Thursday, October 29, 2009


'Antichrist' (NR) (adults only) **1/2

Writer and Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

I admire the audacity of Lars von Trier because he doesn't play by the rules and he doesn't shy away from controversy. His films are hard for me to grasp because lately he had become self indulgent and insufferable. His last movie "Dogville" made the short list of movies I have ever wanted to walk out of mostly because it was excruciating to follow and not because I was offended. Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves" is one of my all time favorite movies and one of the most powerful films I have seen. So I know that I like what he brings to his movies and that he is not afraid to push buttons. I wanted to like his newest "Antichrist" because of it's boldness and it's breathtaking first half but then I think the movie got away from him. Not because of the graphic sexuality or shocking gross out scenes but I felt the story got off track and didn't make it's point of view clear.I needed just a little sense of closure. I still don't know what point he is trying to make and there are baffling, loose ends. I don't mind movies that leave you hanging and answering questions but you have to make some points connect.

This bafflement is not a bad thing though and there is much to recommend this but be forewarned. It deals with the death of a child as husband and wife played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg have to deal with their grief. The movie is divided into a prologue,chapters and then an epilogue. This is not a movie for the weak of heart for it's scenes of self mutilation and violence between the couple are tough. There are things in here that I have never seen before and I have seen a lot of graphic sex and violence in movies. These scenes didn't bother me except for two scenes that really made me ill. Though if you are adventurous and you like dark material you might actually find this great. The first half of the film is painful but beautiful and the movie is beautiful to look at. I found it haunting, stimulating and compelling and I was intrigued by what von Trier was trying to establish in story and tone. The performances are very brave and incredible by Dafoe and Gainsbourg. Willem Dafoe always seems to lean towards dark, heady stuff and I love that he rarely goes the Hollywood Blockbuster route. He is an intense actor and he is very good here. Gainsbourg also gives a brave and powerful performance. The pain she has to endure, physically and mentally as does Dafoe, is brave and she handles the material brilliantly. So I found the performances amazing, the story challenging and interesting but I didn't come away with a feeling of closure. Von Trier is truly an auteur and he has a bold voice and I love the surrealistic touches here and the challenging material. I am ambivalent about this movie but I want to see it again and maybe a second viewing will be what I need to finally embrace it.


'Amelia'(PG) **

Writers: Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan based on novels "East To the Dawn" and "The Sound of Wings"
Director: Mira Nair
Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Cherry Jones

Hilary Swank is one of my favorite actresses because she stands out from the crowd of other actresses. She is unconventionally beautiful and when you see her on talk shows she is warm, sweet and you fall in love with her instantly. Every role she takes is always interesting and she puts her heart into it 100% all the time. It is disappointing then when a movie she is in fails her. "Amelia" looks beautiful and the flying sequences are extremely well handled but the rest is stifling and dull. When it is in the air the movie is very interesting and entertaining. Swank is again flawless with her creation of Amelia Earhart. When we see real pictures and film of the real Amelia we know Swank has nailed it. When "Amelia" is on the ground I couldn't care less. Did Amelia really have that dull and uninteresting of a love life as it unfolds here? There is no chemistry between Swank and Gere or McGregor through no fault of their own. The dialogue is cliche and stale and I found nothing that made me want to follow any of her relationships. I wish the movie was all flying sequences and more about her determination to fly and her love and dedication to it. We get that in the beginning and end but we have to sit through the dull stuff in the middle. Mira Nair(Monsoon Wedding) is a great director who always captures the heart of a film and the movie looks good but that heart is missing. Is it just that the material is not there? I didn't learn anything new about Amelia and I felt no emotion or thrill, I just sat there and now looking back I can't remember anything interesting to tell you about the movie.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On DVD-'The Last House On The Left'

'The Last House On The Left' (R) (09) **1/2

Writers: Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth based on 1972 film by Wes Craven
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Starring: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garrett Dillahunt, Sara Paxton, Aaron Paul

I was curious how long it would take before the groundbreaking horror cult film "The Last House On The Left" would be remade after the remakes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Hills Have Eyes". In 1972 this small low budget slasher film was something moviegoers hadn't seen before with it's graphic violence and depraved subject matter. This was a horror movie with a graphic beating and rape scene and then a plan of revenge that was quite unique and sick. The first time I saw the original was a few years back and what I found was a movie that looked like a mixture of a snuff film and a badly acted amateur student film with a cheesy 70's music score. I have been so desensitized by horror and violence in films that I found this laughable and not really scary. Then I thought about how audiences hadn't seen stuff like the things that happened here before which includes a horrendous rape scene and death and then some offbeat kills including dismemberment. I thought that it had to be shocking at the time for audiences so it was I guess actually effective though I didn't care for it.

It wasn't a fun time at the movies and I find the remake has the same effect. I also found this movie not to be scary like the first one but very disturbing and horrific.I do have to admit though it is effective in what it is trying to do. It is pretty much the same with a rape scene in the beginning though I must say the new creators have toned it down from the first film. A teenage girl is raped and survives and the killers who become stranded after a car crash walk to a house that happens to be the house of the parents of the girl they raped. Then like the first one the parents find out and plot their revenge. This time the parents react as opposed to the first when the father comes up with a fiendish plot. This is your classic revenge film and you do want to see the killers get what they deserved so it is effective. I don't know,the movie does it's job but like the first I didn't really care for this movie either. To think that this movie like the first one was based on Bergman's "The Virgin Spring". It does though create a debate on whether the father could use a microwave the way he does to kill someone.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Vincent Snavely's Halloween Classics"

" My Favorite Horror Movies Of All Time"

'Repulsion' (NR) (65) ****

Writers: Gerard Brach and Roman Polanski. Adaptation and Dialogue: David Shore
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux

"Repulsion" is one of the most claustrophobic and unsettling horror movies of all time. It is a classic, tight and effective masterpiece with a breathtaking Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve is one of the most beautiful actresses on screen and here you can't take your eyes off of her. The movie is flawlessly shot and beautiful to look at even though most of it takes place inside one apartment. Sometimes I think most horror movies should be shot in black and white. Polanski early in his career was a genius and he knew where to place the camera, how to make a movie look beautiful and could create suspense like no other and I think this movie is equal to Hitchcock. Polanski created his own voice and here the dread and suspense is palpable. The movie slowly builds momentum and as the main character's mind starts to unravel and we begin to grow more uncomfortable we feel we can't escape and we can't catch our breath. This is a maddening, beautiful, haunting and terrifying experience built with minimal story, great photography and a very brave performance by Catherine Deneuve.

