The Best of 2008 / The Pajiba Staff
Guides | December 22, 2008 | Comments ()
Traditionally, we hold all of our year-end lists until the first full week of the New Year, but today, I’m debuting a new year-end list, one that I think might be helpful for many of you over the holiday break. Typically, year-end lists focus on the best and worst movies of any given year, and little attention is paid to the year’s best cinematic diversions. A movie doesn’t have to be an awards contender for us to appreciate it — sometimes a film feels specifically designed for movie night with your sister or your family or a Friday night alone with ice cream and wine. These movies aren’t blockbusters, they’re not particularly intelligent or sophisticated, and they’re not DVDs most people would necessarily buy. But at the same time, they’re not bad movies; they’re not embarrassing or atrocious or laughable. They’re rentals. On Demand movies, part of your Blockbuster nights, or flicks you dial up on your Netflix queues for Thursday nights when the snow outside is a foot thick and there’s nothing but reruns on. In other words, they’re basically the 24th to 34th best movies of the year.
And here they are:
The Bank Job: The phrase “based on a true story” is already a meaningless one, even if you aren’t a post-structuralist, but the “real” story behind the infamous Baker Street bank robbery of 1971 is an imaginist’s wet dream. The crime was never solved, owing partially to a government-imposed gag order, or D-Notice, which forbade press coverage and fueled the fires of speculation. Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, working from real transcript evidence, think they have the juice on what was behind the crime. And lord is it juicy! But whatever the case (and whether or not you care), The Bank Job is a ridiculously entertaining thriller; like a well-thrown stone, it skips pleasantly over the better part of two hours without sinking under the unnecessary weights of character or melodrama. — Phillip Stephens
Burn After Reading: Burn After Reading isa gleefully absurd, consistently funny, and thoroughly entertaining film that touches on the Coens’ trademark wit, rhythm, and inevitable bursts of violence. Whether it will hold up and come to find a place in the brothers’ pantheon of greatness is something only time will tell, but it’s a strong and often hilarious dark comedy that lives up to the Coen name. . The script is packed with smart jokes, dumb people, and moments in which the writer-directors do nothing but bask in the cognitive dissonance of, say, a CIA agent attacking a guy with a hatchet. Monitoring the escalating situation from their headquarters in Langley, one of the agency’s superiors tells his colleague, “Report back to me when … I don’t know … when it makes sense.” But for the Coens, it already does. — Daniel Carlson
Charlie Bartlett: Charlie Bartlett isn’t nearly as good as a film like Juno, but it does have considerably more authenticity: No one tries, for instance, to impress you with quirky dialogue or hamburger phones, and screenwriter Gustin Nash and director Jon Poll do a commendable job of capturing the insecurities of high school without turning those insecure kids into loser caricatures (there is, however, a mentally-challenged kid who has no business in the film). And while it lacks much in the way of inventiveness and originality, teenage audiences who haven’t been schooled in Molly Ringwald’s oeuvre won’t know it, while older audiences will appreciate the throwback vibe. What’s most refreshing about this film, however, is that while most teenage pics glorify status and center largely on the unpopular kid gaining his or her popularity via makeover, revenge, or fuck, Charlie Bartlett is less about becoming popular and more about what to do with that popularity once you achieve it. — Dustin Rowles
Definitely, Maybe: What’s remarkable about Definitely, Maybe is that it’ s love story that satisfies our preconceived notions about romance and it goes about doing so honestly. Ryan Reynolds, naturally, is as charming as ever, but for once, he’s actually given a role he can do something with — he’s not forced to resort to sarcastic wisecracks or camera mugging to make a film tolerable. And the three love interests — Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks, andIsla Fisher — are all so goddamn likable that you’d almost be happy to see him end up with any of the three, though it does become apparent that just one is right for him. Ultimately, I fell for Definitely, Maybe because, as best a movie of this ilk can, it dealt fairly with the complexities of relationships and love, and did so without cheap jokes, pratfalls, or a multitude of forced contrivances. It is, in a word, relentlessly sweet. And sure: There are a few mawkishly sentimental lines that may make some of you cringe, but that’s the nature of romance, isn’t it? When you’re in love, somehow it’s the cheesy lines that are always the most heartfelt. — DR
Forgetting Sarah Marshall: With Forgetting Sarah Marshall, director Nicholas Stoller joins the honorable ranks of capable helmers whose names will be forgotten simply because their work is the channeling of creative energies harnessed by producer Judd Apatow, who’s been in the business for almost two decades but whose brand of stories about sensitive slobs dealing with heartache and growing up is now doing as much to shape the cinematic zeitgeist as it does to reflect the yearnings of its geekiest admirers. The film was written by Jason Segel, who also stars in his first genuine leading role, and who came up under Apatow’s wing on “Freaks & Geeks” and has been part of the producer’s rotating company of players for a few years now. The film is another reunion for the familiar faces that have been popping up in Apatow’s films, and it also lives up to the greatest and truest potential of these kinds of films in its humor, angst, and characterizations. Put more simply: Forgetting Sarah Marshall is funny, sweet, and almost predictably wonderful at walking the line between comedy and drama as it lays out a story broad enough to be relatable but special enough to raise the characters from emotional place-holders and make them fresh, empathetic, and completely enjoyable. — DC
