The Cynical Optimist : Best of 2008

Once again, it is that time of the year in which we as a collective culture look back on the best and worst moments of the year. While some people are probably more focused on actual important things like the economy or the ongoing war in Iraq – the monumental outcome of this year’s presidential election – I will reflect strictly on the pop culture side of things, detailing my top (and bottom) picks of the year.

The 10 Best Films of 2008

10) Cloverfield

“Cloverfield” is a triumph for fans of the monster genre. The filmmakers create a claustrophobic sense of entrapment that turns the sprawling cityscape of Manhattan into a deadly maze where there is literally no escape. It isn’t just a popcorn flick, it’s a comprehensive mind-blowing experience.

9) Wall-E

Movies have the ability to make the viewer feel a variety of different emotions. You may laugh or cry, scream out in horror, gasp in total shock – but very seldom does a film truly make you feel joy. “WALL-E” is a wonderful little film, and it’s not hard to see why he’s so gosh-darned lovable. Pixar and Andrew Staunton put a lot of love and care into this movie, and it completely shows.

8) Milk

“Milk” is one of the more well-written, directed and acted films to grace cinemas in a long time. 2008 has been a wonderful year for film and performances, and no doubt has “Milk” quickly climbed to the top of the list. It’s a triumphant historical drama that delves into the life of a man every bit as important as Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy, but seldom known outside of the Gay and Lesbian community.

7) Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle delivers a powerful story with dazzling imagery teeming with vivid colors, and engaging characters. “Slumdog Millionaire” is wonderfully entertaining and powerfully heartfelt – filled with those soaring moments of triumph that have delighted us as moviegoers for years.

6) Frost/Nixon

“Frost / Nixon” is Ron Howard’s best film. That’s my opinion. That’s my critique. Peter Morgan’s excellent play has made a wonderful transition to the big screen – a rare feat in its own right. On top of that, add award-worthy performances and a gripping, drama doused story, and you’ve got one of the best films of 2008.

5) The Dark Knight

“The Dark Knight” is the reason I love movies. It’s a haunting, poetic experience that will stick with you long after viewing. Its multiple layers, each so deep with subtle nuance, may completely absorb you into the universe DC Comics and Christopher Nolan have created.

4) Let The Right One In

It’s one of the finest films I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. It’s a beautiful, serene experience that will chill you to the bone while warming your heart with those fuzzy feelings of young love. It’s a shame that such great movies like “Let The Right One In” and even last year’s “El Orfanato” are being largely ignored by audiences, especially when these films are far better than 90% of the mainstream fluff filling theaters.

3) Rachel Getting Married

I’m in love “Rachel Getting Married.” It’s a movie I look forward to watching again and again. I envy anyone who gets to sit down and experience its devastating performances and heartfelt story for the first time. Anne Hathaway was stunning in this very intimate, voyeuristic motion picture. Anyone who didn’t put this on their Top Ten should be kicking themselves right now.

2) The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke gives a performance for the ages in this a deeply touching, heart-wrenching film. It’s the classic story of an underdog, a broken down piece of meat which one more shot at glory. It’s better than “Rocky.” There, I said it.

1) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I will never forget the time I sat in a movie theater and watched David Fincher’s mesmerizing film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” It will go down in my own personal cubbyhole of history as a very important and meaningful film that speaks to the soul. For me, this is what filmmaking is all about. And just when I thought Fincher couldn’t outdo his masterful work, “Zodiac,” here he comes and proves me wrong. Thank you Mr. Fincher. Thank you.

The Honorable Mentions

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Guillermo del Toro’s return to Mike Mignola’s Hellboy franchise didn’t break any box office records. It also got lost in the shuffle of a summer where Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight were duking it out for the top superhero spot. Hellboy II: The Golden Army isn’t a flawless film, but it sure is a lot of fun. It’s loud and filled with laughs and exciting action, but you can’t deny the unrelenting imagination of del Toro, whether it be in subtle, masterful works like “Pan’s Labyrinth” or in the comic book panels of Hellboy.

Australia

Baz Luhrmman’s latest film is escapism in its most unadulterated form. I found “Australia” to be one of the more emotionally engaging and overall entertaining films of 2008. Call me a sucker for epic, sweeping romanticism but I really enjoyed the visuals and spectacles contained inside “Australia.”

Pineapple Express

I’m going to go on record right here and say a couple of things. First off, James Franco deserves a nomination for his supporting role in this film. It’s certainly more compelling than the work he did for Gus Van Sant’s “Milk.” Secondly, “Pineapple Express” is funnier than “Tropic Thunder.” There, I said it – go ahead and douse me in gasoline and set me on fire in the town square.

Danny R. McBride gets more to work with in this hilarious weed/action flick than he did in “Tropic Thunder,” which instantly makes the film better. Sorry Robert Downey Jr., I loved you in “Zodiac,” but I’m having a hard time understanding what you did in “Tropic Thunder” that was so phenomenal.

The Wackness

Did everyone forget about this film? Here was a film that was touching and unique. Never have I really longed to visit New York City in the ‘90s, but after seeing “The Wackness” with its abundance of Notorious B.I.G records and drug use I can safely say I’m diggin’ it.

Speed Racer

I think I may have been the only film critic in the world to have thoroughly enjoyed “Speed Racer.” It seems to me many critics have been excruciatingly harsh on this exhilarating cartoon-come-to-life flick, some have even placed it on their “Worst Of 2008″ lists – which is just uncalled for. In a year that brought us absolute shit like “Meet The Spartans,” you’re going to sit there and say Speed Racer wasn’t at least entertaining eye candy? C’mon, you bunch of pretentious bastards, have you forgotten how to have a good time?

