When this film was first in production, I could not believe that "Dreamworks" was actually going to make Jack Black into a cartoon Kung Fu fighting panda. I was sure that this film was going to be a huge disaster. I had also read that China was going to boycott the film and not allow it to be shown in China due to "Cultural Sensitivity." But something happened, When a few of the Chinese critics started to write their reviews, a common thread was, "Why did the Americans make the quint essential Chinese film and how come we, in China, can not a film like this?" The film was a huge hit in Korea with over 4.6 million tickets sold. I have recently received this film on Blu-Ray DVD and it really shows the detail that was put into this film.

9. Mamma Mia- I had never seen this play before but I knew all of the songs of Abba and I saw that Meryl Streep was going to be in the film. I decided that I would see the film when it arrived in Korea. I could not believe what I was watching. I saw the audience really get into the film and I saw myself singing along with the movie. The film has a great plot, great music and the audience really seemed to want more of the film when it ended. The film was a huge hit in Korea with over 4.6 million tickets sold. Please get the Blu-Ray of this movie, with the blue ocean and all of the special features are really highlighted in the Blu-Ray release.

8. Slumdog Millionaire- At the time of this writing this film has received 10 Academy Awards nominations, including the nominations for Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Achievement in Directing for Danny Boyle. I really had no idea about this film until I sat down and watched the film. It is basically a poor man going on India's version of "Who wants to be a Millionaire" and with every question, you are shown how, this poor boy, knew the exact answer. I saw the first the first time and rewatched the film a few days later, just to make sure that I had really seen all of what this film has to offer. A great love story and what a journey this man takes to his final answer to see if he can become a millionaire.

7. The Wrestler- I really liked this film but for me it was a very had film to watch. For those who know me, I grew up in the 1980's around Dallas Texas. at that time it was a huge Professional Wrestling family called the Von Erich's. I saw the Father, Fritz and his 5 sons (Kevin, Kerry, David, Mike, and Chris) wrestle many times in Dallas Texas. I also saw 3 of the sons (Kerry, Chris and Mike) kill themselves and I saw David's death in Japan by mysterious circumstances and I saw the father die of Brain Cancer in 1997. Of the family of wrestlers only Kevin is still alive. While I was watching this film, I kept thinking about this wrestling hero and I saw in him all of the Von Erich's that I has seen die before my eyes. It was a sad film for me to watch but one that I think the movie fan will appreciate.

6. The Chaser- When this Korean film came out, there was just something very different about it. When I saw the trailer for it at CGV, the audience really was not sure how to react to what they had just seen. I knew that I had to see this film. After the film was over, I was watching the audience come out of this film. The looks on their faces convinced me that I had just seen a Classic Korean film. I was not to happy with the very end of this film but the rest of the film will take you on a journey that you will not want to travel on but you want to see how it all turns out.

5. Waltz With Bashir- At the time of this writing, this film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Israel). this film reminded me a lot of last year "Persepolis" but instead of it being told though a woman, this film is told by an Israeli Army veteran who can not remember anything about his time during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The film shows briefly the aftermath of Sabra and Shatila, and how it haunted the narrator of the film. The military veteran will catch a lot of the little jokes that were shown thought this film. The use of 80's music through the inanity of the war is what a few people have stated that turned this small film into a great one. The film is in Hebrew so please try and find English Subtitle for it, if you decide to watch this film.

4. Dear Zachary- I usually do not watch Documentaries that much. The only reason I decided to see this film was because of the serious praise a few writers of the website, "" put upon it. After I watched it, I soon realized that the few words that any critic could write about this film would not truly do it any justice. The idea of this film is very simple, a friend of yours has been murdered and the prime suspect is a girl who is now pregnant with the child of the man that she murdered and a friend of your fathers decides to make a film for you (the unborn baby), so you will know who your father was. The film was made for 1 year old Zachary. The film also deals with his parents trying to obtain custody of their grandson from the lady that they believed killed their only child. The film is a classical example of what happens when a government laws do not protected the innocent but protect the guilty. I knew this film had a huge twist but I was not ready for what happened at the end of this film. It reminded me of something that I was taught in College, "The truth will be stranger than any fiction that you could ever create" Please watch this film without spoilers.

#3. Let the Right One In. I had not heard of this film until "Harry" from "" named this film as his #1 film of the year from 2008. I read his logic behind his selection and I knew that i had to go and find me a copy of this film so I could make my own judgment about it. I could not believe that this film got so little publicity and the teen love vampire flick "Twilight" was given all of the praise. This film is what "Twilight" should have been. This film is in Swedish so please be sure to find English subtitles for it. The film is about a 13 year old girl who moves into a 1980's apartment in Sweden and she befriends a boy who is bullied at school. The secret is that the 13 year old girl is a vampire and that a few people have mysteriously disappeared in the area. You start to see the boy fall in love with this girl and when he finally figures it out. It is what made this small film into a great one. The film will have an American Remake release in 2010 or 2011 but please try and see this small film, you will really like it.

#2 Grand Torino. Like I have stated in an earlier review, if this is the masters coda, then he has gone out in a great film. I was very disappointed that Clint was not nominated for an Oscar for acting nor directing for this film and I feel that this is the biggest error of this so called great award for the 2008 season. In this film, what you have is a man who is at the end of the road. He has lost his wife and he does not understand his children nor his grandchildren. He has neighbors that he hates but takes pity on a bullied boy and the film then begins. It was nice to see the teacher not want to be a teacher and the students unknowingly that he was being trained. to see the boy turn into a man is what helps this go into a great film. The end of this film is what made me finally understand why Clint's character in this film had to end it the way he did. Please see this film when it arrives in Korea, in late February 2009.

My #1 film of the year should come as no surprise to the 4 people who went with me on a very early KTX ride to Seoul to see this film at the Yongsan IMAX.

#1 The Dark Knight. When I was a child, I used to collect comic books and I always had one favorite hero, The Batman. I had no idea why I liked him. Maybe it was his dark outfit, maybe it was him trying to save Gotham City from the bad guys. Maybe he was always looking for his vendetta, his revenge. I have no idea to this day why I selected him as my childhood hero but for better or for worse, I love the Batman idea. So who is the man that we call “Batman”? To me he is a Ronin because he has always blamed himself for his parents death as a child. In the new batman film, he looses another one close to him and it looks to make him more of a “Ronin.”So with all of this in my mind, I went to see my childhood hero, “Batman’s” latest film, The Dark Knight . I only had 2 thoughts after I saw this film at the IMAX, “My God, They have finally gotten my hero right.” and, "What a job the late Heath Ledger did as, "The Joker." Alfred states the best description of “The Joker” as he makes this comment. “You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.” ……."Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Mr. Ledger’s acting makes you think that all he wants to do is to watch the world burn while he laughs at the result. Please see this film in the Blu-ray DVD. The battle between good and evil looks great in this format.

Now it is time for the 25 films that I thought were the worst films from 2008.

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