Again, this is films I saw in the cinema throughout 2008. It includes films that were released in 2007, and omits films which I haven’t seen even though everyone else did and gushed over them (basically Wall-E. I would still hate Australia on basic principle, even if I had gone to see it and it had turned out to be great).

10. Up The Yangtze
if i ever end up as a retired man singing frank sinatra on a rowboat, kill me
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is bitterest.”

A fascinating documentary following the lives of two Chinese teenagers as they begin work on a tourist vessel on the Yangtze River, placing themselves into the servitude of fat tourists from America and Europe. The boy is a well-educated, spoiled, snobby asshole; one of China’s Little Princes, an unforeseen side effect of the one-child policy. The girl hails from a poor family living in a single-room shack on the banks of the river, soon to be swallowed up by the rising waters as a result of the Three Gorges Dam. Millions of people will be displaced when the dam is complete, and the sight of one old man watching in silence as his house is gradually lost to the waters puts a human face on this tragedy. The flipside, of course, is that the hydroelectric dam will generate massive amounts of clean, green energy; a reminder that nothing is ever black and white.

9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
the horse i the last piece i would choose for this
“It’s like going on vacation with, y’know, not Hitler, but certainly Goebbels.”

Apatow Comedy Flick #4392, and in my opinion the best of the bunch. Following a nasty breakup, protagonist Peter heads to a resort in Hawaii to relax for a few weeks, only to find that his ex and her new boyfriend are in the room next to his. Hijinks ensue.

Most Apatow films aren’t nearly as good as people claim – Superbad was especially overrated – but this one was a bright, clever little comedy with plenty of laughs. What I particularly like about it is how it subverts expectations; by traditional convention, in a film like this, Sarah Marshall’s new boyfriend should be an insufferable prick. He’s actually a very nice, friendly guy, and he and Peter become friends by the end of the movie. Likewise, Sarah Marshall herself remains on decent terms with Peter, and had a good justification for breaking up with him. Nobody in this movie is irredeemably bad – just like real life. Fancy that.

8. Frost/Nixon
apparently if the president does it it's not illegal
“We are gonna make the motherfuckers choke!”

From the writer of The Queen, and also starring Tony Blair, Frost/Nixon is based on a play which recreates (with some poetic license) the famous interviews between British talk show host David Frost and disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon.

Watergate happened fifteen years before I was born, and it was in fact only earlier this year that I realised I had absolutely no idea what it involved and set about trying to understand it. I’d still never heard of the interviews, which is interesting, because they makes a great story: Nixon wanted the money and thought that Frost, an entertainer rather than a proper journalist, would be easy to handle. Frost instead proved quite cunning and cornered Nixon into admitting guilt in the Watergate scandal – the only time he ever did so publicly.

Michael Sheen gives a performance that’s nothing particularly special, but Frank Langella as Nixon is absolutely brilliant – a man who so desperately wanted to be loved by the American people, but never was. By the end of the film, against all odds, you feel incredibly sorry for the poor bastard.

Plus Rebecca Hall is gorgeous. I never seem to find movie stars good-looking the way other people do, but holy shit.

7. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
this is heavy, doc
“If I told you that I came from the future, would you laugh?”

Luna Leederville had a little anime-fest earlier this year, and amidst all the Japanese robot rubbish with their fancy CGI and retarded plotlines was this little gem. It’s strikingly similar to a Ghibli film, but it’s not. Essentially, high school girl Makoto is unexpectedly granted the ability of time travel, and discovers its advantages and drawbacks in the traditional manner, following in the footsteps of Bill and Ted and Marty McFly.

What I remember more about this movie was its rich atmosphere. It all takes place on lazy summer afternoons, in those precious few hours of leisure time you get after school, with the chirping of the crickets and the sun over the baseball field and whatnot, and this is beautifully rendered in colourful animation. It made me incredibly nostalgic for high school, even though it’s set in Japan and I hated high school anyway. Well worth seeing.

6. Cloverfield
move, children! vamonos!
“Beth lives in midtown. Midtown is that way. You know what else is that way? Some horrific shit!”

This was a really cool one. It started out with just those trailers of a party interrupted by some cataclysmic event, with not even a name for the film, just a date. We all know the story by now, of course – New York is devastated by a horrific monster and several friends do their best to survive, but with the added gimmick of all the action being seen from a hand-held video camera.

What I loved best about this movie was that the director never once spoonfed people the story. There’s no explanation for what’s going on, no scientist explaining things to the White House, no neat solution where the monster is lured into the bay and killed by the might of the U.S. military. Nor do we see much of the monster; only glimpses as it strides between buildings in the dark, or background feeds on news channels. We know only what the characters do, which is to say, not much. Speaking of the characters, they were a cut above the average horror movie protagonists. Not once did they make a decision I disagreed with, and they were quite intelligent and resourceful throughout. An excellent popcorn movie, but one that needs to be seen in the cinema to truly appreciate.

