Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Top 10 Films of 2008.


2008 wasn't quite as golden for cinema as I'd hoped; there were lots of films that I had a whole lot of anticipation for, but turned out to be bitter disappointments. My taste in cinema also took a bizarre turn in 2008, in some senses, it became more pretentious (I upped the number of obscure movies I watched), but I also watched a whole lot more mainstream stuff. On the whole, sadly, I ended up watching a tonne o' crap. Here are ten films that I geniunely liked -

10. Step Up 2: The Streets
Wait, wait, hear me out, people. I know this film was no masterpiece. The poor acting (Briana Evigan, the female lead, has a starring role in the upcoming straight-to-video outing S. Darko. Can't wait for it, should be hilarious), bland plot, predictable romance plot and general tackiness of this teen dance romp. In fact, had it not been for two things, this film cold easily find its way onto the other top 10. But those two things: the soundtrack and the dance sequences - render this film one of the most enjoyable, enthralling and entertaining films of the year. As the track Get 'Em flows to become Timbaland's Bounce, before changing to Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine and back to Bounce again, the cast of the film have a massive dance off in the rain, and it is a wonderfully constructed piece of cinema.

09. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
It took two viewings of Forgetting Sarah Marshall for me to realise how much the film meant to me. The first time I saw it was a week after my 18th birthday, and I thought it OK, fairly amusing, but a nothing special piece of cinema. Fast forward eight months or so, and all sorts had happened in my life, not least me going through a similar ordeal to the film's protagonist. And in seeing myself in Jason Segel's hapless schmuck Peter, the film started striking emotional chords with me. Suddenly the film could do no wrong for me - I deeply enjoyed everything about it, from the crass sex jokes (I now ask every girl who sports a pearl necklace if they got it from their boyfriend), the tender romantic moments, Segel's comic timing, the various subplots, and best of all, Mila Kunis' standout turn as Rachel, the girl that shows Peter - and the viewers - that it's no use being hung up over someone who's not right for you, and that, in due time, you will find the right person.

08. Il Divo
The best Italian political piece since The Conformist, Il Divo follows Guiseppe Andreotti's seventh term as Prime Minsiter. He's a ferocious man who believes the end justifies the means, and is willing to do the odd underhand thing (or nine) to achieve what he believes to be good in the long run. Technically very strong (Il Divo is scored, filmed and edited with a sort of grandeur appropriate to the film), it was the events in the film that caught my attention the most; they are completely unpredictable and kept me on my toes throughout. A little of the power of the film gets sadly lost in translation, but it still remains a compelling and deeply thought-provoking watch. Not that you can't, but keep an eye on the main character; Toni Servillo gives what is easily one of the finest performances of 2008, and, along with Pat Shortt for Garage, the best male lead.

07. Happy-Go-Lucky
Also known as "the film that Sally Hawkins was robbed of an Oscar for", it stars Hawkins as the lovable Poppy, a primary school teacher living in North London who sees the good in everything and everybody. Her hyper bubbliness is considered irritating by the odd tit around her, not least her grumpy bigot of a driving instructor, Scott. The film focuses on various adventures of Poppy, whether it be in her profession as a primary school teacher, her dance classes, or her driving lessons with Scott, who is one sour grape she can't sweeten. Poppy might just be one of the best characters Mike Leigh has sculpted: she's lairy, a nutter, loving, sweet, very annoying, but with a heart of gold. With Hawkins winning our hearts in the lead, this film is every bit the light-hearted, occasionally moving, funny and bright film that Leigh intended it to be, at the same time ending things on a quietly melancholy, bittersweet note.

06. Man on Wire
James Marsh's Oscar-winning documentary is all about one man: Philippe Petit, and his tightrope walking amazingness. Shot with a cinematographic flourish, the film contains old footage, interviews with all involved, re-enactments, all edited together beautifully. I can only dream of having as much spirit as Petit, though I'm proud to say that I probably match him in the madness stakes. He is the centrepiece of Man on Wire, and I found his crazy determination absolutely wonderful, a brilliant example of the power of dreams, and what we can achieve if we put our minds to it.

05. Bigga than Ben
Peter Bradshaw was far from impressed by this one, but for me, this is my favourite film with the word "Ben" in it. The film charts two lads from Russia, dubbed "Moscow scum", who arrive in London, ready to make a bit of easy money. They soon realise that that is about as likely as Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio living out the American Dream in Revolutionary Road, so, with the aid of two alleys, they bung about uselessly, nicking stuff, ripping off banks, turning mobiles into dope and getting high. Shot on 16mm and produced by an independent company, Bigga than Ben is a cheap film, and it doesn't try to deny otherwise - just look at the chavvy title. But what it does offer is a non rose-tinted look at England's capital, suggesting it to be overrated and full of criminals, plus the film gradually conceding that no-one can survive on the life of crime forever, as witnessed when the realism kicks and one character becomes drug-addicted and things turn sour. And, amongst far too many films that have almost choked on its own self-importance, BTB is the most intentionally hilarious film of the year.

04. Somers Town
The title of this film is a place in Camden Town, where Marek, a Polish immigrant, lives with his father. A spot of luck would have him meet Tomo, a lad from the usual "troubled background" that has run away from the Midlands. Together, they begin a curious friendship, as Tomo shows Marek the ropes, which involves petty theft, the odd errand-running, and lusting after a French waitress at their local cafe. Shot in a grainy black-and-white, it has the look of a docudrama, and what with the banal and funny things the boys get up to (one catching the other mid self-bung, exchanging fake replica Arsenal shirts), this is a humble piece from Shane Meadows, but a clever, charming coming-of-age pic at that. Turgoose and Jagiello, the two male leads, are both winning and engaging in their performances, which are by turn full of life and witty, yet full of sad undertones. Along with Bigga than Ben and Happy-Go-Lucky, Somers Town completes my trio of lovely films that make me pine for and remember the fugliness of London.