The 10 Worst Films of 2008

10) Quarantine

“Quarantine” is a tedious, predictable, sad excuse for a horror film made for the Hot Topic generation. It’s a shame that hollow, empty remakes like this, based solely on gimmick over story, flourish in today’s horror market while films like Mike Dougherty’s “Trick ‘r Treat” struggle to find distribution from big studios who would rather push 34 “Saw” sequels down our throats.

9) The Spirit

The line, “Come on! Toilets are always funny!” is said by The Octopus after he slams a toilet bowl over The Spirit’s head. This is after drumming our hero in the testicles with a monkey wrench the size of an 18-wheeler. The thing is, it isn’t funny, not even in that America’s Funniest Home Videos kind of way.

To me, it’s just a reminder of where a piece of shit like The Spirit belongs.

8) Babylon A.D.

Oh God. This Vin Diesel-fueled piece of garbage is poorly constructed, derivative sci-fi at its worst with a weak script and even poorer action sequences. This is one of those movies that, when I hear someone say they enjoyed it or thought it was good, I instantly judge them as a human being and wish upon them great tragedy.

7) The Ruins

We as the audience must sit through 91 minutes of crying and panicking as the babysitter’s club sits on top of the ruin with no idea of what they’re doing, and as it would seem the filmmakers didn’t have a clue either.

The real horror of “The Ruins” is that this kind of mindless, empty and predictable rubbish is still passable as entertaining horror to today’s audiences.

6) Righteous Kill

50 Cent. Robert De Niro. Al Pacino. Typically, two out of three ain’t bad odds – but here’s the exception. Take into account the fact that Bobby De Niro and Pacino haven’t made a good film since “Heat” and couple that with a worn out story and you’ve got a waste of time and money on your hands. And who exactly thought we need more Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in our movies? Whoever it is, they need to get shot in the chest eight times.

5) The Hottie & The Nottie

This predictable and utterly pointless “comedy” serves little purpose beyond giving Paris Hilton an extra moment to prance around in a bikini and enjoy her final minute of fame. Sweet Lord Jesus, I pray you never have to see this awful movie.

4) The Love Guru

Oh, speaking of awful – here comes Mike Myers recycling the same old jokes, which were already recycled in two “Austin Powers” sequels, yet again in “The Love Guru.” What was he thinking? Did he honestly believe he could pull this off, especially with Mini-Me back in the mix? And really, you’re not shooting for greatness if you’re casting Jessica Alba – she may be pretty, but she’s a God-awful actress. She’s about as talented as Mike Myers is funny in this worthless hunk of junk.

3) Superhero Movie

It isn’t the worst of the spoof genre, we’ll get to those in a second, but it relies on tired gags and lame pop culture references that haven’t even had a year or two to simmer in the collective conscience. Spider-Man came out in 2002 – is it really necessary to spoof a film franchise whose latest sequel (2007) was practically a spoof itself?

2) Meet The Spartans

Fuck. This tired, unfunny piece of shit is offensive to anyone with good taste. Today’s world of instant gratification and short, bite-sized bits of entertainment has made way for a film that is nothing more than 10 second bursts of shitty pop culture references that have already lost the microscopic level of relevance they had when these idiots put it down on paper.

Again, I don’t understand the point in spoofing a film like “300.” I’m sorry, was that movie good? Was it a defining moment in cinema which everyone will instantly recognize? No, I don’t think so. It was testosterone-fueled swords-and-sandals pornography for the video game age. Why spoof it?

1) Disaster Movie

Fuck, not again. With even more flatulence humor, racial stereotypes, and stale pop culture gags, Friedberg and Seltzer have produced what is arguably one of the worst movies ever. Congrats, guys! Thanks for making my life miserable once again. I really appreciate all the hard work you’ve put into making a fucking terrible movie – I hope you all burn in hell. No. Really.

The Best Television

  1. Lost: Season 4
  2. 30 Rock
  3. The Late Show with David Letterman
  4. Saturday Night Live
  5. The Soup

The Worst Television

  1. Heroes: Volume 3: Villains
  2. VH1′s New York Goes to Hollywood
  3. Paris Hilton’s My New BFF
  4. Dancing With The Stars
  5. The Emmy Awards

The Best Albums

  1. GNV FLA by Less Than Jake
  2. Narrow Stairs by Death Cab for Cutie
  3. Folie à Deux by Fall Out Boy
  4. Pretty. Odd. by Panic at the Disco
  5. The Glass Passenger by Jack’s Mannequin

The Best Video Games

  1. Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)
  2. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
  3. Left 4 Dead (Xbox 360)
  4. World of Goo (Wii)
  5. Call of Duty: World at War (Xbox 360)

Yes, I love monster movies, and I think Cloverfield (while it isn’t a cinematic masterpiece on an Academy Award level) fully succeeded at what it set out to do. I was so thoroughly entertained and absorbed into the moment – I totally think it belongs on a top ten list, though I’ve only seen it on a few – such as Massawyrm’s over at Ain’t It Cool News.

I wanted to do a Best Books of 2008, but when I looked back at all the books I read this year, I realized only two of them were actually from 2008. Highlights from my year of reading would include The Road, The Dark Tower Series, When You’re Engulfed in Flames and The Stand.