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Nick's Pics
Nick Nicholson
Film & Home Entertainment Critic
 

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.
 
2008 IN REVIEW

With 2008 now completely under wraps, I am in the unenviable position of ranking the best and worst of the year in film. Over the course of this year, I have seen over one hundred and seventy-eight different movies, many of which I have thankfully long since forgotten about. I would have to admit, however, this has been a good year for films. I have seen actors really surprise me by pushing the envelope such as Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight. Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, where actors really scrape the bottom of the barrel as Meryl Streep did in Mamma Mia! As the multitude of award shows begin to hit the airwaves this next week, you will have the opportunity to see and hear information about films you both have seen and never heard of. When the opportunity arises, check out some of these movies and see how they rate with you. I am anxious to see what 2009 cinema masterpieces have in store, but until then, here is my list, ranked in order, of The Best and Worst of 2008. Until next time, have fun at the movies and try not to eat too much popcorn!

Best Films of 2008:

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. Brad Pitt is a man that is born old and grows young, while the love of his life, Cate Blanchett, ages normally.

2. Slumdog Millionaire. When a young man from the slums of Mumbai makes it to the final round of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, he must prove to the police that his win has been legit.

3. Wall-E. Centuries after humans have left Earth, a clean-up robot named Wall-E goes on a wild adventure that just might save human-kind. Pixar has been very consistent at bringing us creative and thought-provoking films throughout the years and Wall-E could be the first animated film since Beauty and the Beast to get a Best Picture nod.

4. In Bruges. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are two hitmen that are forced to lay low in Bruges, Belgium after they badly botch a hit. With terrific performances by all, and a very clever script, In Bruges serves up a wonderful comedy as well as a dramatic thriller.

5. The Visitor. Richard Jenkins leads this very gentle story of a man trying to move forward with his life after his beloved wife dies. When he visits his New York apartment that he hasn’t seen in a while, he discovers a foreign couple that has been duped into thinking they were living there legitimately. Rather than booting them to the curb, he bonds with them and tries to help them survive both the city and America.

6. Mongol. This film about the early years of Ghengis Khan is as big asBraveheart and almost as good. This movie left me salivating for part two, The Great Khan, coming in 2010.

7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I absolutely loved this sweet but naughty comedy about an average guy that tries to forget about his movie-star ex-girlfriend leaving him by vacationing in Hawaii, only to find that she is staying at the same resort.

8. The Dark Knight. It’s been a good year for super hero films, but when it comes to originality, writing, visual effects, and action, The Dark Knight runs circles around Hellboy 2, Iron Man, and The Hulk.

9. The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke is a down-and-out professional wrestler who is desperately trying to hang on to glory.

10. Let the Right One In. Forget about Twilight, the best teenage vampire film this year was this Swedish import about a young boy who discovers that the girl next door is a vampire.

Best Actor Performances for 2008:

1. Sean Penn, for Milk

2. Mickey Rourke, for The Wrestler

3. Frank Langella, for Frost/Nixon

4. Brad Pitt, for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

5. Richard Jenkins, for The Visitor

Best Actress Performances for 2008:

1. Anne Hathaway, for Rachel Getting Married

2. Kate Winslet, for Revolutionary Road

3. Meryl Streep, for Doubt

4. Angelina Jolie, for The Changeling

5. Melissa Leo, for Frozen River

Best Supporting Actor & Actress Projections:

1. Heath Ledger, for The Dark Knight

1. Viola Davis, for Doubt

The Worst Films of 2008:

1. Mamma Mia! Horrendous singing, bad storytelling, and hideous acting abound in this putrid Abba musical. I can’t imagine a worse night at the movies.

2. X Files: I Want to Believe. This was almost a dare to X-Files fans to hate their movie. And they did. It is hard to believe that this joke of a film could ever receive a green light.

3. The Happening. M. Night Shyamalan bombed with his film about the revenge of Earth’s plants. Note to Hollywood - would someone please stop giving this guy money?

4. Street Kings. We’ve come to expect Keanu Reeves to give us bad films, but Forest Whitaker’s need for a paycheck clouded his judgement on this crooked cop caper.

5. What Happens in Vegas. I know that there are some good romantic comedies floating around out there just begging to get made, but Hollywood keeps churning out crap like this. With the lack of good rom coms this year, folks had to turn to other genres for their date nights. While chick flicks aren’t dead yet - they sure were hurting in 2008.


