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Nerdflix, Qualler's DVR, and Random Minneapolis Theaters, I Love Thee: 2008 Potential

The Golden Globes announced their nominees in the past week and while I will reserve judgment until a) the Academy upchucks their most likely similar but more prestigious list of nods and/or b) I've seen a greater majority of the films nominated, I have made quite the effort in the past two weeks of crossing off a good chunk of 2008 movies from my "might not waste my time" list. I still have quite the ways to go regarding films both with and without year-end accolades, but I can say that thanks to two of the flicks mentioned below, I now have a non-embarrassing Top 10 list for the year. It was touch and go there for a bit, but thankfully it turns out there were in fact ten movies that came out this year that didn't waste my time by at least 80-90%. The two in question bookend this post, so you only have to have a bad taste in your mouth in the middle of it all.

Finding Amanda: Probably the most wrong the Nerdflix rating predictor-bot has ever been for me. It thought I would give this dark comedy 1.5 stars, when in fact I completely loved it. Full disclosure: one of my favorite movies of all time is The Cable Guy. It's not a fact I like to advertise, but I would be lying if I said I haven't seen it willingly at least 20 times. Election is also another all-time fave, but that's not nearly as embarrassing. Why you ask? Matthew Broderick. I am a sucker for this guy and I've never fully realized it until I watched the very obviously mediocre Finding Amanda, and totally fell for its misanthropic characters (which Broderick plays perfectly every time) and bought into its facile premise. A semi-autobiographical story from writer-director Peter Tolan (creator of Rescue Me) that follows the gambling-addicted and alcoholism-recovering Broderick into Las Vegas to find his lost niece who has become a prostitute. It's an unapologetically meek and small movie with no grandiose ambitions, which is one of the reasons I love it so much, and yet the quick-witted snarky dialogue and self-absorbed but sympathetic characters are so maniacally entertaining that it could never be labeled as generic or unmoving. Move To Top of Queue.

Transsiberian: I really really wanted a good thriller for 2008. I thought it might have been possible with Ben Kingsley as a hardcore Russian (see the can't-be-topped caper flick Sexy Beast), especially with mostly positive reviews, but Transsiberian sinks as soon as it defies logic, as all (***minor spoiler alert!***) "woops I killed someone" movies do. I really didn't think it was going to be a "woops I killed someone" movie (***end minor spoiler alert***), what with the many possibilities of setting a thriller on the trans-siberian railway (drugs, human trafficking, Russian mob), but alas director Brad Anderson proved me wrong. And he directed two episodes of The Wire! Oh yeah, directing television doesn't really mean much, does it? Anyway, I think I'm just drawn to variations on Strangers On A Train by nature, and I should learn by now that train thrillers just cannot go more than 40 minutes without starting to suck. I mean, Eric Bogosian is downright amazing in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, but not every movie can co-star "The Bogose." There are upsides though: Woody Harrelson is often hilariously believable as a naive do-gooder train nerd who gets mixed up in all the madness, and Kingsley is delightfully creepy until the lame twist rears its head at the end. But ultimately...Delete From Queue.

Flight of the Red Balloon: It does not matter how many glowing reviews I read of this modern update of the dearly beloved simple childhood short "The Red Balloon", I just could not bear to stay awake during it and have little to no desire to try to watch it again. I'd like to blame the large comfy blankie that Qualler and Brigitte provided for me. I'd like to blame the warm and cuddly puppy that rested on my tum-tum and even the fact that it was nearly (realizes it wasn't that late at night)...well nevermind. The fact is that it is a gorgeously shot film with a lot of calm confidence in integrating barely any conflict into the story (keeping with the simple journey theme of the original) other than the usual stresses of any single-parent households, but I just did not care enough to keep with it past the 40-minute mark. It makes me feel like a common plebian, but at least Transsiberian had people dying and/or trying not to get killed. As the red balloon hovered elegantly above the apartment whose family we observed very voyeuristically, I quickly retreated to the one childhood activity I loved more than being entranced by the cinema: sleeping soundly and oh so comfortably. Delete From Queue.

