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List: 2008’s Comeback Kids (For Better or Worse)

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01062008_mickeyrourke.jpgBy Nick Schager

Americans love comebacks, meaning that for all the domestic and international turmoil of the past 12 months, the country must have dug 2008’s cinematic offerings. Sure, typical sequelitis plagued summer cineplexes for better and, more often than not, worse. Yet familiar franchises weren’t the only ones to return to the big screen spotlight — some of the year’s most critically and commercially triumphant films and performances were the handiwork of once-beloved artists attempting to rebound from prior misfires or, in the case of one gifted-actor-gone-to-seed, coming off of decades’ worth of obscurity. So, as we put 2008 to bed, we salute and decry, respectively, the year’s best and worst in return engagements.


Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
The once electrifying Rourke’s slow climb out of obsolescence began with 2005’s “Sin City,” and finished with this, director Darren Aronofsky’s saga about a washed-up wrestler’s last shot at marquee stardom. It’s the performance of a lifetime, in large part because it’s one that piercingly resonates as a self-portrait, though Rourke’s magnificence isn’t simply the byproduct of fiction-mirroring-reality. With a flick of his long blonde locks or the slow, methodical way his battered body grinds into motion, Rourke nails wrestling realities, while also capturing something universal about pain, about sacrifice and about the dignity of knowing, and embracing, one’s inherent self.

01062008_dannyboyle.jpgDanny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Having, with “28 Days Later…” and “Millions,” recovered from a string of flops following 1996’s “Trainspotting,” Danny Boyle again somewhat lost his way in 2007 with the part-Kubrick, part-“Event Horizon” sci-fi saga “Sunshine.” The British director found himself back on terra firma, however, with “Slumdog Millionaire,” a boisterous Dickensian tale of childhood, friendship, love and game shows infused with both aesthetic electricity and heart. It’s not as fantastic as its growing collection of year-end awards might suggest, but Boyle’s distinctive, rowdy crowd-pleaser is nonetheless his finest effort in years.

David Wain, “Role Models”
No amount of goodwill wrought from his time on MTV’s ’90s sketch comedy show “The State” or his awesomely funny 2001 film “Wet Hot American Summer” could excuse actor/director David Wain for his 2007 flop, “The Ten,” a slapdash collection of bible-themed skits tied together by a running adultery gag featuring Paul Rudd’s most middling work since his stint on “Friends.” Both Wain and Rudd came back nicely, however, with “Role Models,” an adults-cursing-at-kids comedy that accomplished something that few of its brethren managed this year: generating profane laughter undiluted by Judd Apatow-style sentimentality.

01062008_indianajones.jpgTHE WORST

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Virtually no one wanted a fourth Indy adventure starring 66-year-old Harrison Ford, yet in their infinite wisdom, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg pressed forward anyway. The result was a misbegotten summer blockbuster along the lines of “The Phantom Menace,” whose box office success was predicated not on quality but on affection for the series’ preceding classics. With lame extraterrestrial artifacts, lamer Russian villains, and, lamest of all, a tree vine-swinging sequence featuring a pompadoured monkey (seriously) — “Crystal Skull” was so disappointingly “meh” that one wishes the script had remained buried at the bottom of Lucas’ desk drawer.

“Star Wars: Clone Wars”
Speaking of Mr. Lucas, his latest “Star Wars” miscarriage is one that discerning moviegoers should remain far, far away from. An animated adventure that fills in the unimportant gaps between “Episode II” and “Episode III” and serves as little more than a launching pad for a Cartoon Network TV series, this kids’ film featured stilted CGI, a story with no dramatic import and a new, feisty female character whose main positive attribute was not being quite as intolerable as Jar Jar. “Clone Wars” feels like a trivial, creatively uninspired cash grab, making it no different than Lucas’ recent live-action prequels.

01062008_righteouskill.jpgRobert De Niro and Al Pacino, “Righteous Kill”
Michael Mann’s superlative direction, and specifically his key decision to grant the legendary actors only one face-off, allowed “Heat” to live up to its billing as De Niro and Pacino’s titanic maiden showdown. “Righteous Kill” reteams the two as cop partners, though with director Jon Avnet — he of the equally wretched Pacino vehicle “88 Minutes” — indulging in spastically flashy visual devices and both stars having long since reduced themselves to caricatures of their respective personas (De Niro the raging bull, Pacino the loudmouthed smooth talker), the once-great thespians’ reunion was as painfully embarrassing as any drunken high school anniversary get-together.

[Photos: “The Wrestler,” Fox Searchlight, 2008; “Slumdog Millionaire,” Fox Searchlight, 2008; “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Paramount Pictures, 2008; “Righteous Kill,” Overture Films, 2008

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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