'Martin' (R) (78) ***1/2

Writer and Director: George Romero
Starring: John Amplas, Tom Savini, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forest

" Martin" is one of the best vampire movies ever made directed by the horror master George Romero who gave us many good horror movies. This was a very low budget shocker beautifully filmed on Pittsburgh locations and that makes it feel like we are in a real city with real people. The movie is very grainy and spare and very unlike most Hollywood movies of that period. It used effective unknown actors who were mostly local actors including the lead character Martin played well by John Amplas. This is in many ways the same type of plot as the "Twilight" movies and the recent and great "Let the Right One In". It is about a boy with real growing pains who actually thinks he is a vampire. This movie is very effective mostly because it is filmed in real locations without any phony Hollywood tricks. It has great, sick and black humor, interesting characters and very effective and gruesome killings and gore. It is highly original and different and if you are looking for horror that is unique you might find this a real treat. I forgot to mention it is very kinky and sexy so bonus points if you like sexy and kinky stuff.

'The Entity' (R) (81) ****

Writer: Frank DeFelitta based on his novel
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Starring: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, George Coe, Alex Rocco

"The Entity" is a nasty and cruel horror movie that is as unsettling as "Repulsion" but even more brutal and horrific. This movie got mostly terrible reviews and I must warn you this is not for everybody and it made me queasy but I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen. Barbara Hershey gives one of the bravest performances by an actress in a role that had to be excruciating to play. She plays a divorced mother who one night while lying in bed asleep she is awoken by an unsettling touch and feeling. As the movie progresses she finds herself being beaten and brutalized by an unknown force. Here is where I must warn you that she is raped repeatedly by this invisible force and it gets worse and worse. Please do not hate me and think that I enjoy a movie about rape and if right now you are saying "Whoa wait a minute!" please relax. This is not an enjoyable movie but it is one of the scariest and most deeply unsettling horror movies ever made. There is a difference between the violence in this than say a "Friday the 13Th" which I find is more cruel to women. What separates this is that Barbara Hershey is so good and the movie does make you feel real pain and empathy. I was emotionally drained by this movie and I cried a few times. This movie does not let up and it doesn't let you off the hook. I am surprised that this didn't turn out to be silly and unintentionally funny as Hershey is thrown around the room by an invisible force. It creates genuine shock and pain and brutality and it might not be your ideal fun horror entertainment but tell me if I am wrong but does horror supposed to make you feel good?

'Blow Out' (R) (81) ****

Writer and Director Brian Depalma
Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz, Peter Boyden, John Aquino, John McMartin

I love Brian Depalma and a lot of critics hate him and thinks he rips off Hitchcock or they find him gaudy and cheap and hate "Scarface". Well I think he is an amazing director and like I said about my blog I am not a critic, I am a moviegoer and he always entertains me. He started out creating mostly horror movies and I have liked all of them including one of my all time favorites "Carrie". "Blow Out" is more of a suspense thriller mixed with a slasher film. It even parodies the slasher movie genre and has a good deal of humor and I think it is a small masterpiece. The movie has a great story that mixes political intrigue, a classic evil bad guy, blood, scares and laughs. It might also contain one of the best performances by John Travolta of his career. This came right after his explosion in "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever" and it showed Travolta wanted to do more than the Hollywood fluff and he took a great risk on this movie. Depalma creates a classic film noir look, creates great characters and suspense and those that think he rips off Hitchcock will see that this is one of his most signature films and very much his own. It also has an early performance by John Lithgow that is amazing. He plays the killer in this movie and he is delightfully evil, nasty and scary. This movie pretty much put him on the map for his career and he is outstanding. Nancy Allen also gives a sweet performance and I loved her naivety and sweetness and there is great comic support by Dennis Franz. I actually grew to care about these characters and I felt the movie's plot never went wrong for one second. I also think this has one of the best scores of any movie of that period. This is a very entertaining suspense film that I think is a minor masterpiece.

'John Carpenter's The Thing' (R) (82) ****

Writer: Bill Lancaster
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, Richard Mazur, T.K. Carter, Donald Moffat, David Clennon

"John Carpenter's The Thing" remake is one of the best gory movies ever made. After Carpenter's masterpiece "Halloween" this is his best horror film. I even find it more effective than the original "The Thing" This has blood, guts, great special effects for it's time and a haunting ending that is perfect for a horror movie. Kurt Russell is to me one of the most under rated actors ever. He is very good here as the straight man to all the craziness that unfolds before him and what a supporting cast of the best Hollywood veterans the movie has! It is simply wall to wall gore but I found the movie very scary and terrifying also. I laughed a lot and had a great time and got very sick also. I suggest you don't eat a lot of candy during this especially gummy worms. I love the ending to this movie because there is no cheap scare or phony trick at the end and no hope. It knows it is not a deep and powerful movie and that is what makes it even better and more powerful. It simply wants to gross you out and make you jump and boy does it ever succeed!

That is just the tip of the pile of intestines for I have other suggestions also so feel free to comment and agree or disagree with me and please have a terrifying, scary and horrible Halloween!

My Other Picks:

Psycho (60) **** Enough said
Rosemary's Baby (68) **** Another Polanski horror masterpiece which is in my top 5
Carrie (R) (76) **** One of the best endings and a Oscar caliber performance by Sissy Spacek
The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (PG) (76) **** Jodie Foster. Hitchcock would be proud!
Halloween (R) (78) **** My favorite horror movie
Prom Night (R) (80) *** Another Jamie Lee Curtis horror fest that was actually good. A guilty pleasure.
Terror Train (R) (81) *** More Jamie Lee Curtis and another unique guilty pleasure. Yes Curtis starred in a few of these.
Scanners (R) (81) *** Exploding heads and early vintage David Cronenberg.
The Funhouse (R) *** (81) Directed by Tobe Hooper. Check this sleeper out because not may people have seen this. A carnival of horror. Also of course the original "Texas Chainsaw Masscare" also by Hooper.
Creepshow (R) (82) *** So bad it is good. Pure 80's cheese!
Poltergeist (PG) (82) ***1/2 Rumor is Steven Spielberg took over directing duties from Tobe Hooper because he wanted a more family touch.
The Reanimator (R) (85) ***1/2 One of the funniest and goriest movies ever made and really sick. "The Thing" is a walk through Disney World compared to this. Also check out Stuart Gordon's wonderfully campy "From Beyond" from 86.

