Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show

     CHRIS BELLAMY'S
TOP TEN OF 2008

1. The Dark Knight (directed by Christopher Nolan)

2. Reprise (directed by Joachim Trier)

3. Man on Wire (directed by James Marsh)

4. WALL-E (directed by Andrew Stanton)

5. Paranoid Park (directed by Gus Van Sant)

6. Synecdoche, New York (directed by Charlie Kaufman)

7. Rachel Getting Married (directed by Jonathan Demme)

8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (directed by David Fincher)

9. The Wrestler (directed by Darren Aronofsky)

10. Happy-Go-Lucky (directed by Mike Leigh)

HONORABLE MENTION

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

In Bruges

The Fall

Blind Mountain

Funny Games

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Let the Right One In

Pineapple Express

Snow Angels

Flight of the Red Balloon

Bigger Stronger Faster*

Chop Shop

Milk

CJ7

Standard Operating Procedure

ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT

Ghost Town, My Brother is an Only Child, Iron Man, Speed Racer, Transsiberian, Horton Hears a Who!, Changeling, Cloverfield, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Role Models, Burn After Reading, Wendy and Lucy, Blindness, Leatherheads, Gran Torino, The Strangers, Doomsday

The best of '08 ... one month late

Costumed anti-heroes. Sisyphean robots. Neurotic playwrights. Backward agers. Suicidal stuntmen. Sadistic intruders. Underground trolls. Existential vampires. Alien toys. Talking ghosts. Military-industrial superheroes. Fantasy stock-car drivers. Manhattan-destroying monsters . . . and the year that was.

I had a bit of catching up to do, but by now, I've seen just about everything even remotely on anyone's radar. And now that the Oscars are upon us this weekend, here are the best in science fiction, fantasy and horror that 2008 had to offer. My full best-of-the-year list can be seen in the side panel.

The Dark Knight

Directed by Christopher Nolan

The best movie of the year was, for once, the biggest as well. What a novelty, to construct a superhero template and take to task the very idea of heroism. Christopher Nolan's noirish masterpiece scopes out a world of grey in which neither good nor evil is a solo act, as Heath Ledger's incomparable Joker uses a microcosmic Gotham as a battleground for the two.

What's most remarkable about The Dark Knight is the breadth of detail with which it explores its struggle, while remaining massively entertaining. From the Batman impostors who "fight crime" in his name, to the dual (and dueling) identities of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent (both who they are and who they wish to be . . . which is, essentially, each other), to the experiments the Joker sets up to prove his theories on humanity, to the stunning and ballsy symbolic gesture that closes the film, Nolan's vision persists.

The Dark Knight is crime drama and tragedy wrapped inside a pop-art exterior - and it took its genre to new heights. That it will be the most-remembered film of 2008 from a pop-culture standpoint is beside the point; the film stands as a testament to epic filmmaking in its own right.

Click here for full review.

WALL-E

Directed by Andrew Stanton

WALL-E is a movie that trounces established filmmaking styles - and established directors - at their own game. It is action, romance, science fiction, slapstick comedy, social commentary and absurdist satire, and it comes in the form of a Pixar animated film.

Director Andrew Stanton has come a long way from his previous film, Finding Nemo, a wonderful-looking but slight effort compared to this one. The 15-minute opening sequence is a brilliant introduction to the character and tone of the film and it rarely, if ever, steps wrong. (Unless, of course, it's on purpose, to tick off M-O.)

Drawing influence from the likes of Keaton, Chaplin, Kubrick and Gilliam, WALL-E is able to straddle the line between sentimentality and irony with spectacular results.

Click here for full review.

Synecdoche, New York

Directed by Charlie Kaufman

Of all movies from 2008, this one demanded the most of its audience. The great screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, here making his directorial debut, stares into his own brain and finds an endless chasm of neuroses, hopes, fears, inaccuracies, embellishments, tragedies and regrets. He brilliantly filters this all through one theatre director whose goal of creating an all-encompassing theatre piece - designed to speak to the very essence of the human experience - becomes an albatross that carries him to his dying moment.

The film is a messy concoction of absurdist and surrealist impulses, and it culminates in a stunning, funny, bleak apocalyptic sequence that includes the best closing line of the year. Synecdoche, New York has too many inspired scenes and ideas to name, but the burning house is, yes, burned in my memory forever.

Click here for full review.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Directed by David Fincher

A movie both praised and reviled for what it isn't, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an astonishing marriage of the old-fashioned Hollywood epic and modern sensibilities and technical capabilities. Together the two elements - the old and the new (or, if you insist, the young) - speak to the very heart of the film. The whole of Benjamin Button is the co-existence of elements that in nearly all other contexts are mutually exclusive. Life and death, young and old, hope and regret - all of those things, among many, exist at once, allowing us to examine life's at its best and worst in all its inevitability.