THE PIPPI LONGSTOCKING COLLECTION - Hen’s Tooth Video

Based on Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books, the Pippi films follow children Annika (Maria Persson) and Tommy (Par Sundberg), and their adventures with the strange but beguiling Pippi Longstocking (Inger Nilsson), a precocious, super-strong, and singularly ugly girl with oversized shoes, freckles, steely-blue eyes and bright red pigtails jutting away from her head at a 90-degree angle. She happily lives alone with a little yellow monkey, Sir Nelson (also called Mr. Nelson), and a polka-dotted horse, Old Man, while her absent father (a sort of benign Bluto) sails the Seven Seas. The Pippi movies were popular in their day, despite earning the scorn of many parents. Bereft of the moralizing usually found in British and American children’s stories, the Pippi tales are practically a celebration of children running amok in an insatiable quest for instant gratification. In Pipping Longstocking for instance, Annika and Tommy’s mother invites Pippi over for a coffee party. To everyone’s horror Pippi blissfully picks her nose in front of everyone, fingers the cake, grabs more than her fair share of cookies, and laughs off the shocked reaction of her elders. In some cultures, Sweden apparently being one of them, such behavior by children is tolerated if not encouraged, apparently using the logic that they might as well get it all out of their system while they’re still children, lest they behave that way as adults. The films might have appealed to children raised in environments that were too strict, and that they offered kiddie audiences the opportunity to cut loose, if only vicariously. Still, Pippi does come off as obnoxious and anti-social much of the time. More disturbing is that (in Pippi Longstocking) she becomes popular with other kids buying their friendships with free candy and toys, rather than though any real social interaction. What’s more, Pippi wanders into these shops with a valise full of gold coins and feels perfectly entitled to cut in line and demand immediate service and every need catered. The shop owners, seeing the gold, happily comply, brushing aside whatever customer they may have been waiting on. The later films are somewhat easier to take, as there is a greater emphasis on straightforward fantasy adventure, such as Pippi in the Seven Seas (sic) which has the three children traveling by “zeppelin” (actually a brass bed tied to a hot-air balloon) and plane (the kids make one out of bicycle parts, a propeller, and wooden crates) to the South Pacific in search of Pippi’s Papa. These later films, more than the first entry, have the wild imagination of the original books, despite some truly awful visual effects, including ghastly miniature pirate ships and a volcano that looks like some junior high school student’s science project. All of the films rely on very unconvincing rear-screen projection for the lion’s share of their visual effects.

Despite this, Pippi Longstocking was clearly an elaborate production by European television standards. Pippi in the High Seas makes good use of tropical locations, and there are elaborate sets and costumes throughout. The movies don’t play particularly choppy or episodic, a surprise given that most were presumably cut together from three-episode story arcs. The Pippi Longstocking Collection will appeal to nostalgic adults who saw these films 30 years ago and want to revisit them. Those looking to share Pippi’s adventures with their own children might be better off purchasing Hen Tooth’s release of the entire TV series, which is both more coherent and easier to take in 28-minute doses rather than as 100-minute movies. If you are interested in the Pippi Longstocking Collection, go to www.henstoothvideo.com and select the Box Sets link. Enjoy!

THE X FILES I WANT TO BELIEVE: Blu-ray - Fox

Long-anticipated, the film reunites series stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson under the direction of series creator Chris Carter, who co-wrote the screenplay with Frank Spotnitz. In grand The X-Files tradition, the film’s storyline is being kept under wraps, known only to top studio brass and the project’s principal actors and filmmakers. This much can be revealed: The supernatural thriller is a stand-alone story in the tradition of some of the show’s most acclaimed and beloved episodes, and takes the always-complicated relationship between Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) in unexpected directions. Mulder continues his unshakable quest for the truth, and Scully, the passionate, ferociously intelligent physician, remains inextricably tied to Mulder’s pursuits.

SUPER TROOPERS: Blu-ray - Fox

Thorny, Rabbit, Mac and Foster are passable Vermont State Troopers. Stationed in the boonies on the Canadian border, they spend the bulk of their time playfully toying with speeders, stoned...Unfortunately, their quiet existence hasn’t gone unnoticed. The state has targeted their low volume station for a potential budget slash. Hoping to avoid the axe, the guys buckle down to impress the higher ups. But success is hard to come by. First, they find it’s not so easy to change their brazen style. Then things get more complicated as the Troopers start to hit obstacles set by their law enforcement rivals, the shifty Local Earlville Police force. The local cops smell the demise of their State competition and gladly do what they can to speed the shut down.

THE WOMEN:

Blu-ray - Warner

Packed with an all-star cast, Diane English’s contemporary version of The Women showcases the talents of Annette Bening, Meg Ryan, Jada Pinkett Smith, Candice Bergen, and Debra Messing. Like the 1939 original, the film deals with the relationships among a close-knit group of female friends, who, when their marriages fail and their lives are on the verge of falling apart, turn to each other for support. On the surface, Mary (Ryan) appears the happiest of the bunch, but her life changes instantly when her best friend Sylvia (Bening) discovers that Mary’s husband’s having an affair. The actresses frequently appear on screen as an ensemble, exhibiting a relaxed, compelling chemistry. The film feels cluttered at times, but perhaps that is fitting considering how much each female character has on her plate with regards to family, work, marriage, and friendship. Eva Mendes appears as the jaw-dropping beauty who is partially to blame for the fallout of Mary’s marriage. As Mary’s mother and the voice of wisdom, Bergen delivers the film’s best lines with sarcasm, wit, and charm.

