I was going to do a Top 10 list of movies that came out this year, as is the thing to do this time of year. However, I only saw 16 movies that came out this year, not all in the theater. Perhaps I would do well to rewrite this list next year after I get caught up through Netflix. So, instead of a top ten, I bring you a randomly categorized version of the 2008 movies I saw...
The "Will Ferrell Really Does Make Good Movies, Just Neither of These Movies" Category:
This category is dedicated to the movie "Stranger Than Fiction," a masterpiece that proves just how good Will Ferrell can be, if only he doesn't waste his time making this garbage:
-Semi-Pro: Kind of funny, sometimes, but instantly forgettable. Seriously, I can't remember a single scene or quote a single line, which is really unusual for a Will Ferrell movie.
-Step Brothers: This movie was apparently made entirely on the pitch: Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly as 40 year old step-brothers! It actually had a ton of potential, but was too mean-spirited and foul to be funny. A real disappointment.
The "Good Thing He Comes From a Rich Family, Because He Could Never Make Anything of Himself on His Own" Category:
This category is dedicated to movies that are guaranteed to be successful due to their names, which is good for them, since neither of them are good enough to make it on their own.
-Quantum of Solace: First, let me say that it predecessor, Casino Royale, is an amazing movie, and is more than good enough to justify watching QoS. And Daniel Craig is a great Bond. But... it's a sequel. And it has very little discernible plot. And it's all action all the time. It's basically just cleaning up the loose ends from Casino Royale. Oh, and no Q and no Moneypenny. I like the new grittier style, a lot, but it's time to make 007 movies, not Bourne movies starring James Bond. And yes, it is the worst name ever.
-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: All of the Indiana Jones movies start with reality and end with something magical. I'm OK with that. But this movie starts with magic and then just gets ridiculous. It's a fun ridiculous, but it takes you out of the movie because you start thinking about just how absurd what you're watching is. However, it does, just like the rest of the Indiana Jones movies, portray the practice of archaeology in a very realistic manner (just ask Nancy).
The "This Movie is Actually Not Very Good, But I Enjoyed it Anyway" Category:
-Leatherheads: What can I say? You don't see a lot of screwball comedies made for grown-ups these days. And it had George Clooney and Jim from The Office in it. However, can we stop making movies with Renee Zellweger?
-Jumper: This is really a terrible movie and only confirms that Haydon Christenson is as wooden as he seemed in the Star Wars prequels. But it was fun. And it provided something for Samuel L. Jackson to do, because it seems like the guy just can't get any work these days.
-Pineapple Express: This movie got great reviews, and I did enjoy it the whole time, but it still left me strangely unsatisfied, like I didn't quite get the joke. To be fair, it is a movie about a bunch of potheads, and as I wasn't high, I probably didn't get the joke.
-Get Smart: It's strange- I really like Steve Carell and I loved watching reruns of Get Smart as a kid. From the first time I saw Steve Carell I thought he would be perfect for Maxwell Smart (he looks eerily like him). And I really enjoyed the movie. But it was missing something. I feel like some sort of studio executive tried to make it more mainstream than it needed to be.
-Hancock: This was a lot of fun and got a lot of credit for being "original." But hasn't this idea basically already been done, and much better, with The Incredibles? However, it does get major credit for not giving away the big twist in the trailers, something that must have taken enormous restraint these days. (and I love spoilers!)
The "This is Completely Different Than Anything You Have Ever Seen Except That You Have Already Seen All of This" Category:
-Cloverfield: Worn out Genre- Godzilla movies. New take: Godzilla meets Youtube. If the camera work didn't make you throw up, it was extremely interesting to "live through" a Gozilla type attack. In most monster movies, the audience knows everything that is going on and it is typically seen through the eyes of the military or some sort of hero. In Cloverfield, we are an average person on the street who has no idea what is going on and can't seem to get information or resources that are helpful. It's fascinating- and really scary.
-Be Kind Rewind: This is a movie with some serious soul. And it is the soul of everyman, of great music, and of countless movies. This is one of the strangest movies I have ever seen, and I absolutely loved it.
The "Robert Downey Jr. is Amazing" Category:
Seriously, did anyone see this coming?
-Iron Man: This is a great movie. It just missed out being in my top category, and it gets just a little predictable towards the end (except for the very, very end), but this is not a movie to be taken lightly. Equal parts funny and serious, political but not preachy, lots of action but plenty of quiet, and motivations that somehow seemed real (despite the absurdity all around). And Robert Downey Jr. was really, really good.
-Tropic Thunder: Most spoofs make the mistake of winking at the camera the whole way through, like everyone is in on the joke, but not Tropic Thunder. This is a serious spoof (if such a thing is possible) that is simply hilarious. And Robert Downey Jr. gives the most meta-strange/funny/serious performances I have ever seen. It would never happen, but there needs to be some sort of special award category for what he did in Tropic Thunder.
The "These Movie Get Added to the Dan Erickson's Movie Hall of Fame" Category:
-The Dark Knight: I know this isn't exactly an original selection, but there's a reason for that. This movie is that good. I absolutely loved Batman Begins and couldn't imagine Batman being done better than that. The script is air-tight, the motivations are real, and it really gets back to Batman's roots. And Heath Ledger's Joker is every bit as good as advertised. I haven't been as mesmerized by an acting performance since T0m Hanks in Forrest Gump. It's amazing that they could make a movie that feels like an Oscar-worthy drama but is actually a comic book action movie.
-WALL-E: We saw this movie the night we found out Nancy was pregnant, so maybe I have an irrational bias toward it. But still, there is something about this movie that speaks to me on a very deep level. The only word for the first 30 minutes or so is "genius." Who would have thought that a computer generated silent movie with a musical theater soundtrack could be made in this day and age? I know it's not completely without dialogue, but the best parts are, and those best parts are sublime. This movie contains extraordinary beauty, both visually and of thought. It is subtle and requires some work from the viewer, a rarity for a "children's movie." WALL-E may be appropriate for children, but it is NOT a children's movie. What it is, however, is the best movie of the year and one of my new favorites.
Note: Unfortunately, WALL-E has no chance to win the Best Picture Oscar, now that there is a category for Best Animated Movie, for which it is a shoe-in. I appreciate what they are trying to do, but WALL-E deserves to be mentioned with the best movies of the year, not with Kung Fu Panda.