The film is about death, of course, but its version of death is something of a catharsis. Its version of life is an oft-stunning scrapbook of experiences, during which time Benjamin observes - and is observed, harshly at times - amid an ever-changing set of circumstances as he grows younger/older. He begins and always remains an isolated character, a curious anomaly, and to me that lent a certain poignance to every new emotion and new experience he went through. Like the film, Benjamin himself inspires both awe and consternation, and in both cases it's understandable. Benjamin Button has sharply divided people. What I see is a deeply felt exploration of certain truths and paradoxes of the human experience. That it takes the time to inspect an entire life spent within a sort of peculiar isolation is a testament to director David Fincher.

Click here for full review.

The Fall

Directed by Tarsem

In his second feature-length try, Tarsem finally learned how to connect his outlandish (and often-astonishing) visual style with actual storytelling.

This was one of the great unknowns of the year, a wholly original tale of a young girl and a depressed stuntman who meet in a hotel, get to know each other with different motives and connect - and splinter - through the telling of a fantastical tale. Certain scenes are unlike anything that has yet been put on screen.

Click here for full review.

Funny Games

Directed by Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke brought back one of his old experiments with Funny Games, a shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian film. Using the archetype of the home-invasion movie, Haneke completely deconstructs the relationship between audience and film, embracing and then subverting its norms - utilizing particular dramatic set-ups and then violating them. Featuring an Oscar-worthy supporting turn by Michael Pitt, Funny Games is a funny and compelling experiment in audience participation and expectation.

Click here for full review.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro outdoes himself in his second outing with his favorite comic-book hero, Hellboy. After the excellent but modest first installment, del Toro goes all out for this one, crafting such stunning sets and action sequences that they border on overwhelming the story. Maybe they even do overwhelm the story a bit, but hey, it's worth it.

Click here for full review.

Let the Right One In

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

A fascinating exploration of childhood isolation through the unlikely specter of a vampire story, Let the Right One In paints such a starkly realistic portrayal of a dark, wintery Stockholm suburb that the horror-fantasy elements creep up on us.

How the eternal struggle of the vampire, Eli, coils into the primary narrative of Oskar, a picked-on 12-year-old boy, is unexpected and perfect, and provides the foundation for an unexpectedly serious and beautiful adult fairy tale.

Click here for full review.

CJ7

Directed by Stephen Chow

One of the year's most underrated movies, Stephen Chow's CJ7 does what all Stephen Chow movie do - plays with cinematic traditions and storytelling devices and does so in a uniquely hilarious way. The man can do irony as well as anyone, and he is a master comic juxtapositionist - which isn't a word, but should be. He may be repeating himself a bit in this one, but it works anyway. And besides, a few select sequences are as inspired as those in Kung Fu Hustle.

Click here for full review.

Ghost Town

Directed by David Koepp

Fifteen years ago, Ghost Town would have been tailor-made for Bill Murray. It's nice that we now have someone like Ricky Gervais who can provide the same balance of misanthropy, sarcasm, arrogance and true humanity. He and writer/director David Koepp are able to elevate a premise that really could have gone either way, coming up with a consistently funny and genuinely warm modern ghost story - and with a few pleasant surprises in a storyline we think we've got figured, too.

Click here for capsule review.

Iron Man

Directed by Jon Favreau

In another year, this might have been the best superhero movie in memory. That being said, second-best is nothing to scoff at in this case. Robert Downey Jr. was an inspired choice to take on the role of Tony Stark, helping the film survive on wit and humanity even in between the impressive action sequences. Now let's just hope they don't screw up the sequel by low-balling their entire cast . . .

Click here for full review.

Speed Racer

Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

A movie that few critics really liked, and which audiences didn't seem to be interested in, Speed Racer is nonetheless an extremely interesting piece of work by the Wachowskis. This is a film that works by its own rules, exists in a hyper-stylized universe that plays like a literal adaptation of the animated series, only imbued with a hyper-kinetic, psychedelic visual sensibility. While it's certainly not perfect, I also haven't seen anything quite like it.

Click here for full review.

Cloverfield

Directed by Matt Reeves

It was the best marketing campaign of the year, you'll have to give it that. And, when it comes right down to it, Cloverfield absolutely delivered the goods, doing the Monster Movie in an entirely new way.

Sure, maybe the characters and their soap-opera lives are banal and annoying, but an incredible action sequence or two tends to distract from that. Cloverfield is a fully realized, well-crafted piece of new-age horror cinema that captures an experience in a thrilling new way.

Click here for full review.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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