List: The Best Films of 2008

Posted by on

12192008_wendyandlucy.jpgIt feels completely appropriate in a year of incredible financial turmoil, particularly in the independent film sector, that so many good movies were made about people teetering on the edge of economic extinction. My own list features two such films, without even getting around to “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Frozen River” or the small but immensely powerful “Shotgun Stories.” Movie stars were feeling the pinch, too: in the semiautobiographical “JCVD,” audiences saw faded action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme resorting to begging his agent for money to pay for his divorce.

Stars, and studios too. Even before the bottom fell out of the economy, Hollywood studios were beginning to shutter their indie divisions; Paramount eliminated Vantage, Warner Brothers closed Picturehouse and Warner Independent and absorbed New Line. It wasn’t much better for smaller distributors: David O. Russell’s upcoming “Nailed” was in the news all summer because its production kept getting shut down by unions whose members weren’t getting paid by financier Capitol Films, whose subsidiary ThinkFilm had its own cash problems this year, when they couldn’t afford to purchase newspaper ads the Friday of the opening of their release “Then She Found Me.” Just last week the Yari Film Group filed for bankruptcy. Their big hit from a few years ago? “Crash.” There were weeks when the entire independent film world seemed embodied by Michelle Williams’ penniless drifter in “Wendy and Lucy:” every move they made seemed to draw them inexorably deeper into the financial quicksand.

There wasn’t exactly an artistic crash to match, but you could argue that the movies suffered a very mild creative recession in 2008. Strong as this year’s slate was, few if any equaled the remarkable heights of last year’s “No Country For Old Men” or “Zodiac.” On a personal level, I found myself on the outside looking in at a lot of the consensus critical hits: I thought both “Slumdog” and “WALL-E” started as strongly as any movie this year, but tapered off over the course of extremely disappointing final acts. Critical consensus may be a thing of the past anyway soon, the way newspaper and magazine film critics are losing their jobs.

Despite all of that gloominess, there was still much to celebrate in the movies of 2008. It was a year of impressive comebacks (JCVD himself for one, the magnetic fallen star of my number five film for another), of great dysfunctional onscreen families (my numbers two and ten), and more innovation in the documentary form (numbers one and nine). Some special movies even found ways to ask important questions of audiences, even as they entertained us: how far should the law go to stop a criminal (number three)? What does certainty mean in the absence of proof (number eight)?

In dark times, movies have always provided an escape. Even in an “off year” like this one, these ten films, plus the ones provided by my colleagues Alison Willmore and Michael Atkinson, gave us that and so much more.

12192008_mywinnipeg.jpg1. My Winnipeg
In the four years I’ve made top ten lists here on IFC.com, an IFC Film has never appeared even once, a convenient way to avoid accusations of a conflict of interest. I’ll risk them in this case because no movie I saw in 2008 was as exciting, imaginative, hysterically funny or hysterically sad as “My Winnipeg.” Guy Maddin was hired to direct a documentary to his hometown, a place he describes, with a good deal of pride, as “the strangest city in North America,” but wound up delivering a “docu-fantasia” where dream logic prevails, sleepwalking is a recurring motif and local history blends with myth and even parts of Maddin’s own childhood. In repeatedly returning to the image of a man on a train heading out of Winnipeg that can never quite break free from the city’s gravitational orbit, the film becomes a delightful piece of escapism on its subject’s inability to escape his past or his beloved home.

2. Rachel Getting Married
Jonathan Demme felt Jenny Lumet’s unique screenplay about a very dysfunctional family’s reunion for one of its daughters’ wedding deserved a visual strategy equally unusual. Shooting digitally with a minimum of crew and equipment he not only imbued the film with the feeling that the camera was a fly-on-the-wall videographer capturing the essential moments of this remarkable wedding, but he also brought out the raw, naturalistic beauty of digital photography in the way few filmmakers have.

3. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s superior sequel to his impressive “Batman Begins” was almost as much fun to discuss as it was to watch. In the moment, there were the expansive chase and fight sequences (even more stunning in IMAX) and Heath Ledger’s truly terrifying performance as The Joker. Afterwards, you debated movie’s message about the murky moral waters the film’s hero swims in to achieve his goal (extreme wiretapping, prisoner torture and the like). So many people focused on the question of whether Batman was supposed to represent President Bush that they missed the other possible parallel: that of district attorney Harvey Dent, whose courage under fire unites a frazzled community before checks out of reality completely and starts letting others make his decisions for him.