03. Eden Lake
Jack O'Connell, who plays the chav-in-chief of Eden Lake, is currently on British TV screens, as Cook in Skins, this twatty knob who treats his friends like turd, acts out on a whim, and has no aim in life apart from to get pissed and stoned. His character in Eden Lake is ten times worse. Now imagine encountering him, and all his cronies, constantly terrorizing you as you were trying to have a nice weekend away with the boyfriend, because this is what happens to Kelly Reilly's Jenny in James Watkins' horror/realism piece. What really makes one shudder about Eden Lake (aside from the close-up scenes of sadistic violence) is how close to home it hits; everyone has crossed the road to avoid a bad encounter with a group of rowdy drunkards; what would come if those drunkards had noticed you crossing the road and started a fight? Kelly Reilly, our heroine, plays a brilliantly resourceful character who I was rooting for throughout, in the same way I was rooting for the chavs to gtfo and just die. But this is Nottingham, not Hollywood, and things don't quite work out like that. After all, those chavs were carrying knives.

02. Slumdog Millionaire
Skins again, this time with the actor playing the group clown Anwar stepping into a complete different role: as love-struck Jamal, who goes on Indian Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to win the love of his childhood friend, Latika. If I remove my hormone-tinted-glasses, I'd have to say that, Dev Patel isn't all that good in it, but that doesn't matter, because the rest of the film more than redeems his occasionally wooden performance (and despite not troubling Oscar any time soon, he did what he had to do in his acting). We are told from the start that Jamal's adventure is in the stars, "it is written", but that doesn't make his adventure, and the flashbacks of his tumultuous and frequently lonely childhood any less compelling. The cross-cutting between the gameshow and how Jamal came to know the answers to the questions are absolutely inspired, and with many a visual flourish (Boyle makes subtle nods to many of his previous films) and an aurgasmic soundtrack (Paper Planes never sounded so good, but having the film start to O Saya and ending with Jai Ho is a sign of pure genius), Danny Boyle took me on one unforgettable voyage, charting from playing cricket in the slums, to running for their lives from a young age, witnessing one of their mates be blinded, as well as continually finding - but then losing the love of his life. The romance was simply the icing on an already very delicious cake; the kiss between Patel and Pinto felt so, so rewarding. The most deserving Best Picture winner this side of The Departed.

01. WALL-E
No Country for Old Men, The Shawshank Redemption, 2001: a Space Odyssey, Spirited Away, Monster's Inc, Artificial Intelligence: AI and There Will Be Blood. These are just some of the films that I was reminded of when I watched Andrew Stanton's animated masterpiece. That is not to say he ripped these films off, simply that it has all the good qualities of previous outings in cinema, as well as sporting a fresh, new romantic storyline of its own. You know the story by now: lonely robot on desolate Earth finds love in another robot, a beautiful pod named Eve. I embarked on WALL-E's adventure with him; I was happy when he was, sad when he was, excited when he was, and fell for Eve just as much as he did. Along with the luscious visuals, Thomas Newman's score that fully evoked feelings of the intergalactic, and sensible yet serious plot about the disintegrating state of humanity due to pollution, this is a better animated film than 99% of those out there, and one of the finest romances to grace our screens.
If I get my work done in time, tomorrow it shall be my top 10 performances of 2008. :)


Anonymous said...

For all your sick joke needs -

Slumdog Millionare swept the board at the Oscars last night.

After the show, the cast swept the stage.

Anonymous said...

Not so funny now are they Emma?

Anonymous said...

Nice to see Happy-Go-Lucky there! But...

"The most deserving Best Picture winner this side of The Departed."

Umm, there's only been one other winner since The Departed... :P

Emma said...

I have added you on livejournal, Luke!

I'm boooooooored. I'm revising in order to distract myself from the prospect of the pancake party over at Glue's (I really want pancakes but A. Seed will be there, and he creeps me out.)

kimboluvr said...

incredibly original list. some ballsy inclusions and a too amazing for words #1. your inclusion of Forgetting Sarah Marshall is what made me smile the most. It's actually my #3.

you should do the performances post. I just managed to blog my lineups and Top 10 of the year over the weekend./shameless plug

anahit said...

yo yo YO!!! sorry, I'm high (or driven insane) on coursework. But great list :D I wanna make one too, cept mine will be more typical. But I will, once I've watchted the oscars :D first part done, second will be done tomorrow :D thank you so much again!! and um *tries to keep talking as to avoid mountain of work* yay I'll also do the live journal meme...cept on my blog lol. and. um. *sigh* yeah i'll go now *sobs* kate winslet may have got an oscar off the reader, but I have got near impossible cw. Did you know Hanna represents Germany's past? And did you know her and michaels relationship is a symbol for germany coming to terms with the war?

ok ok I'm going!! xxxx

Farzan said...

good list

Anonymous said...

Original list, bung.




Emma said...

Stop rubbing it in!

Anonymous said...

watch the fall emmabung!

Emma said...

I want to! Will search for a download immediately after doing this problem sheet.

Emma said...

♥ you, btw.

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David T said...

Hi Emma! I want to thank you for including Forgetting Sarah Marshall on your list, many wouldn't! It helped me in life too, I was similarly getting over a break up and the film, as you said, made me see there were more fish in the see. Although it played out comedically, a lot of the film hit close to home. As Kurt Cobain said, "Thank you for the tragedy. I need it for my art."