5. The Mist
AARRRGHHHHHHHHHHHH
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll think of something.”

Let me say straight-up that Stephen King’s novella “The Mist” is the best thing he’s ever written (at least, that I’ve read). Yes, it’s better than The Stand. It easily ranks on my top 10 list of the greatest pieces of science fiction ever written. If you want to know how influential it was, well, it was the primary inspiration for Half-Life. I read it in 2005 and absolutely fucking loved it.

When I found out that it was finally being turned into a movie, I had mixed hopes. I doubted anything could ever be as good as the book, but it was being directed by Frank Darabont, who made the brilliant films The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption (both also based on King books).

So I went to see it, and it did okay. It was a decent film; about as good as you could expect from a book adaptation. That was until the last two minutes, when it went from “pretty good” to “absolutely fucking incredible.”

It’s one of the best movie endings I’ve seen in a very long time. I have difficulty believing it was actually given wide-release to American audiences, considering how shocking and brutal it is. King himself said that if he’d thought of it when writing the novel, he would have used it.

Do yourself a favour and rent out this movie, without looking up anything about it first.

4. Gone Baby Gone
ed harris and his elite alien-hunting squad
“Well, it all depends on how you look at it. I mean, you might think you’re more ‘from here’ than me, for example. But I’ve been living here longer than you’ve been alive. So who’s right?”

Directed by Ben Affleck and starring his younger brother Casey, Gone Baby Gone follows two private investigators as they try to find a woman’s abducted child in the seedy streets of Boston. While on the surface it appears to be a standard crime movie, the story goes a lot deeper than that, creating some complex moral quandraries and leaving the characters facing an unbearable, impossible decision at the film’s climax.

Beyond that, it’s a generally well made film – well-written, well-directed, and especially well-acted. Casey Affleck, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman are all brilliant; even the extras are cast surprisingly well.

3. Slumdog Millionaire
god bless this miserable shit of a country
“Perhaps it is written, no?”

A very different movie. Rags to riches, coming of age, romance, crime story… you could even call it a biopic of India itself. Never before – at least not to my memory – have Western audiences seen a film set in the sweeping glory of modern India, from the squalid slums to the mansions of the rich, from the crowded, sweaty trains to the futuristic set of a game show.

The movie follows Jamal Malik, an Indian Muslim, as he is interrogated by police who believe he has been cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Each question sparks a flashback to an earlier point in Jamal’s life, from the murder of his mother in a religious riot, to the days he spent travelling on the roofs of India’s trains with his brother, to his time in a bustling modern call centre. What the film does so perfectly is juxtaposition. Modern India is juxtaposition, with filthy slums sitting between highways and office buildings, with insanely rich businessmen living alongside people who can barely afford food. No scene in the movie illustrates this disparity better than when Jamal returns to his home city and sees new high-rise buildings growing up where the slums used to be (pictured above).

A colourful, vibrant, wonderful film.

2. There Will Be Blood
I DRINK YOUR.... MILKSHAKE!
“Is H.W. okay?”
“No.”

An amazingly well-crafted film. Deeply disturbing, very dark and ultimately depressing, the film itself is largely carried along by Daniel Day Lewis’ powerful performance as the greedy, hateful oilman Daniel Plainview. The thing about this movie is that it is, in fact, quite tedious – drab, monochrome, and focusing on a very dull subject. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s so perfectly crafted, so unbelievably intense and real, that you’re carried along nonetheless. You cannot turn away. It is cold, terrifying, and relentless – one of the best movies of the last ten years.

1. The Dark Knight
man the air feels good on my neck!
“The bandit, in Burma. Did you catch him?”
“Yes.”
“How?”
“We burned the forest down.”

Could it be anything else? Cristopher Nolan has single-handedly reshaped the genre of the comic-book movie. Building on what he started with Batman Begins, he continues to strip away the cheesiness, the immaturity, the general silliness of the superhero mythos, and replaces it with something very dark indeed. The Dark Knight plays more along the lines of a psychological horror film like Seven, or a fast-paced action-thriller like Heat, than any of the superhero movies that preceded it. This is a movie for adults, not children, leaving behind the familiar worlds inspired by childhood fantasies and venturing into the rugged territory of artistic merit.

Heath Ledger’s performance, somehow, lived up to all the hype: he is haunting as the Joker, a twisted and crippled soul with disturbing, fungus-like makeup, wreaking havoc across Gotham City of the sheer joy of it. Michael Caine is perfect as the impeccable butler Alfred, faithful servant and companion. Gary Oldman is reliably believable as the nerdy police commissioner with a terrible moustache. Aaron Eckhart is great as district-attorney Harvey Dent, for whom a horrible destiny awaits. And while Christian Bale makes a merely adequate Batman, he is an excellent Bruce Wayne – a swaggering, spoilt playboy millionaire whom nobody would ever suspect of being Gotham’s defender. Gotham City, thanks to superb cinematography, is a character in itself: a dark urban wilderness of skyscrapers and shipping containers, warehouses and highways, harbouring dark citizens and dark secrets.

If only they’d kept the original theme music.

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