Also Mommie Dearest (PG) (81) Enough said.

Comment on any suggestions you have for your favorite Horror movies.

On DVD-'Ghosts of Girlfriends Past'

'Ghosts of Girlfriends Past' (PG-13) **

Writers: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Director: Mark Waters
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Lacy Chabert, Breckin Meyer, Daniel Sunjata, Robert Forster, Anne Archer

I really like Matthew McConaughey and in 1993 while watching the classic "Dazed and Confused" I picked him to achieve super stardom because I knew right away he had charisma and sex appeal. I really like Jennifer Garner and early in her career watching "Dude, Where's My Car" I knew right away she would be a future star. See " Juno" and you will also notice that she can seriously act! The both of these stars together was a good move and they actually have great chemistry. Michael Douglas is also very funny in this movie and has the best lines. I wanted to like this movie which is sort of a "Christmas Carol" of romance and I did want these two characters to wind up together. So why didn't I like this movie? I just thought the predictability of it and a lot of dumb, obligatory scenes buried the charm. McConaughey and Garner look very good, Michael Douglas is funny and I will now tell you that supporting actor Daniel Sunjata (Rescue Me) will be a huge star like McConaughey very soon. This is not a bad movie and it is mostly charming but I thought it was a little forgettable and could have been more bold since the director is the same man who directed "Heathers". "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is now on DVD.

On DVD-'He's Just Not That Into You'

'He's Just Not That Into You' (PG-13) *1/2

Writers: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein based on the book
Director: Ken Kwapis
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Connelly, Ginifer Goodwin, Kevin Connolly, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston

The writers and makers of "He's Just Not That Into You" know nothing about real romance and how real people interact in the dating World. Being in the dating World now I didn't believe anything the characters in this movie said or did was believable for a second. It is fake, cloying and dumb and it really frustrated me because I didn't laugh once and I found no one to identify with. This movie is 2 hours and 10 minutes long. Seriously? a light romantic comedy is over 2 hours? Seriously? This is never ending and insufferable and I was staring at the walls most of the time trying to figure out how cold it was going to be the next day. There are big stars in this like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Ben Affleck and Scarlett Johansson but I forgot if I ever saw them. They aren't really in it at all, they show up for five minutes then leave for a half hour and come back for five more minutes. That makes this pretty much a rip off and most of the movie is devoted to Justin Long and Ginnifer Goodwin who are two great actors and future stars. They are sweet and good but the things they are made to say and do are so predictable and annoying. This is another in a long line of bad romantic comedies and you should skip it and go see "500 Days of Summer" to see how it is really done. It is now on DVD and it is 2 hours and 10 minutes. Seriously?

Friday, October 23, 2009

'An Education'

'An Education' (PG-13) ***1/2

Writer: Nick Hornby based on memoir by Lynn Barber
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Cara Seymour, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson

Once in a while you see a movie that captures an actress who makes such a strong and impactful debut lead performance that you know that a major new star has arrived. In "An Education" that major force is Carey Mulligan and for her first leading role she is guaranteed an Oscar nomination. She reminds me of a Audrey Hepburn type and I don't throw that around lightly for Ms. Hepburn is my all time favorite actress. She has a face that the camera loves, a smile that lights up the screen and a timeless beauty that rarely is seen on screen. She gives I think the best performance of the year so far in a wonderful and beautifully moving film. It will be interesting what Hollywood does with her as we will see soon in the "Wall Street" sequel. "An Education" is also one of the best movies of 2009 that tells a perfectly realized coming of age story set in the 60's. The director Lone Scherfig (Italian For Beginners) captures it's time and place flawlessly. The costumes, streets and feel of the movie is perfect. Sometimes I tear up during a movie for no other reason than I know I have seen a beautiful and special story and actress and that's the way I felt here. Also outstanding is Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State) who gives another in a long line of great performances as the mysterious cad that our heroine falls in love with He gives a flawless British accent and his chemistry with Mulligan is believable. Alfred Molina (Boogie Nights) who is a dependable character actor is also perfect as the father. This is a touching, funny and beautiful movie that captures realistically the pains, wonder and dangers of growing up and falling in love when being a young woman. This seems like a movie geared towards teenage girls but I think it will impress anyone who likes a good story, great acting and likes to see an arrival of a major new actress who gives a perfect performance. One of my favorite things about movies is finding surprises and new actors and actresses that I haven't seen before who make an impact. That actress is Carey Mulligan and the camera loves her as do I.

'Law Abiding Citizen'

'Law Abiding Citizen' (R) **1/2

Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Regina Hall, Leslie Bibb, Gregory Itzin

"Law Abiding Citizen" is like a more competent and better version of the crappy "Saw" movies. It has more A list actors and that might make the difference here from a cheap exploitation flick. It pretty much has the same gimmick as "Saw" but somehow I drank the Kool Aid on this one. Gerard Butler is very good at playing a brilliant man who has lost his wife and kids and becomes a vigilante. Jamie Foxx is also good as the prosecuting attorney who Butler thinks didn't try harder to properly convict one of the killers. This movie is pretty much a cat and mouse affair matching wits between the two principles. There are gruesome killings in unique ways like the past few torture porn horror movies that came out lately but somehow I got into it. I was entertained and was sucked in mostly because the acting is so good and the movie is very well directed. This is a glossy B movie dressed up with huge stars and a great supporting cast that includes Bruce McGill (Animal House) and Colm Meaney (The Commitments"). I had seen this type of movie recently and felt a lot was implausible but somehow I knew I had seen a well made movie. It will definitely keep you interested. This is good for a rainy day rental on DVD.