THE HOUSE BUNNY - Sony

Comic actress Anna Faris shines in her starring turn in The House Bunny, a hilarious and heartfelt tale of female empowerment. As the film opens, Shelly Darlingson (Farris) is Big Bunny on Campus at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. With her 27th birthday approaching, Shelly eagerly anticipates fulfilling her dream: to be centerfold of the month. But when she learns that she’s being booted from Bunnyland, Shelly finds herself with no family or place to call home. Desperate for both, she lucks across the socially inept sisters of the Zeta Alpha Zeta sorority. With no hope of attracting new pledges and the consequent threat of losing their sorority, the girls of Zeta take in the bubbly Shelly as their new “house mother.” Shelly immediately sets to work helping the Zetas bring out their inner glamazons, luring in boys while drawing the ire of rival sorority Phi Iota Mu. Shelly also catches the eye of Oliver (Colin Hanks), who forces her to realize that it will take more her Playboy Mansion ways to win over a good man. Plus, Shelly discovers that her social insights have transformed the Zetas into the very superficial types they once railed against.

INTO THE WILD:

Blu-ray - Paramount

Directed by Sean Penn, the film opens in 1992, when Chris (Emile Hirsh) is a promising college graduate. Shortly after graduation, Chris gives his life savings to charity, burns all of his identification, and begins hitchhiking across America, his ultimate goal being Alaska. Citing passages from his heroes, Thoreau and Jack London, he is determined to escape society and get back to nature. He blows from town to town like a tumbleweed, hopping trains, camping with aging hippies (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker), working briefly with a farmer (Vince Vaughan), and befriending a widowed leather worker (Hal Holbrook). He revels in his newfound freedom, but meanwhile, his parents (Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt) have no idea where he is, and are sick with worry. While their relationship with Chris was already troubled, they are nonetheless devastated by his disappearance. Chris’s sister, Carine (Jane Malone), narrates much of the film, offering her reflections on the effect Chris’s absence has on his family. Chris finally makes it to Alaska, where he hikes out to a remote campsite and discovers an abandoned bus. He manages to survive there for a few months living off the land, but he eventually runs out of supplies and becomes trapped, leading to his tragic end. Into the Wild bounces around chronologically, jumping back and forth from the start of Chris’s journey to his final few weeks living aboard the bus.

TOWELHEAD - Warner

Set around the time of the first Gulf war, Towelhead examines a young girl’s sexual awakening in an extremely dysfunctional family--and community. Summer Bishil stars as Jasira, a 13-year-old girl being shuttled between her mother’s (Maria Bello) home in Syracuse and her father’s (Peter Macdissi) in a suburban Houston cul-de-sac. Rifat, a Lebanese American, is overprotective of his daughter, who makes extra money by baby-sitting for neighbor Zack (Chase Ellison). But when Zack’s father, Travis (Aaron Eckhart), a National Guardsmen waiting to be called to serve in Iraq, begins taking an unhealthy interest in Jasira, another neighbor, Melina (Toni Collette), becomes suspicious and befriends Jasira, who is suddenly trapped in a grown-up world she might not understand as well as she might think.

HORTON HEARS A WHO! - Fox

On the fifteenth of May, in the jungle of Nool, in the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool. He was splashing...enjoying the jungle’s great joys...When Horton the elephant heard a small noise. With his signature evocative and rhyming text, writer and cartoonist Dr. Seuss, an American treasure whose books have delighted generations of young people, opens one of his most beloved tales, Horton Hears a Who! Now, over fifty years since Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, published this perennial favorite, the makers of Ice Age and comedy giants Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, bring it to life in a way never before experienced. For the first time, a motion picture transports audiences into Dr. Seuss’ incredible imagination, through state-of-the-art CG animation.

BAGHEAD - Sony

After seeing the accolades heaped up on a colleague for his laughable film at a Los Angeles film festival, Matt (Ross Partridge) decides that he can do better. With his sometime girlfriend, Catherine (Elise Muller), and friends Michelle (Greta Gerwig) and Chad (Steve Zissis) in tow, they immediately set off to a cabin in the woods for the weekend to create the film that will make them all famous on the festival circuit. While Chad focuses his energy on winning the affections of uninterested Michelle, Matt comes up with the cinematic construct of a stranger with a paper bag on his head terrorizing a group of people in the woods. After the initial evening of alcoholic brainstorming, though, the idea becomes reality, and the friends’ relationships are tested as they find themselves in a truly scary situation.

 

Nick be reached at Filmlords@gmail.com

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   Last Update:  February 05, 2009