BRISBANE, Australia — Top Five Films Of 2008
One of the most beautiful and charming films of 2008 would have to be Pixar’s latest offering, “Wall-E.” Not only is the animation spectacular – just watch as Wall-E first enters outer space – but the story is so engaging it’s hard to believe that there is barely any dialog. With only a few beeps and bops, sound designer Ben Burtt was able to infuse Wall-E with more charisma and personality than most of Hollywood’s leading men. He is a little robot with a heart of gold, cleaning up Earth and dreaming of the day when he can hold the hand of his true love. Enter Eve, a new robot sent to the human-devoid Earth to search for signs of life on the dying planet. The resulting courtship between Wall-E and Eve is affecting and very funny (for adults and children alike). Wall-E is a bumbling fool, awkwardly trying to impress the object of his infatuation. Even as the film moves into the faster second act, Wall-E and Eve’s misadventures on the human controlled Axiom spaceship continue to amuse, especially when they join forces with other charismatic robots in the repair shop. On a serious note the film also creates a very real dystopia, in which mass consumerism has forced all humans to abandon Earth, leaving the clean up job to little robots like Wall-E. The human characters are depicted as fat and lazy, almost completely oblivious to their state of denial, in what is a very pointed commentary about society today. But “Wall-E” is ultimately a kid’s film, with absolutely beautiful animation, endearing protagonists and a third act which has one of the most heart- breaking and tear inducing scenes I have ever seen. Relax though – it’s a Disney film so you can be sure of a happy ending.
Best Scene: Wall-E and Eve share an intimate moment while floating in the star-studded abyss of outer space.
2. The Dark Knight
“Why so serious?” Heath Ledger’s tour de force performance as The Joker is truly the icing on a cake layered with many levels of cinematic spectacle. Beautifully orchestrated by director and screen writer Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight” starts where prequel “Batman Begins” left off – Batman has joined forces with Commissioner Gordon in order to deal with the escalation of crime in Gotham. But neither are prepared for what criminal mastermind, The Joker has in store. Ledger’s Joker is every bit an “agent of chaos,” laughing manically as he pushes Batman to his extremes and (violently) questions society’s moral code. Rather than humanize The Joker via a heart-breaking Anakin/Darth Vader back story, Nolan keeps his arch villain unsympathetic and totally unpredictable, allowing the narrative arc to depict the tragic demise of Harvey Dent. But to focus purely on the late Heath Ledger’s performance would be to ignore a stellar cast, notably Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader, Aaron Eckhart as Gotham D.A Harvey Dent and a top-of-his-game Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. Amazing visuals, a bone chilling score and one of the most suspenseful scenes ever seen on film, all work together to make “The Dark Knight” one of the best films of 2008.
Best Scene: Batman interrogates The Joker only to be blindsided by a new revelation. “You’re going to have to play my little game if you want to save one of…them.” Scary.
3. Iron Man
The success of “Iron Man” can be summed up in three words – Robert Downey Jr. “Iron Man” might have crashed and burned had it not been for Downey’s arrogant yet oddly endearing performance as millionaire industrialist Tony Stark. He pulls off what could have been a cheesy change-of-heart scene to really make the audience believe that a weapons manufacturer could develop a conscience – all while munching down on a cheeseburger! Downey’s non-stop banter adds to the character’s charm and Jon Favreau’s keen direction keeps the film from dragging. An impressive cast, including Jeff Bridges and the soon-to-be-replaced Terrence Howard, give the comic book adaptation a much needed plausibility factor, supported in part by the superb special effects. Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts is of course excellent, delivering one of the best put downs to a recently bedded and scathing Vanity Fair journalist, “I do everything and anything Mr Stark requires, including on occasion, taking out the trash.” But this really is Downey’s film – from riding in the “funvee,” and enjoying a lap dance in his private airplane, to blowing up terrorist training camps, Tony Stark is truly the anti-hero. We can’t wait for him to get back into the iron suit.
Best Scene: Tony Stark’s first outing as the Iron Man.
If ever a film were to be characterized as a guilty pleasure than it is “Twilight.” Its shortcomings are obvious and mostly budget dependent (lackluster special effects and an over reliance on wire work) but it’s hardly the reason fans have been lining up to see the film over and over again. Come on – it’s a Gothic and impossible love story between a human girl and a vampire! What more could you want. The relationship between Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, beautifully depicted by so-hot-right-now Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, is really the heart of “Twilight.” While some critics have judged the film harshly for its high level of teen angst and brooding stares, to fans that is what it’s all about. “Twilight” is no cinematic masterpiece but it doesn’t intend to be. Rather, it attempts to capture the underlying sexual tension and euphoria of first love, and boy does it deliver. The young cast are impressive with Peter Facinelli a stand out as the calm and always gentle Dr Carlisle Cullen. It is a pity however that you don’t see more of Cam Gigandet, the menacing vampire/ tracker/ resident bad ass James. He gives the “Twilight” vampires some much needed – forgive the pun – bite. But at least we can be sure that his fiery mate Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) will be back in future films to help with the body count. Her cameo at the prom was both sinister and exciting – come on “New Moon!”
Best Scene: Bella joins the Cullen’s for a game of baseball, vampire style.
Ok, this entry is likely to divide readers, but as an Aussie, I just couldn’t overlook Baz Luhrmann’s epic film, “Australia.” A visually stunning and highly emotive film, “Australia” has been subjected to a high degree of scrutiny, especially from Australian film critics. Debates concerning culture and national identity follow nearly every film which purports to be quintessentially Australian and this film was, of course, no exception. National cinema in Australia has always been pre-occupied with discovering and identifying who we are as a nation – a nearly impossible feat for a two hour film. Luckily Baz Luhrmann doesn’t seem to let such considerations plague the screenplay. I for one see no reason why the love story and underlying themes of the film should not resonate with an international audience. After all, it really is a fairly simple story of the English rose, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) who moves to Australia and ends up on a cattle drove (don’t ask), where she meets and eventually falls in love with The Drover (Hugh Jackman, aka sexiest man alive). On a more serious note, the film also deals with plight of indigenous Australian’s in the 1940s with particular reference to the Stolen Generation – the Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents and put into White controlled missions, in accordance with the horrific government policy of the time. Much has been said of Kidman and Jackman’s performances but the true star of this film is newcomer Brandon Walters as the half caste Nullah and the always reliable David Wenham, as the uber bastard Fletcher, who is able to take the somewhat ridiculous Australian slang and make it believable. That said there are some colloquialisms I have NEVER heard of – particularly The Drover’s retort, “shut your damper hole.” But it is easy to overlook some of the more cringy moments when you consider Luhrmann’s beautiful re-creation of life in the 1940s Northern Territory and the cinematic spectacle, which the film delivers.
Best Scene: Lady Sarah Ashley gets a shock after seeing her first kangaroo.
Other great films of 2008 (in no particular order)
* “Son of Rambow”
* “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
* “Quantum of Solace”
* “The Orphanage”
* “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”