On DVD-'Tyson'

'Tyson' (R) ***

Producer and Director: James Toback

It was good to see Mike Tyson's cameo in the blockbuster comedy "The Hangover". Tyson has had a troubled past but after seeing "Tyson" who is vulnerable and soft spoken in this documentary I realized I was a little concerned about him. Everything is covered including his amateur Olympic boxing and guidance by a father he never had in trainer Gus D'Amato. It also covers his stunning wins and knockouts, the stunning loss to Buster Douglass, his marriage to Robin Givens and his rape arrest. The beginning part with his guardian angel D'Amato is very touching and his death devastated Tyson. Tyson repeatedly chokes up when talking about him and also his rough upbringing on the streets. Tyson is very vulnerable here and knows his life was full of mistakes. I actually felt for him like I would feel for anyone who has had a rough life and how many people haven't. Tyson is a very complicated man always with anger building up inside him and without proper guidance he was lost and lashed out at everyone. Some people like Tyson just need someone to show him the way but many people used him and in this movie you find out what makes him tick and why his life went down the wrong path and that makes Tyson as human as all of us.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

'Black Dynamite'

'Black Dynamite' (R) ***

Writers: Byron Minns, Scott Sanders and Michael Jai White
Director: Scott Sanders
Starring: Michael Jai White, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Kym Whitley, Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davidson, Mike Starr

"Black Dynamite" knows it's subject matter very well. It is a very funny send up of the Blaxpoitation genre and so dead on that if you saw it on cable one day you would swear it was really made in the 70's. It knows all the cliches, dialogue and cheesy aspects of the genre. There is your requisite gratuitous nudity, hammy acting, scratchy film, misplaced boom mikes and violence that comes off a little excessive but is really more cartoon violence. Michael Jai White is awesome as the title character and the supporting cast does great work also. If you have seen many blaxpoitation movies as I have you will appreciate it more. It has the same goal as the very funny and one of my favorite spoofs "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" by the Wayans Brothers (the best material they have done). I laughed and nodded in recognition at all the jokes and characteristics of these films that the movie nails. I can do a whole story on the blaxpoitation genre but I still have a lot more to check out. Let's just say if you are a fan of these films you will love this. It has very many laugh out loud moments and it is a lot of fun. It would make a good double feature with "Sucka". Check out a good blaxpoitation film like "Coffy", "Black Mama, White Mama" ,"Black Caesar" or "Foxy Brown" and add those to the two comedies and you have a good movie marathon. Also check out Mario Van Peebles loving tribute in "Baadasssss" which is also one of the best movies of the decade.

On DVD-'Knowing'

'Knowing' (PG-13) ***

Writers: Ryne Douglas Pearson, Julie Snowden, Stiles White
Director: Alex Proyas
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury

I was expecting to laugh at and hate "Knowing" partly because I can't trust Nicholas Cage anymore and because it looked silly and I am tired of these end of the world movies. I will always forgive a great actor for making bad movies because I know he or she will bounce back with a winner but Cage was trying my patience lately.I wound up liking "Knowing" a lot even though if I think about it deeply or saw it again I might change my mind. I was enthralled throughout the movie because I got carried away with the story and Director Alex Proyas does a great job telling the story and creating suspense. I won't give away much here because the fun in watching this is being surprised at what unfolds next. The purpose of my blog is to tell you if a movie is fun and entertaining and that is it. You could pick apart this plot and come up with plot holes and things that make you scratch your head but it is well done and entertaining. Sometimes you need movies where you don't have to think and get carried away. There is a great mood in the film, a little creepiness, some scares and what I thought was a beautiful and touching ending though it could seem corny on a second viewing. There are scary destruction scenes involving a subway train and an airplane that might make you think a little next time before you board them. The movie also looks great and Cage is good as he always is when he does a good movie. So put your brain on hold and sit back and enjoy for I thought this was a fun movie. I will take it over an "Independence Day" or a "Day After Tomorrow" any day.

On DVD-'Goodbye Solo'

'Goodbye Solo' (R) ***1/2

Writers: Bahareh Azimi and Ramin Bahrani
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Souleymane Sy Savane, Red West, Diana Franco Galindo

"Goodbye Solo" is a story about a friendship that develops between an African cab driver and an older man in the throes of winding his life down. It sounds simple but what writer and director Ramin Bahrani does with this as he did with his other great films "Chop Shop" and "Man Push Cart" is make the simple poetic and beautiful. The movie feels like you are eavesdropping on real life and real people. There are no fancy camera moves and no movie theatrics. This movie doesn't pretend that it is anything more than a simple independent movie without the Hollywood flash. The acting is real and unforced with a natural affecting performance by non actor Souleymane Sy Savone. I thought that the movie felt like a documentary because Savone's performance seemed lived in and like he was a real cab driver. Red West is one of those actors that you know you have seen before but not sure where. He reminds me of Richard Farnsworth and here he feels comfortable and his screen presence makes us want to follow his character. Living in North Carolina for six years I appreciated the beautiful location work in Winston Salem and Blowing Rock. The Director of Photography Michael Simmonds captures the beauty of nature in stunning shots and also captures the small town hotel, theatre and streets of Winston Salem extremely well. This movie is beautiful in it's depiction of an unusual and beautiful friendship and small town life in the beautiful South. With three movies under his belt Ramin Bahrani hasn't made a wrong step yet.

Monday, October 19, 2009

'Where The Wild Things Are'

'Where The Wild Things Are' (PG) ****

Writers: Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers based on the book by Maurice Sendak
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose, Forest Whitaker

"Let The Wild Rumpus Start!". Let it start indeed because Spike Jonze has made one of the best children's movies ever and one of the best screen adaptations ever. Based on the classic by Maurice Sendak, "Where the Wild Things Are" this captures the imagination of a child brilliantly and beautifully. It also captures childhood, it's scariness, loneliness, uncertainties and emotions in a way that no movie has done in quite awhile. What is wonderful about it is that adults will appreciate it more even though the kids will find it amazing. It looks different with it's mastery of mood and cinematography with darkness, and shadows and haunting beauty. I think why adults will find this fascinating is because it will bring them back to the wonderment of childhood when everything was possible and you were freer to explore your imagination. I identified with the main character Max played so well by Max Records a child actor who conveys every emotion with clarity and power. I think many adults will because for me it brought back memories of the freedom of my childhood and the fearlessness of exploring my imagination. Everything and anything is possible in the imaginary World that Max creates. Instead of going to his room when his Mom loses her temper and yells at him to create this World as in the book he runs outside and takes a boat to travel there. This I think is more effective because it feels like he is really traveling there which makes it more suspenseful. He then encounters many scary and enormous beasts that convey every one of his emotions. He can convince them that he is a King in his World and that anything he says goes. Of course in your imaginary World wouldn't you be the ruler?