4. Wendy and Lucy
Watching director Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist masterpiece about a young woman searching for her lost dog is like savoring a fine wine; it’s about appreciating subtle flavors, nuances and clarity. Let those who would dismiss the film as “too small” have their gallons boxes of rubbish; “Wendy and Lucy” is vintage American independent filmmaking.

12192008_thewrestler.jpg5. The Wrestler
This beautifully sad film, simultaneously depressing and uplifting, was shot and set in the decaying suburbs and beach towns of New Jersey, and looks and feels like the movie the Dardennes might have made if they grew up as WWF fans in the 1980s. Mickey Rourke, using his own faded film career as his inspiration, groans and grunts with every step: for his Randy “The Ram” Robinson the very act of living day to day is a struggle greater than any Saturday Night’s Main Event. Real (fake) wrestling could only wish it was this emotionally devastating.

6. Milk
How can we ever explain Josh Brolin’s remarkable mid-career relevance? For so long he was that guy who looked like his dad and made schlocky movies, but now, out of nowhere, he’s the most interesting actor in Hollywood. He’s like the acting equivalent of a baseball player who discovers HGH at age 37 and suddenly hits 60 home runs in a season. In Gus Van Sant’s beautiful and incredibly timely biopic “Milk” he steals scene after scene as troubled San Francisco supervisor Dan White, and he’s stealing from Sean Penn, who’s giving the performance of a career full of career performances.

7. Let the Right One In
The rare horror film that’s many different kinds of scary. It’s creepy scary (as in the relationship between 12-year-old vampire Eli and the man who might be her father, caretaker, or — worst of all — a former boyfriend), it’s gross-out scary (like the scene where Eli bleeds from every pore of her body because she’s entered a house uninvited), it’s shocking scary (like the gorefest finale at the swimming pool).

8. Doubt
It’s common to see a movie with several great performances — most of the movies on this list qualify — but how often do you a movie with nothing but great performances? In “Doubt” all four leads — Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis — were equally outstanding. The film’s titular theme, elucidated in a crisp screenplay from director and source material playwright John Patrick Shanley, couldn’t be more timely, either.

9. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Kurt Kuenne set out to make a documentary as a tribute to his murdered friend Andrew Bagby, and became a witness to a series of events involving the people he left behind so impossibly tragic that they would seem laughably contrived in a fiction film (the fact that the woman suspected in the Bagby murder turns out to be an ex-girlfriend AND is carrying his unborn son is just the very tip of the iceberg). You could argue that by withholding certain information about where his story is going to heighten its emotional impact, Kuenne isn’t playing fair. But then, as this movie shows so powerfully, life rarely does.

12192008_achristmastale.jpg10. A Christmas Tale
Only a filmmaker as talented and as daring as Arnaud Desplechin could make such a warm comedy out of terminal cancer. “A Christmas Tale”‘s barebones description — an estranged family returns home for the first time in years because the matriarch is dying of cancer and a bone-marrow donor is needed — sounds like a downer. But Despleschin’s technique, including (but not limited to) flashback, narration, split-screen, irises, dissolves, direct address, plays within the film – makes the film one of the liveliest (and alive-est, if we can pretend for a moment that that’s a word) of the year.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): The Bank Job, Burn After Reading, Chicago 10, Encounters at the End of the World, The Fall, Pineapple Express, Quid Pro Quo, Shotgun Stories, Snow Angels, Step Brothers.

Alison Willmore

It wasn’t a disappointing year so much as one without surprises — while 2008 had its share of fine films, there was nothing audacious that arrived out of nowhere to knock my socks off, to show me something new. Arnaud Desplechin’s “A Christmas Tale” was one of the few that felt truly electric, the dysfunctional family gathering chestnut filtered through an insanely cinematic prism, a far richer, larger-than-life Gallic one-upping of Demme’s uneven and staunchly naturalistic “Rachel Getting Married.”

Gus Van Sant contributed the headily semi-experimental “Paranoid Park,” but it was “Milk,” his return to not just traditional narrative but the claustrophobic confines of the biopic, that was unexpectedly appealing, a portrait of a martyr to a cause that never lost sight of the flesh and blood humanity of its subjects. “Happy-Go-Lucky” and “Frownland” were combative, with infuriating main characters that challenged your ability to sympathize — initially, for the former, and quite possible ever for the latter. And “Wendy and Lucy” and “The Order of Myths” offered, through their incisive observations of a fictional girl who loses her dog and a very real and still racially segregated southern celebration, deep focus ruminations on where we are as a nation. The majority of the films on the list below I first saw over half a year ago — due to the nature of the festival circuit, sure, but also to the fact that the more recent releases that have been clustered in the current award season have been letdowns.

