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Nerdflix, I Love Thee: More 2008 Catch-Up

The next best thing to running out and spending half your salary at the moviehouse trying to catch all the potential awards contenders before the Oscars nominations (this Thursday!) is Nerdflixing all the available 2008 titles that were on blog/print year-end Top 10 lists that the entertainment media world has been overwrought with over the past month-and-a-half. Here be a new batch of (mostly) winners, all of which are worth your time IMHO, but ranked in order of awesomeness (which should be the order of your Nerdflix queue of course) for your convenience:

Redbelt: My personal #1 movie of 2008. It slipped under the radar being an indie released to predictably solid reviews (written and directed by the reliable David Mamet of Glengarry Glen Ross fame), but in the first quarter of the year, ensuring that everyone except the wonderful Tasha Robinson of The AV Club would forget about it. While everyone hailed The Dark Knight (partially deservedly so) as the perfect synthesis of thrills and heady brain chills, Redbelt does the exact same without being overbloated and having an obnoxious gravelly superhero voice. Chiwetel Ejiofor is quite possibly the world's greatest on-screen hero that deserves superstardom, but is way too modest to ever let that happen, playing a martial arts teacher that gets embroiled in the most satisfying twisty-turny conspiracy in many years. And like Mamet does so well, every scene is imbued with contemplative but quick-witted dialogue and fast-paced excitement. This is what movies are all about: simultaneously escaping and provoking thought.

In Bruges: I was ready to be completely bored by this movie. It was in theaters for approximately seven years this spring here in Minneapolis and you couldn't see an indie movie without seeing its seemingly rote Tarantino/Guy Ritchie-ripoff-style trailer. It looked completely useless, but it got nothing but positive reviews. Flash forward to January 2009 and Colin Farrell, out of all the bland douchey-looking actors of our generation, is deservedly winning a Golden Globe? Apparently anything is truly possible. His performance, along with Brendan Gleeson's, makes this movie a must-see on its own. But the performances wouldn't be so eclectic (most hilariously manic and intensely sad) if it weren't for Martin McDonagh's subtle direction of a beautiful city (how it looks like Bruckheimer in Europe in the trailer but Malick in Europe in the actual movie is beyond me) and biting script, those performances wouldn't have happened. Yes, it's about two hitmen hiding out in a quirky tourist town, but it's also uniquely human and soft-hearted in its execution. No pun intended. Or is it?

Reprise: This movie wants to be great, and it has a lot of greatness in it, but it never fully reaches true affectation. The landscaping of Oslo and the constant artful framing of the Norwegian cast make up for the distracting back-and-forth of the chronology and character development, but ultimately I don't see this film sticking with me down the road. Two best friends send in their first novel manuscripts and only one gets published, and the fallout is documented. A narrator tells us what the characters are going through as we see them go through them, and sometimes it's literary and other times it's unnecessary. Luckily the outcomes in both of these young men's lives is unconventional and unpredictable enough to keep things lively, along with the quick-cut editing between flashbacks and flash-forwards.

Man On Wire: Dude has a dream, dude achieves dream, but at what cost? Not original, no. But at Qualler succinctly put it when discussing the film last night, "it was extremely well documented." And it's funny how such a basic element of documentary filmmaking can really make a final product soar above many others. How a movie with so much its premise stemming from illegal activity (albeit non-harmful acts such as highwire walking between the Twin Towers) can have so much legitimate footage (and incredibly well-preserved and beautiful footage at that!) from events leading up to and following the climax fo the man's life is astonishing enough to merit giving this otherwise slow-moving picture a look-see. The turn which the mood takes during the film's final act makes up for the plodding that it does earlier, as does the sheer WTFness of achieving such a ridiculous goal in one's own life. Like so many coulda-been-great movies of 2008 (ahem, Benjamin Button), "it would have been a great short film."

Snow Angels: David Gordon Green, aka my new pet director whose films I will always see from here until eternity, really teeters on the edge of brilliance with this morose tale of small-town depression, but never fully hits it. Actually he does - the film's first 10 minutes, featuring Synecdoche, New York's (and my new favorite character actor) Tom Noonan giving one of the best monologues of the year, is mindblowing. After witnessing his harange in the middle of the gorgeously shot Midwestern snow, I thought for sure I would be smitten with following scenes featuring the underrated Kate Beckinsale (okay, maybe I like her for other reasons than her acting) and the critics' darling Sam Rockwell. Unfortunately, what follows is merely an involving and ultimately unsatisfying yarn about second chances and parenthood. It's relentlessly sad, but if you're into that (which I kinda am, okay, really am) it's worth it to see how the fascinating characters' fates eventually roll out.

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  1. Blogger Unspar! | 8:56 AM |  

    Have you read of Martin McDonagh's plays? The Pillowman is amazing. Should you ever be interested in reading it, I have it and can lend it to you.

  2. Blogger qualler | 9:04 AM |  

    I caught some of Mamet's 2001 film Heist and laughed at some of the great lines, like Danny DeVito saying "I don't want to have to do something as dramatic as count to three, but...one...two..." in a key moment. Awesome stuff. I also am taping his 2004 movie Spartan that I had no idea existed starring Val Kilmer that's also supposed to be great. Gotta see Redbelt!

    More importantly, though, where am I supposed to move each of these films to on my queue???

  3. Blogger chris | 5:16 PM |  

    Ooh I would love to borrow that, Unspar. Especially after Googling it. This and Redbelt prove that more playwrights should be making movies.

    Never seen Heist or Spartan, but I'm sure they're awesome. We should do a Mamet Marathon someday. Move Redbelt and In Bruges to the top of your queue and add the rest to your neverending queue. All worth seeing faw shaw.

  4. Blogger Sean | 7:39 PM |  

    In Bruges? More like Inconsistent Tone.

  5. Blogger chris | 9:20 PM |  

    I think that's a fair point, but I don't think I would have liked it if it wasn't both sad and comedic. That's what set it apart. And I still felt for the characters even though they were absurd throughout.

  6. Anonymous .molly. | 10:09 PM |  

    RE: In Bruges - Agreed. I didn't think I'd like the up and down tone of the film, but they pulled it off so well between the script and the performances that I stopped noticing after the first 15 min or so. My mom loved it as well citing one of her reasons as the part where the dwarf is on horse tranquilizers. Oh, mom. +10 points for you.

    Also, David Gordon Green leaves me conflicted and confused. I think I like his films after watching them, but then seem to second-guess myself afterward. Kind of like with Paul Thomas Anderson (except for There Will Be Blood)

  7. Blogger chris | 9:57 PM |  

    Yay, Molly on The Blogulator!

    Haha I think I get what you mean about DGG. I LOVE George Washington, Undertow, and Pineapple Express, but I feel funny inside about Snow Angels and All The Real Girls. All worth seeing though, even the boring-as-all-get-out Real Girls.

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