The book by Maurice Sendak had very few words and mostly pictures but the drawings were full of detail and emotion. I am amazed at what Spike Jonze did as a director and as a writer with Dave Eggers with this book. How they came up with dialogue and created a story out of little is a masterful accomplishment. This movie has not one wasted moment, not one wasted or uninteresting shot. It was a magical, scary, beautiful and emotional experience for me as I am sure it will be for most. It is not only a glorious visceral experience but a perfect recreation of childhood and innocence. Both Worlds that Jonze creates are distinct and effective in their own way. The scenes with Max and his mother, played by the great Catherine Keener, and the child actors playing his sister and her friends feel real and when Max starts a snowball fight with them it goes from a feeling of fun and belonging to a scary feeling of abandonment powerfully. Max has to supress his wildness and imagination for his Mother but in the parallel World he creates he can let loose, be wild and explore. His imaginary World is just as real as it also goes from joy and power to loss and abandonment. When watching the previews I was afraid I would find the creatures distracting. I couldn't be more wrong mainly because the voice work by Whitaker, O'Hara, Dano, Ambrose, Cooper and especially James Gandolfini is awesome. Also the emotions and facial expressions on the creatures fit all their individual emotions as each character carries one distinct emotion of Max. This is a completely wonderful and amazing masterpiece that needs to be seen twice to discover it's power and I can't wait to see it again on IMAX. This movie could become just as much as a classic as say "The Wizard of Oz" was as it gets revisited again and again. Spike Jonze has done an amazing job and has proven he is one of the brightest and best directors there is out there now. I hope this movie has the same effect on you and becomes a new classic for all families as the book is because it deserves it!

'The Damned United'

'The Damned United' (R) ***1/2

Writer: Peter Morgan based on the book by David Pearce
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent

"The Damned United' tells a fascinating true story about something I knew nothing about but I am glad I know now. This is another great writing job by Peter Morgan who wrote "The Queen", "Frost/Nixon" and "The Last King of Scotland" and he is an outstanding writer and this is another winner. It tells the true story of Soccer coach Brian Clough who in the early 70's takes a small Dublin team and brings them glory and a championship. His main rival is the coach of Leeds United, Don Revie, who is the Dublin's team's main rival and who Clough claims plays dirty. When Clough gets a chance to take over Leeds for a retiring Revie his coaching life crumbles. This is a compelling story but this isn't really about soccer. It is about arrogance, friendship and stubbornness. There isn't many soccer scenes because the strength and heart of this film is about friendship. The friendship between Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor wonderfully played by the great Timothy Spall. This is a powerful movie about friendship and how arrogance got in the way and almost destroyed it. The acting is done by some of the best actors in the business. Besides Spall, Michael Sheen has become one of our most dependable actors giving great performances after another. Also Colm Meaney is one of my favorite actors and he gives a great understated performance. This movie has great drama, acting and and a touching and dramatic conclusion. Peter Morgan is another writer who I look forward to writing much more in the future. He has not made a wrong move yet and he makes it look easy.

'Sin Nombre'

'Sin Nombre' (R) ***

Writer and Director: Cary Fukunaga
Starring: Marco Antonio Aguirre, Leonardo Alonso, Karla Cecilia Alvarado, Felipe Castro, Marcella Feregrino

'Sin Nombre" marks the emergence of a talented writer and director in Cary Fukunaga even though his material has been done before. This movie reminded me of "Boyz n' the Hood" and "Menace II Society" without their power. I don't know why I didn't love this movie but I was fascinated by it and I felt for all the characters. It is a violent and suspenseful journey that the lead characters go on as they try to elude the Border Patrol and dodge bullets as they try to cross the border. The movie deals with gangs, children becoming killers, growing up and trying to better yourself. I was interested all through out and the young first time actors are very impressive. It makes you feel like you are watching real people in real life and that is what a movie with unknown actors can do very well. This is well written and directed and I hope Fukunaga gets a chance to make another movie because I have a feeling his next one will be a powerhouse. "Sin Nombre" is now on DVD.


'Sugar' (R) ****

Writers and Directors: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
Starring: Algenis Perez Soto, Andre Holland, Michael Gaston, AnnWhitney, Richard Bull, Ellary Porterfield

"Sugar" is one of the best movies about baseball but it is so much more than just a baseball movie. It is the inspiring but sobering look at the journey of a talented pitcher from the Dominican Republic Miguel nicknamed "Sugar" as he tries to make it up the ladder to the Major Leagues. This is a captivating drama with a main character we care deeply about. This movie is from the writing and directing team of one of my favorite movies of the past few years "Half Nelson" which is one of the best movies ever about teaching. They have done it again with "Sugar" maintaining our interest from the first frame to the last. This is not your typical feel good triumphant rise to the top sports movie. It realistically deals with the pressure, the uncertainty and real struggles of a shy, out of his element foreigner who not only has to prove his talent on the field but has to navigate through an unfamiliar World. He hardly speaks any English and there is a great scene where he and his teammates order breakfast at a diner. They learn how to say and order only French Toast but when the waitress asks Sugar if he wants eggs and what kind of eggs she gives him a lesson in how to order them. There are many good people in the States as the movie proves that yes it is scary out there for him but you can always find good people who care and want to help.

This movie is a labor of love and it's main character is someone we grow to care deeply for. He has a good heart and even when he goes through a bad slump we feel that he has learned a lot and has a chance to bounce back. This movie does not go where you expect it to at the end and that is what makes it a superior film. You will be as shocked as I was at where the movie leads to but it makes perfect sense. There are no easy answers and no compromises in the story. It is a natural, flawless movie that never makes a false move. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden now have made two masterpieces under their belt in "Half Nelson" and now this and they are two of the best movies of the decade. They have a great talent for writing and telling a captivating story with real people and real emotions. I look forward to their next movie with breathless anticipation. I hope you have as great a time as I had discovering this gem of a movie and while I am at it rent "Half Nelson" and watch both movies back to back and witness major greatness and talent on display.

'Rudo Y Cursi'

'Rudo Y Cursi' (R) **

Writer and Director: Carlos Cuaron
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Adriana Paz, Guillermo Francella, Jessica Mas

"Rudo Y Cursi" is a sports movie set in Mexico that pretty much goes through the motions and left me cold and uninvolved. To me it did not seem real, plausible or highly original even though it was set in a fresh location. The film's two stars are very good here and talented actors but I thought the story let them down. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna are hot young actors who have become sex symbols due to their smash international hit "Y Tu Mama Tambien" which was a hot and effective movie. This movie is goofier, cliched and I never felt like I was in a real place once the soccer scenes started. I like the beginning set in Mexico as the two leads toil away in the fields doing hard manual labor. Then when the two talented soccer players go through the usual ups and downs of this type of sports movie and make it big on the soccer circuit the movie let me down. It has nothing new and fresh to say about soccer or about the rise and sometimes fall of a sports athlete. I wanted to like this movie but it never made me feel like anything was real and as it unfolded I got bored with it. The two leading actors are very good and will bounce back I am sure. "Rudo Y Cursi" is now on DVD.