1. A Christmas Tale
2. Wendy and Lucy
3. Paranoid Park
4. Happy-Go-Lucky
12192008_milk.jpg5. Silent Light
6. The Order of Myths
7. Frownland
8. Milk
9. Momma’s Man
10. Reprise

Honorable mentions, in alphabetical order: Flight of the Red Balloon, Love Songs, My Winnipeg, Snow Angels, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, WALL-E, Waltz with Bashir, Woman on the Beach, The Wrestler

Michael Atkinson

As usual these days (but not, notably, last year), 2008 was rescued by the Asians, even if they didn’t remain in Asia proper. Otherwise, my list looks like a clear vote for the new wave-ist upsurge in minimalist realism/realist minimalism, Asian or American, which always seems all the more remarkable when compared in taste tests with Hollywood parade floats and middle-class-middle-age-courting Euro-dramas, which if anything often resemble the unbearable U.S. studio product of decades past. A cinema of idiosyncratic personal force overshadows the products of the machine, even as the “specialty” venues dwindle.

1. My Winnipeg
2. Ballast
3. Wendy and Lucy
4. Silent Light
5. Still Life
6. Waltz with Bashir
7. Flight of the Red Balloon
8. The Wrestler
9. Synecdoche, New York
10. My Blueberry Nights

Honorable mentions, in order: Times and Winds, The Duchess of Langeais, WALL-E, Appaloosa, Che, Alexandra, Pineapple Express, Jellyfish, Milk, The Edge of Heaven, Boy A, My Father My Lord, Encounters at the End of the World, Snow Angels, Chop Shop, Stuff and Dough, In Bruges

[Photos: “Wendy and Lucy,” Oscilloscope Pictures, 2008; “My Winnipeg,” IFC Films, 2008; “The Wrestler,” Fox Searchlight, 2008; “A Christmas Tale,” IFC Films, 2008; “Milk,” Focus Features, 2008]


Masters of Disguise

10 Celebs Who Went in Disguise For a Laugh

Catch David Krumholtz in Gigi Does It starting October 1st at 10:30P on IFC.

Posted by on

Are you ready for Gigi Rotblum? Armed with a hefty bank account left to her by her late hubby, the 76-year-old yenta is grabbing life by the balls and shocking everyone within earshot with her no-nonsense attitude.

But it turns out there’s a man behind the granny — Yes, the star of the new IFC series Gigi Does It is actually actor David Krumholtz, who you probably know from shows like Numb3rs and movies like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Krumholtz causes all kinds of trouble when he encounters people while undercover as his prosthetically enhanced alter ego.

In honor of the premiere of Gigi Does It, join us for a look at a long line of celebrities who’ve gone undercover for laughs.

1. David Krumholtz

video player loading . . .

Krumholtz isn’t the first big-name celeb to become unrecognizable for a good, old-fashioned prank, but he’s definitely our new favorite. Accompanied by her trusty male nurse, Gigi isn’t afraid to give an art gallery curator her creative opinion on the works in his collection, or to tell a bunch of grannies how she slipped a nip in front of her grandkids. (Click here to watch a free episode of Gigi Does It.)

2. Drake

Despite his immense stardom, Drake is a polarizing figure. There are many people who have no patience for him or his music, and to weed these people out for himself, the hip hop star went undercover on the street in California. Thankfully, Jimmy Kimmel and his “I Witness News” team were on hand to watch the whole thing play out.

3. Channing Tatum

Everyone loves Channing Tatum. It’s not rocket science. But add in a special early screening of Magic Mike XXL, male strippers, and an added surprise, and it’s no wonder people couldn’t contain themselves. The added surprise was Tatum going undercover as an old man conducting a survey with the attendees. People laughed when he later gyrated on the lap of a woman in the front row, but the party really took off when he revealed his true identity.

4. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ah-nuld can’t really go anywhere without getting noticed. So in order to promote the After School All-Stars charity, the Terminator star disguised himself as a trainer at a Gold’s Gym who just happened to sound exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thankfully his intense mustache didn’t scare folks off from ever setting foot inside a gym again.

5. David Beckham

Ellen DeGeneres likes to use her powers for good, making some of the celebrity guests on her talk show go in disguise to prank regular folks. For David Beckham, the comedienne had him pose as a Target employee and say and do ridiculous things to get customers to smell his cologne. Like Schwarzenegger, however, people caught on pretty quickly that it was really the soccer star under that fake mustache and glasses.

6. Ashton Kutcher

The That ’70s Show star made a career out of pranking people with Punk’d, so he decided to use his skills in this arena to sell some tablets. The actor became Coordrey, a product engineer for Lenovo, in order to get customers to purchase their new product. Normally we would denounce those who would shamelessly use their powers for commercial purposes, but this is pretty amusing.