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist: It makes sense that Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is based on a young adult novel. The angsty relationship hell the main characters put themselves through has that tinge of the epic that only high schoolers can convince themselves is real, and it’s also fiercely subdivided along lines of clique and taste. But it’s also too perfectly packaged, too neat, a story about youth for youth that takes place within an idenitifiably narrow band of scenesters in New York and is set to an earnestly hip soundtrack. Every film is unwittingly a snapshot of the culture of the time it was made, but Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is the ultimate tribute to the idea of shoegazing emo pop as savior, and of the mix CD and iPod playlist as the perfect window into a boy or girl’s soul. It doesn’t help that the story has been done better before, either, whether it’s films that delve into that whole “one crazy night” thing (Dazed & Confused) or the idea of musical therapy to exorcise romantic demons (High Fidelity). In fact, it’s almost like the film doesn’t even care that it mostly feels like a retread of other stories, as pleasant as it may be in re-creating their themes. It’s designed to feel fabricated, manufactured, like true love or enlightenment or whatever you’re looking for is only one song away. — DC
Sex Drive: But if you are that hypothetical 16-year-old curious about the teen comedies that came before you, but short on time (all that band practice and all), there’s really not much need to visit Better off Dead, Fast Times, Weird Science, Road Trip or even American Pie. You can get a pretty good taste for all of them by watching Sean Anders’ Sex Drive. I don’t say that as an insult: If you have to introduce a new generation of teenagers to teen comedies, you may as well borrow/steal/pay homage from/to some of the best. And Sex Drive takes some of the better elements of all of them, mixes them up, throws a decent soundtrack over it, and the result is a pretty fucking fun movie. And, since it’s become clear that Rocket Science isn’t going to break into the thickheaded zeitgeist of the under-20 set (damnit), Sex Drive may just become this generation’s Road Trip to Superbad’s Can’t Hardly Wait. And I’m OK with that. — DR
Role Models: David Wain’s Role Models is the perfect mix of the absurdist humor that’s defined his earlier work like “The State”/”Stella” or Wet Hot American Summer and a broader sensibility that fits more easily into the template of modern buddy comedies. For every dick or boob joke — and there are many — there’s a sarcastic aside or deadpan punch line that keeps the comedy quicker and more rewarding than something that just goes for the pratfalls. Wain walks the line between big and little with ease, turning out a genuinely and consistently hilarious comedy. What’s more, the film isn’t afraid to take a (slightly) deeper look at its characters and their motivations, sad though they may be. Role Models is an entertaining, gleeful, subversive, and ultimately sweet comedy that earns every warm moment as much as it does the laughs.
The Strangers: The Strangers isn’t a perfect film, for it suffers along with the rest of the genre by containing protagonists who seriously lack basic survival skills. They do some really dumb things, but if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have this film. In fact, for most of the movie, the injuries that the couple suffers are a direct result of their own actions. Of course, their weaknesses aren’t necessarily shortcomings on the part of the film, for Bertino has slyly woven some complexity into the fold that will, long after the closing credits, keep some audience members replaying certain scenes in their minds. Also excellent are Scott Speedman and especially Liv Tyler, whose Kristen is clearly losing it by the end of the film but still manages not to become pathetic. If one thing spoils the realistic nature of the film, it is, ironically, the “inspired by true events” opening, which has become such a movie cliché that it almost distracts from the realistic tone that Bertino so carefully creates. Small flaws aside, this film really fucking works. I cannot remember the last time I screamed obsenities at a movie screen and meant it in the best way possible. After the theater lights go up, returning home will never be the same again. — Agent Bedhead
Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Underneath all of the depraved language and filth — and Kevin Smith has thrown down the sticky gauntlet of raunch and toilet humor in ways that defy imagination — there’s an incredible amount of heart in Zack and Miri. A Kevin Smith movie is always a love story at its core. Zack and Miri is one of the sweetest romantic comedies you will ever see. It’s the story of two old friends who start to fall in love with each other. Except instead of involving some sort of convoluted wedding farce or some ridiculous vacation gone haywire, these two are making a hardcore fuck flick. Who hasn’t been desperately, hopelessly in love with one of your best friends of the opposite sex? That’s practically the core of every relationship I’ve had since high school. The movie leaves you feeling almost buoyant. What makes it work so well is that you can see in every frame the cast is having a fucking ball. The sheer joy of making this movie resonates in every scene. The supporting cast is particularly splendid, a veritable hodgepodge of View Askew regulars, comedians, and porn stars. — Brian Prisco