'El Camino'

'El Camino' NR- **

Writers: Salvatore Interlandi and Erik S. Weigel
Director: Erik S. Weigel
Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Leo Fitzpatrick, Wes Studi, Christopher Denham

"El Camino" is a very small independent movie that is amateurish and full of bad acting with a hollow story. The only good part of the movie is due to the Cable series "Mad Men" and that is the performance of Elizabeth Moss. Moss plays Peggy Olsen in "Mad Men" and she is the real deal as she gives the only natural performance in this movie. There are a lot of great talented new faces in that great show which is a superior show mainly because of that acting. Moss is an unconventional beauty with piercing blue eyes who knows how to hold the screen. This movie was painfully bad but Moss was a delight creating a character we feel is warm, troubled but a good person. I see many big things ahead for Moss even a leading role in a movie. She shows great promise and steals this movie away from a wooden Leo Fitzpatrick (Larry Clark's "Kids" and "Bully") and a blah story. She has that "it" factor that lights up the screen and makes you want to follow her even through dreck like this. "El Camino" is now on DVD.

'Trouble The Water'

'Trouble The Water' NR ***

Documentary Directed By Tia Lesson and Carl Deal

"Trouble The Water" is a documentary that painfully revisits the after effects of Hurricane Katrina and how it affected the lives of the people that stayed behind. It tells the story of the poorer people who had to struggle to find shelter amidst the devastation. It focuses on a female would be rapper and her husband as they take us on a tour of the destruction, the Government failing them and the anger built up inside them feeling that no one cared. They are angry, abandoned and they feel wronged by a clumsy FEMA and a President who dropped the ball when it came to addressing the problem. I could go on and on about how incompetent Bush was and how cold and stupid FEMA was but this is not about politics. This is about people that had their lives altered when they had little to begin with. It is about peoples lives destroyed and how their spirit and resolve kept them fighting to get their life back to normal. There are shots of the destruction and it is sobering to see this aftermath and the effect it had on these people. This is a painful look back but a necessary one with an actual uplifting ending. "Trouble The Water" is now on DVD.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

'The Boys Are Back'

'The Boys Are Back' (PG-13) ***

Writer: Alan Cubitt based on memoir by Simon Carr
Director: Scott Hicks
Starring: Clive Owen, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, Nicholas McAnulty, George MacKay

Clive Owen gives a natural and outstanding performance in the weepy "The Boys Are Back" and he proves himself the real deal. His portrayal of a widower trying to connect with his two sons from different marriages is very good and real. The movie starts out as a heart breaker and most of the tears are shed in the first half hour. The actors who portray the kids give natural performances and are effective especially the younger one played by Nicholas McAnulty. This is a relaxed and engaging drama that takes it's time and tells a moving story. It is from the director of "Shine" Scott Hicks and he knows how to involve us in the story. There is also a great debut by a talented and beautiful actress Emma Booth as a love interest and another appealing one by Laura Fraser as his second wife. This isn't a powerful or outstanding drama but it is a very good movie and it makes us care. I don't know if I believe what happens at the end is real but by then I was already involved in the story and it will probably make you cry a few times.

'Couples Retreat'

'Couples Retreat' (PG-13) **

Writers: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Dana Fox
Director: Peter Bilingsley
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Malin Ackerman, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Temeura Morrison, Jean Reno, Kali Hawk

In 1996 Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau gave us a classic comedy in "Swingers" It announced Vince Vaughn as a major player in Hollywood and the movie became a classic. Vince Vaughn and his comic delivery of dialogue is unique and genius and he does it like no other. It is like he is the David Mamet of acting with his delivery. He was the perfect counterpoint to Owen Wilson in another new classic comedy "The Wedding Crashers". With those two and also "Old School" Vaughn was building a good career including his serious turn in "Into the Wild". Since those movies though I think Vaughn has been neutered and put in material too safe and normal. The material might not be up to his standard but his new movie "Couples Retreat" was co-written by him so here he is to blame. "Couples Retreat" is like a safe television sitcom that provides small chuckles but nothing laugh out loud. Without Vince Vaughn this would be one of the worst movies of the year but he saves it somewhat. Again his line readings and delivery are the best thing in this movie. Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau and Faison Love give good support also but the ladies are given the shaft. They are talented actresses but only Kelli Hawk is effective. This movie has a few laughs but mostly misses and the ending becomes safe and sappy. I don't want sappy Vince Vaughn, I want edgy "Old School" ,"Wedding Crashers" Vince Vaughn. The material is not here for him and the movie is light and safe instead of hilarious.

On DVD: 'Two Lovers'

'Two Lovers' (R) ***

Writer: Richard Menello
Director: James Gray
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, Moni Moshonov, Elias Koteas

Joaquin Phoenix is a very talented actor from a talented family who seemed to shock people with some eccentric behavior recently. That was a shame because he had given a few great performances before then. Maybe it was a publicity stunt for a new movie but it did not distract me while watching the love triangle in his effective new movie "Two Lovers". He gives another sturdy performance as a shy, conflicted young man in love with two very different women. One is played again wonderfully by Gwyneth Paltrow as a damaged woman caught with a married man and a little drug use. The other woman is played by quite a new find in actress Vinessa Shaw. Vinessa Shaw has a raw natural beauty that the screen loves and her performance really makes you care about her sweet character. I just wish the screenplay could have delved in her character more. I felt something was missing but she plays a girl who is close to her family and is the antithesis to the Paltrow character. Director James Gray and his cinematographer do a wonderful job of capturing a place and time and the movie is beautiful to look at. This is an effective love story and we care about each character. There is a great sense of family in this movie and that was my favorite part. Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov are great as the Phoenix character's parents. This movie kept me entertained and involved and I think the radiant Vinessa Shaw has quite a future ahead of her. 'Two Lovers" is now on DVD.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

'The Year in Movies: 2008' Published in 2010.

