Chock full of cinema

The Journal picks the the best and worst flicks of 2008

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Tell No One is a bilingual thriller that gained momentum in smaller theatre last year.
Tell No One is a bilingual thriller that gained momentum in smaller theatre last year.
Credit: 
Supplied

As the champagne of 2008 goes flat and 2009 begins to unfold, the Journal’s film critic has decided to take a look at the cream of the film world’s crop for the last twelve months—some noteworthy highs, as well as some disappointing lows. So here they are in all their glory and no particular order.

CREAM OF THE CROP:

The Dark Knight Regardless of the uber-hyped media circus that erupted after the terrible and premature death of Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight is truly a fabulous flick. It picks up where Batman Begins (2005) left off, pitting Batman (Christian Bale) against a new and terrifying adversary: The Joker (Ledger). Ledger steals the show with the performance of a lifetime, so to speak, dishing out a rendition of maniacal insanity rivaling that of even Carrie. Bale’s deep, tortured voice punctuates a twisted plot featuring international conspiracy, crash-bang action, gripping affairs of the heart and a few meditations on the human condition. Maggie Gyllenhaal, playing Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s unrequited flame from days of yore, is a noteworthy upgrade from Katie Holmes, who filled this role in Batman Begins. A crowd-pleaser in every possible sense of the word, The Dark Knight is an epic for the ages.

Wall-E

I fell in love with—yet another—cartoon character this summer after watching Disney-Pixar’s delightful marvel. The film’s hero, for which the flick is named, is a lonely trash compacting robot obsessed with Rubiks Cubes, cutlery and forgotten human junk. Wall-E spends his days cleaning up the astronomical mess humans left on Earth after fleeing into space hundreds of years earlier to escape the toxic environment. Wall-E’s only companion is a cockroach and a VHS version of Hello Dolly from which he plays only “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” a rather fitting song that pre-figures the great adventures on which our little robot embarks throughout the movie. Wall-E’s solitary and arguably abysmal existence changes when an updated and swanky piece of technology comes to town. EVE, a probe sent to Earth to detect signs of life, steals Wall-E’s heart within the first nanosecond of their meeting. What develops is one of the best-told love stories of the 21st century. Andrew Stanton, Wall-E’s director, puts together some sweepingly surreal graphics and a first-rate plot developed with virtually no words. Wall-E toes a warning line on human consumerism without bashing the audience’s head in. Fun for the family and pleasing to the soul, the flick dishes out a healthy dose of something not just to chew on, but to feast on.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button is, simply put, the most beautiful film I have seen in a long time. Criticized by some for being unnecessarily lengthy, the flick is a stellar tour de force; each of the approximately 180 minutes spent in the theatre is arguably worth its weight in gold. Both Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett—who play Benjamin Button and the love of his life, Daisy, respectively—make the screen combust with their flawless performances. The story itself is adapted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name which chronicles the life of Benjamin, who was born as an elderly man and ages backwards, that is to say, becomes physically younger as he grows older. While this may be an unlikely occurrence, audience members suspend their disbelief as they’re taken through a wondrous life lived to the fullest. The film discusses the nature of time and the need to take advantage of opportunities for happiness as they present themselves as the clock ticks on inexorably. Sigh-worthy and perhaps even bawl-worthy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seamlessly illustrates the great tragedy that is the human condition. See it before you die as, like the film instructs, you never know when that might be.

Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne)

While technically this French flick was released in 2006, Tell No One (Ne le dis a personne) has recently been revived in a lot of the independent cinemas. The brilliance of this film is truly the infinite cleverness of the plot. It is a phenomenal thriller with amazing cinematography that keep you as disoriented as its main character, Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet). Beck, a pediatrician struggling to get over the brutal murder of his wife years earlier finds himself, once again, the prime suspect as new evidence comes to light and the case reopens. As emotionally intense as the film is, director Guillaume Canet seamlessly incorporates some delightful comedic relief into the grueling narrative. Tell No One is a cleverly-wrought film that doesn’t require gratuitous violence to grab the viewer’s attention and hold it. The bilingual dream Kristin Scott-Thomas also appears in the film as the best friend of Beck’s late wife and, as usual, does a bang-up job.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

It’s been reviewed twice this fall by the Journal already, but Nick and Norah’s is one of the best recipes for coziness I know. It does at times feel a bit too much like an Urban Outfitters ad, though.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

While perhaps not the most exciting or impressive movie out there, Miss Pettigrew certainly dishes up a beautiful story. Guinivere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is a plain-Jane London governess who unwittingly finds herself as the assistant to a social climbing actress, Delysia (Amy Adams). The interplay between the two women is about as sweet as it gets.

Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. is back in this phenomenal superhero movie. While it does touch on the multitude of issues surrounding the arms trade, Iron Man’s strong suit ties the film back to the days when superheroes were unproblematized by emotional complexity. It’s rather nice to be served a typical good vs. evil storyline with a slew of sweet gadgets to go along with it.

LET-DOWNS ’08:

Quantum of Solace

Daniel Craig’s second time as our favourite agent is a disjointed reconstruction of the genre. The various plots and settings were incohesive and essential elements of all great Bond movies were missing.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe of a few years ago took care to convey the utter magic of the second installment of C.S. Lewis’ wildly renowned series. Prince Caspian, however, did not. The flick had a stamped-out, straight-to-video feeling that ignored the necessary nuance Lewis’ work deserves.

The Duchess

Kiera Knightly plays the many-times-great-grandmother of Princess Diana. Unfortunately, it is the most needlessly depressing costume drama in recent memory and reeks of a cash-grab that seems to be the sole object of the Diana memorabilia industry.

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