7. Kim Kardashian

Raise your hand if you would like to tell Kim Kardashian what you really think of her — to her face, no less. Some people inadvertently got to do that when the princess of the Kardashian clan went undercover on an episode of Celebrity Undercover. The premise was that candidates were being interviewed for a job as Kim’s assistant, while the reality star herself got to hear what everyone was saying about her.

8. Bryan Cranston

Cranston pulled the perfect prank at Comic Con 2013 by walking around the show floor as his Breaking Bad alter ego Walter White. The mask was so spot-on, no one realized it was the actual Heisenberg underneath.

9. Johnny Knoxville

The Jackass maven had a huge comedy hit by disguising himself under prosthetic make-up to play a cranky senior. Perhaps he should drop by Gigi’s place for a cocktail or two.

10. Sacha Baron Cohen

Whether as Borat, Ali G or Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career out of pranking people with his outrageous characters.

Gigi Does It

Date Gigi

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Gigi Does It and Tear Up the Dating Scene

Catch the season finale of Gigi Does It tonight at 10:30P ET/PT on IFC.

Posted by on

Listen up, widows and widowers: It’s time to stop your sulking! Whip up a beta blocker-and-Metamucil cocktail and hit the club, because it’s time for you to get back out there. But if it’s been awhile since you hit the dating scene, don’t fret. Tonight’s season finale of Gigi Does It at 10:30P ET/PT will guide you in the ways of modern love. Here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s episode and be a hellcat at your next senior singles mixer.

1. Maintain personal boundaries.

Courting rituals have changed quite a bit since the Eisenhower era, with physical relationships starting way before marriage. But no matter how much of a superfreak you are in the sack, don’t let anyone else tell you when you’re ready to show off those skills. Though right after the desert course might not be the best time to propose a public tryst, lest you end up on the receiving end of a drink to the face like Leonard here.

2. Cast a wide net.

As the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea — so why not peruse the market before settling on a catch? Attend a speed dating event and let first impressions do all the work. You deserve a break. And it’s a great opportunity to show off your singing voice and/or share some cat stories.

3. Hide any inappropriate body art.

A first date might not be the best time to reveal your ink or your get-rich-quick scheme. That’s more of a third date thing.

4. Let Gigi keep you up-to-date with the latest trends in vulgarity.

Loose lips may sink ships, but no one wants an old fuddy duddy as a first mate. It’s time to undo that truss and check out this Gigi clip which removes the bleeps and blurs for a NSFW look at the foul-mouthed granny in action.

5. Remember: You’re a grandparent first and a lover second.

Rather than let casual sex rule her life, Gigi knows that being a grandparent trumps a roll in the hay every time. But do those nasty urchins appreciate their bubbes? As a little reminder, Gigi penned a children’s book that puts guilt back into grammar school literature. Give it a read here.

Gigi Does It Ice Skating

Gigi's Ready, Are You?

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Gigi Does It

Catch Gigi Does It Mondays at 10:30P on IFC.

Posted by on

Garfield might hate Mondays, but now that Gigi Does It is in its new time slot Mondays at 10:30P ET/PT, it’s your new favorite day of the week. Here are five ways you can get ready for tonight’s all-new episode.

1. Watch David Krumholtz Become Gigi

video player loading . . .

Wondering how David Krumholtz transforms into Gigi? Check out a video time lapse to see the incredible work that goes on behind-the-scenes of Gigi Does It.

2. Get in Touch With Your Inner Kristy Yamatushy

video player loading . . .

This week Gigi and Ricky hit the ice. Will they fall flat or soar like Olympic great Kristy Yamtushy?

3. See the Video That’s Too Hot for Facebook

video player loading . . .

Gigi has a filthy mouth that is NSFW and Not Safe for Facebook. Check out the video Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want you to see.

4. Read Gigi’s Book “Call Your Grandmother”

Call Your Grandmother

Gigi became an author recently when she self-published her heartwarming children’s book about the perils of forgetting to call your dear grandma. Read the story that could give Go the F**k to Sleep a run for its money on the bestseller charts.

5. Put on Something that Highlights Your Kishkes

video player loading . . .

You’ll want to slip into something comfortable when you watch Gigi. Just ask poor Ricky.


The Future Is Funny

The 10 Funniest Sci-Fi Comedies

Happy Back to the Future Day!

