Posted on 30 December 2008.
The year that ends in a few days had some pleasant surprises among the many releases. Some of these unfortunately, failed to find an audience. Whether it was simply a small release, strong subject matter, or poor marketing, these films were passed over too often but each rewards the viewer with a rich experience. They just weren’t seen in theaters! Alas, with DVD and Blu-ray, it’s never too late to catch up on some of these overlooked gems. Maybe awards season will be kind to some of these films to gain some additional exposure in theaters as well, so if you have the opportunity, go out and support these movies. With that, dear readers, I give you the list of 7 Great Films You Skipped in 2008.
1. In Bruges – Why this one was overlooked is a bit confounding. Perhaps because it was a first-quarter release it got lost in the shuffle. The strong performances from Colin Farrell, Joseph Fiennes, and Brendan Gleeson make this a treat to re-watch. Yes, the subject matter is a bit depressing…hired hand makes big mistake and struggles to deal with it, but there is great humor in the film as well. All I have to say is, Colin Farrell karate-chopping a midget (dwarf Peter Dinklage) to the throat! Still frame that on DVD over and over. Epic!
2. RockNRolla – Guy Ritchie returned to form in this little seen actioner starring Gerard Butler from 300. If you liked Lock, Stock, & 2 Smoking Barrels or Snatch, then you owe it to yourself to see RockNRolla. This was one of my favorite movie-going experiences of the year as evidenced by my review of the film. Good humor (a gay crush in the film), great action and direction with one of the longest fight sequences imaginable, and that classic British cockney/hustler speak that Ritchie infuses into his best work. Ritchie brings his A-game. Good stuff.
3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona – The least over-looked on the list at $22mm domestic, it did better overseas more than doubling that total for a reason. A boring title, with the names of the lead characters and the city they are vacationing in, leads to one of the most under-appreciated gems of the year. Penelope Cruz is getting hype for her role and Scarlett Johannson and a threesome got the attention, but strong portrayals by Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall bookmark Woody Allen’s best effort since Matchpoint. This film, reviewed here, is about the appreciation and pursuit of passion in life, love, and art. It’s a mature film perhaps, but it’s not to be missed.
4. City Of Men – The quasi-follow-up to the outstanding City of God is a completely different film that made less than $1mm here stateside. It’s a shame, it came and went so incredibly fast. Though it’s a vastly different picture, this film uses many of the same actors from the original (in different roles–see Lil’ Dice and Steak and Fries all growns up!), in a picture that still holds the slum and friendship at it’s heart. There is still violence here, but it’s the warmth of the friendship theme that wins out. A good one that might make my top 10 of the year list.
5. Battle in Seattle – Easily the biggest surprise of the year for me, this takes place in the 90′s during a protest of World Trade Organization talks in the Emerald City. A strong lead by Jay Henderson is there but the beauty of Stuart Townsend’s film (review) is that it really shows the story from ALL sides and has no clear cut agenda, other than delivering the message. Its sad and hopeful, all at once. Gives you an idea of what takes place behind the scenes to organize an event like this in a city this size and the potential ramifications of protest. One down note, Townsend’s real-life girlfriend, Charlize Theron, makes an appearance but no revealing shots of her as her character is pregnant in the film. Damnit!
6. The Wackness – Set in the mixtape era 90′s, this was billed as an ode to hip-hop but is more of a coming of age story for both young and old. Josh Peck marks his territory as one to watch with a touching performance as a lonely, awkward dope dealer and one of his main clients is Sir Ben Kingsley (dumbed-down for the audience to presumably double his dollars). Juno’s Olivia Thirlby and Famke Jannsen also appear in the movie that takes you back to your first love, whether it was hip-hop or a girl in this case. Get familiar!
7. Synecdoche, New York – The most difficult film to sell all year, and one of the most challenging to figure out. What makes it so rich is it’s complexity. To attempt to describe it here would be impossible as in my review of it, I found it tough enough. Watch it when under the influence, it makes no difference, you will feel high when you are trying to figure out what is going on. Noted scribe Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directs for the first time and outdoes himself in the wild department. Check it out if you have the guts.