Rocket Science: Technically a 2007 film, but it was released in most cities in 2008 and it pissed me off a lot, so I'm finding reason to include it with this batch of 2008 potentials. Sure, I didn't have high expectations for it, but it turned out to be even more quirkily offensive than I had ever thought possible. So much so that I once again fell asleep during it. With a matter-of-fact whirlwind intro à la Magnolia and characters even more self-pitying characters than those in my other indie quirkfest hatred Thumbsucker, I thought at first that I would at least stay awake through it because even if it was grossly pastel, at least my anger could fuel my consciousness. Following a shy kid's quest to become a master debater (obligatory chuckle), it wants you to think it's showing you something different (awkward interactions, awkward pauses, awkward holds on widely framed shots, etc.) when in fact it's basically the same plot as Hillary Duff's Raise Your Voice, except with debate instead of a conservatory school full of mall punks. What really grated my goat though was a scene directly lifted from the almighty Bottle Rocket, where two brothers sit on a bus and the crazier one talks about how he has mapped out a 5-year plan for his life that he's sure will not fail. It's so exact you might be thinking, "homage, right?" but even if that's what writer-director Jeffrey Blitz would say when asked, I would steam and scream: "no! lazy!" Delete From Queue.

Happy-Go-Lucky: Okay, so both Nicole and Sean have had this listed as a fave in their sidebar bio and no one's blogged about it yet, so here I lay claim to starting the discussion. But rather than conversing as to whether or not it's a good movie (it's awesome), I'd like to ask how long it took each of you to figure out that it was awesome. Like the other two Mike Leigh movies I've seen and loved (Secrets & Lies and All For Nothing, both of which I highly recommend, especially the latter), I really didn't like the film for the first 20-25 minutes. It being his first comedy, I thought he would have let up on the meandering and fly-on-the-wall directing, but he did not until real conflict started popping up. Following Poppy, an elementary school teacher whose rampant happiness often disturbs others, the main actress Sally Hawkins just goes about her life at first like there's no story being told at all, except unlike Flight of the Red Balloon, every interaction she has is indelibly absorbing and her balancing act between perpetually annoying and perpetually likable is almost a conflict unto itself. Far and away it's the best lead female performance I've seen so far this year, and once its scenes move from light comedy to smirk-inducing existentialism, it firmly places itself at #5 on my Top Ten list for 2008. Psst...stay tuned in the new year for the official Blogulator lists! Move to Top of 'Saved' Queue or Quick See it at St. Anthony Main!

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  1. Blogger qualler | 9:41 AM |  

    Haha I hate *spoiler alert* "whoops I killed someone" movies *end spoiler alert*, especially because they end up trying to be so intelligent about it, like all "What would you do in that situation?" "Whoops-I-killed-someone" is 2008's version of "Old clothes in movies" for me.

    Rocket Science I felt the same way as you did through about the first half hour, but beyond that it got to be somewhat more unique (although it still seemed like a mish-mash of ripoffs of stuff that I like, even by casting the guy who played Mike Yanagita in Fargo -- I imagine the casting director was like "We got Mike Yanagita! That will inject some quirky humor!") and eminently more likeable than your mentioned Thumbsucker. Of course, I slept through on-and-off the last thirty minutes or so, but wasn't as annoyed as the film went on. Plus, it's a much easier film to nap to than Flight of the Red Balloon. Every time I tried falling asleep through that, Juliette Binoche would use her annoying screechy French-speaking puppet voice to wake me up.

  2. Anonymous OHD | 1:51 PM |  

    You know who else whoops they killed someone? Serena van der Woodsen. How come GG wasn't nominated for a, well, a GG? It's at least better than Desperate Housewives, and that's been nominated for Emmys. EMMYS!

    I really liked Rocket Science. Sorry Chris! I've never seen Bottle Rocket, though, but I thought Anna Kendrick was awesome and I wish she played Alice in Twilight instead of that Ashley Greene, who I've never heard of and had like three lines, because it's mean to put Anna Kendrick in a movie about vampires and make her be a boring old human person.

    I realize this was only tangentially related to what you were talking about. Sorry x 2!

  3. Blogger chris | 5:11 PM |  

    (Looks up Anna Kendrick). Oh yeah, she was really good in it. Her character was the only interesting one to me - I wanted the movie to follow her instead of Mopey McAwkward.

  4. Blogger qualler | 7:38 PM |  

    To be fair, the main character wasn't really mopey or awkward, he just had a stuttering problem.

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