Posted by on

Often covering heady concepts like philosophy and tragic social norms, science fiction is always in danger of being too dry and dour for its own good. However intelligent and astute the observations may be, if the themes don’t align with the tone, the end results could be a slog to watch. Sometimes we just want laughs to accompany aliens, time travel, and dystopian futures. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of sci-fi comedies that perfectly pair humor and futuristic wonder into a delightful package.

Here are 10 such sci-fi comedies that deserve a play when you need cheering up.

10. Repo Man

A staple in the cult film pantheon, Repo Man throws a punk-rocking Emilio Estevez into the bizarre world of car repossession set against a backdrop of a slightly-more-dystopian version of Los Angeles. Featuring veteran weirdo Harry Dean Stanton, a Chevy Malibu with aliens in the trunk, and a thumbnail philosophy centered around a hypothetical plate of shrimp, this midnight movie is a must-watch for those who are sick of boilerplate plotlines.

9. Night of the Comet

If you ever watched Valley Girl and thought it could use some zombies, then Night of the Comet is for you. This unfairly forgotten gem pits two mall-obsessed sisters against undead stockboys, bloodthirsty soldiers, and healthy teenage hormones in a post-apocalyptic land straight out of Omega Man. With tongue firmly in cheek, Night of the Comet is a fun and cheesy sci-fi comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

8. They Live

Written and directed by genre king John Carpenter, They Live is a hilariously over-the-top treatise against commercialism, government control, and religious zealotry. The movie stars the sadly late (and never-better) Roddy Piper as migrant worker Nada who finds a special pair of sunglasses that reveal a world choked with subliminal consumerist messages and humanoid aliens. It’s endlessly quotable with a ridiculous yet valid message and contains the best street fight ever captured on film.

7. Idiocracy

If you’ve read the comment section for an article on the Kardashians, energy drinks, or the state of our educational system, then you’re probably familiar with Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Depicting a future where every American institution has crumbled due to wanton stupidity, average bloke Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) becomes an Einstein among the mentally challenged and humanity’s last hope for survival. Like Judge’s Office Space, Idiocracy achieved cult status after a mismanaged theatrical release. It was also oddly prescient.

6. Innerspace

Endless charm and eye-popping special effects rev this high-energy, high-concept Joe Dante sci-fi comedy. Basically a goofball version of Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace injects a minuscule bio-pod piloted by Dennis Quaid into a neurotic Martin Short and propels them into the dangerous scientific underworld of nanotechnology supremacy. Quaid and Short — along with Meg Ryan, Robert Picardo, and Kevin McCarthy — are fun personified in this rollicking, rewatchable classic.

5. Galaxy Quest

Unfairly derided as “Three Amigos in space,” Galaxy Quest is actually one of the most accurate depictions of sci-fi tropes and geek fandom ever produced. A thinly veiled satire of the original Star Trek series, the ensemble comedy tackles everything from fan conventions to space-based MacGuffins, but does so with an unmistakable love for the genre.

4. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Movie concepts don’t come any higher: A lovable pair of wannabe rock gods travel through time in a phone booth to assemble historical figures as a means to pass their history final and unite the planet through music. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are an effusive duo you can’t help but love, George Carlin as their time-guide Rufus is perfectly cast, and the moral message (“Be excellent to each other and party on, dudes!”) should be a real-world Golden Rule.

3. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

With a running time of 75 minutes and lacking a second “Mad” for loonier interplay, MST3K: The Movie is considered a lesser entry when compared to the television series. However, Mike and the Bots are in top form when mocking the sci-fi flick This Island Earth — Interocitor assembly and alien foreheads have never been richer for riffs — and any fan of the show would be remiss to skip the film.

2. Tie: Ghostbusters and Men in Black

It doesn’t get any more quotable than Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as the titular spectre-snatching quartet. At its core, this beloved treasure follows the hardships of a new fringe business as it tries to find a reliable customer base. But add supernatural elements, and Ghostbusters becomes a perfect blend of comedy, sci-fi (those proton packs wouldn’t be out of place on Star Trek) and the occult. Every line in every scene is a bona fide classic, rightfully earning the film its place among other worn-out VHS tapes in our collection. Meanwhile, Men in Black channels Ghostbusters with its mix of comedy, sci-fi and creepy creature-based bureaucracy.

1. Back to the Future

Arguably the best matchup in a comedy film, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are absolutely perfect in this 1985 favorite. Back to the Future features Fox as a time-traveling teen sent back 30 years whose existence is in jeopardy when his 17-year-old mother falls in love with him and his father is too shy and weak-willed to pursue her. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay and spending 11 weeks at number one in the box office, Back to the Future is the rare mix of audience appreciation and critical acclaim — not to mention comedy and sci-fi.

Powered by ZergNet