'2008: The Year The Academy Made A Big Mistake and The Loss of a Legend'

'The Screen Icon'

First and foremost before I rant on the Academy Awards again and touch on the year in movies I have to mention the passing away of a major film icon and one of the best actors ever in the movies. I grew up watching Paul Newman and I thought he was the personification of cool. I did think other actors were as cool back then in my age range like Matt Dillon and Sean Penn but I was always fascinated by Newman because I knew he was a movie star. He is one of the first adult actors I wanted to see more of and to study. Growing up in the 70's I was a big Burt Reynolds fan but when I saw my first Paul Newman movie that I was aware of I knew that he was an actor as Reynolds was more of a screen presence and Hollywood star. Newman was a star but it went deeper because he was also smart, effective and magnetic and he could act. My growing love of movies and grasp of the power of more adult themed movies coincided with my growing affection for Newman. I also idolized Clint Eastwood blindly and everyone knows I worshiped Eastwood but also Paul Newman became my favorite actor and I tried to see every movie of his I could see. It was a number of things including his calm and cool, taking over a scene and his flawless screen presence.

I have not seen every movie Newman has made but most I have seen I loved so I will be looking back at his career the best I can. Paul Newman started acting and made his Broadway debut in "Picnic" with actress Kim Stanley. His film debut was in a silly Biblical movie called "The Silver Chalice" in 1954. Following those were "Somebody Up There Likes Me" about boxer Rocky Graziano and also "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" with Elizabeth Taylor. The 60's are where Newman became a star and in 1961 he made a huge impact and star making performance in the classic "The Hustler" with the legendary Jackie Gleason. This is one of my favorite movies of all time and Newman is incredible. Here you have the greatest comedy actor ever in my opinion in Jackie Gleason sharing the screen with this magnetic new actor. Newman was totally convincing, sexy, funny and charismatic. Here was a great actor arriving with it all, sex appeal, great acting skills and a screen presence that said "I own this screen". Six years later came another classic and also one of my favorite movies of all time. "Cool Hand Luke" is hands down the best prison film ever made. Newman played a cocksure and trouble starting convict and he was given another great supporting cast in George Kennedy and Strother Martin. It contains another great Newman performance and a classic scene where Newman is challenged on how many eggs he can eat. What a great scene and what a great movie! Funny, wonderful characters and a very entertaining story and Newman was proving to be very smart in his film choices, he was a star now!

Newman followed up that classic with a new acting partnership with another actor who was becoming a star and the result was magic! Robert Redford was a more quiet and in some ways reserved actor but he was very good looking and charismatic. They would start out in a popular Western that would become a hit and a classic. It was "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid" and no one had seen a Western like this before. I do not think it was a particularly good movie and in fact I think it is over rated but Newman was fantastic and him and Redford were magic together even though the movie is kind of clumsy and stupid. The next Newman/Redford movie though was going to be something special and that was "The Sting" which is the mother of all con movies and one of my favorites! This is a very entertaining, smart and fun movie that would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. It deserved it for this 1973 movie was perfect in it's tone, cinematography, acting, directing, music and the perfect ideal of a perfect acting tandem. I saw the movie with my Mother and Father when I was five in the front row practically and didn't know what I was seeing but boy did I watch it on video a lot when I got older. Then Newman would take part in another show of his power with a classic comedy that is one of the ten best sports movies of all time! Now I was nine years old and I was loving "Slap Shot" because I do admit I started to check out more adult films and here was an extremely hilarious and vulgar comedy. I was loving it because it was dirty and there were naked women and I was laughing so hard and I was like having the time of my life. The best thing about it was Newman was so good in the role because he didn't pander to the material or think he was above it. He gave a great, detailed and flawless comic performance. The best thing about the movie was that it was deeper than just a vulgar comedy because Newman gave it grit and depth.

Then in 1982 Paul Newman would give his best performance of his career in the best courtroom movie ever made! This is not only his best performance but in the top ten best performances ever on screen! "The Verdict", which is David Mamet's best writing job for movies, was a masterpiece and a master class in acting. Every acting class should have "The Verdict" played for their students because this is how acting in movies is done! This is an amazing performance as Newman played an alcoholic, ambulance chasing lawyer who finds this amazing court case dropped in his lap that might change his life. Also this might be the best portrayal ever of an alcoholic ever on screen. Newman looks older, grayer, slowed down but that gleam in his eye is also still there. This is the first time Newman started showing a little age and he was was not afraid to shed that vanity. It is an outstanding and measured performance and Newman was on his way to winning an Oscar but shockingly lost and that is the biggest travesty that ever befell the Oscars! He would later win in as Best Actor for a lesser film and performance but Newman was still outstanding in it. "The Color of Money" was a follow up to "The Hustler" and yes it is an unnecessary sequel but I was still glad it was made. First it was directed by the legendary Martin Scorcese and Newman was also passing the torch to an emerging star in the making. A young Tom Cruise was getting his first taste of the big leagues and he was a great compliment to Newman. Cruise in this movie reminded me of a young Paul Newman with the gleam in his eye, sex appeal and acting chops. They were great together and even though the movie was a little beneath Newman he made it his own and deserved his award.

There were many more great Newman performances to behold and he gave another Award caliber performance in "Nobody's Fool" (94) directed by Robert Benton and the movie had another masterful performance by Newman in a powerful character study. Newman dabbled in some directing and he directed a lot of movies with his wife of many years Joanne Woodward. They had to be the most perfect couple that ever had graced Hollywood. Newman first directed his wife in "Rachel, Rachel" (68) which is a movie I had not seen. He would direct her in more movies and their final swan song was the 1990 movie "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge" and both actors were marvelous in this small, reserved drama and again Paul Newman was amazing in his performance and direction. Newman in the final years of his career would make more interesting films like "Road To Perdition" and lending his voice to the Pixar film "Cars". The only thing I regretted was that I wanted to see Newman and Redford reunited in anything even a documentary of them talking shop but sadly that never happened. Most of all besides Newman's classic movies and performances the man was a class act and a great humanitarian. His "Newman's Own" products benefited children's charities and his "Hole in the Wall Gang" was a series of summer camps set up for disabled children, He was a man with great passion and a big heart. He had left us a masterful movie career that ranks with among the best and then many lives were also touched by his generosity and passion. I will miss him but there are many more movies to see and discover and many great and classic memories. So long our blue eyed friend!

The Academy Awards

For many years the Academy Awards have given us bad, long and insufferable shows and every year brings nominations that make me scratch my head. It is a matter of opinion but there have been so many over rated movies that were nominated and even won Best Picture. "Dances With Wolves" over "Good Fellas"? "Ordinary People" over "Raging Bull"? "Out of Africa" over "The Color Purple"? How about "Driving Miss Daisy" winning and not even one of the best films of all time "Do The Right Thing" even being nominated. "Gandhi" over "E.T", "World According To Garp", "Tootsie","The Verdict" and a slew of other movies in 1982 that were better that year and are classics now when "Gandhi" has been totally forgotten by now? Does anyone remember "The Last Emperor"? I am not talking about the over rated "Saving Private Ryan" losing because that shouldn't have even been nominated. I am not a big fan of the Epic or Costume Drama and I am more into the edgy drama or classic comedy so I don't always jibe with the Academy. I am not going to touch the acting because I agree most of the time except Ben Kingsley in "Gandhi" over Paul Newman in "The Verdict"? Really? Comedy and Big Blockbusters are always ignored when comedy is harder than drama so that doesn't register with me.

This brings me to the choices for Best Picture for 2008. What a crock of you know what! "The Reader" is one of those stuffy, heady and "I am one of those prestige films" that are only made to get awards. This is basically "Last Tango With A Nazi" and is so dull and noble I had to check my pulse every five minutes. This movie though was nominated for Best Picture when even Kate Winslet who was in it made an even better film and gave a better performance in "Revolutionary Road". I could have picked 25 movies better than "The Reader" to get that slot. Which brings me to "The Dark Knight" which should have been given that slot because this is exciting film making and not dull Academy crap. "The Dark Knight" isn't your typical Super Hero Hollywood Blockbuster but a deep, intoxicating and beautifully made movie that had a little of that 40's film noir classic feel and a story that was complex and deep. The Academy can't nominate a huge money making super hero film though. It can't nominate a comedy either because it's all about message movies and Epics and that is elitist and a shame. Now the boneheads in the Academy have added five more nominations for Best Picture to make it ten and that is even more shameful and against tradition. Now you leave it open for more movies that don't deserve a nomination to make it more worthless. Just because you made a mistake that not only me but thousands of others have suggested and left out "The Dark Knight" for Best Picture doesn't mean you should make it more of a travesty. Look for my article soon on the year of 2009 and the Oscar nominations and I bet I will be fuming about those ten nominations. With all apologies to "Star Trek", if that is nominated for Best Picture I will be laughing!

The Comeback and the Deep Loss

This past year Hollywood found an actor who had lost his way and lost a promising new screen icon who would have been one of our finest actors. Mickey Rourke and Heath Ledger were alike in a lot of ways. They both came on to the scene as sex symbols and new forces in explosive acting. Mickey Rourke was going to be the new Marlon Brando at least to me. I saw that same fire, intensity and focus that Brando gave when he was young. Heath Ledger was the same soon to be force that combined both Rourke's and Brando's heat, intensity and acting prowess. Actually I think Ledger was going to be better than both of them if not our best actor ever. Sadly we will never know how great Ledger was going to be but I am 100% sure I would be right.

I was 14 years old when I sat down and watched on video what would turn out to be one of my all time favorite movies. The movie was "Diner" directed by Barry Levinson who was making his debut and I saw an actor that I couldn't keep my eyes off of. I had seen this actor before in small roles in "Fade To Black" and "Body Heat" but I didn't know his name. It turned out that I found him the most interesting actor out of a slew of future great actors like Kevin Bacon. In "Diner" Rourke just had sex appeal coming out through his pores. He had a swagger and a confidence that announced that he was here to stay and about to make an impact. He was good again in Francis Coppola's "Rumble Fish" and then would team up with a similar intense actor named Eric Roberts. "The Pope of Greenwich Village" was a great character piece and was perfect for Rourke to show off his acting skills and intensity. Again that confidence was there and that sexy swagger was there also. Mickey Rourke was becoming one of my favorite actors. His films got a lot of mixed responses but I loved them all and everyone agreed that at least Rourke was outstanding. Films like "Year of the Dragon" (85) (I think I was the only one that liked that movie), "9 1/2 Weeks" (86), "Angel Heart" (87) and "Barfly" (87) were all movies that I loved. I also was in awe of Rourke and he was building up some good, deep work and a film resume of great acting.

After the embarrassing Micheal Cimino remake "Desperate Hours" in the early 90's Rourke was on a downslide not helped by the weird movie "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man". He has stated that he was given bad direction and choices in movies and he then decided to try to become a professional boxer. I would never fault an actor that I love to stop making movies and try a new career but I missed him and wanted to see him win awards and accolades. He made such an impact in my life and was one of my influences to get into the movie business. Later on I would get my wish as Mickey Rourke came back in a huge way with a career defining performance in "The Wrestler", a flawless and powerful character study. Mickey Rourke had aged and that movie star face was diminished but that fire was back in a big way. I was very emotional when Rourke won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a drama.(even pointing out his friend Eric Roberts who I also loved and who also faded away). Now with roles in "Ironman 2" and Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" I have my old friend back and I hope his second career is full of success.

Heath Ledger was a young Australian actor who I spotted in the above average teenage movie "10 Things I Hate About You". I expected the movie to be bad and I went to see it actually because I see everything. I love going to every movie because you never know what wonderful new surprises are waiting to be discovered. The surprise in this movie was Heath Ledger and he was sexy, had a great screen presence and he was intense and magnetic. He followed up this arrival with a small role in Mel Gibson's "The Patriot". Next came a small movie that I consider one of the most under rated films ever and Ledger's performance is one of the main reasons I love it. "Lords of Dogtown" was a highly entertaining movie about skateboarders in the 70's. What amazed me was with that subject matter I expected a dull movie but it turned out to be one of my guilty pleasures and a great movie. Part of that was due to one of the most original and captivating performances ever by Heath Ledger. I knew that he had a great career ahead of him because he was exciting and original. You should check out this movie to see why I thought Ledger could do any he role he wanted. He even made a huge impact in a movie that didn't even belong to him in "Monster's Ball".

Ledger knew his craft and he knew how to parlay that craft into smart choices and meticulous performances. Heath Ledger would then have another iconic role in the deeply moving and beautiful "Brokeback Mountain". This movie caused quite a stir with controversy over it's love story and what was sad to me is that that controversy took away from one of the best love stories ever made. The cast were all fantastic and Heath Ledger was so heartbreaking and that was because he had that power to make you feel something deep in his character. Not many actors have this power where you are watching them and you feel that yes that is what it's all about! "The Dark Knight" was one of the most anticipated movies in history and the hype on Ledger's performance as the Joker was getting huge buzz as the movie was. Though I also knew the hype on him would be validated. It turned out that Heath Ledger's performance was perfection. It was twisted, dark, macabre but also a fully fleshed out character. Ledger had such a power that after you watched him here you felt like you knew everything about his Joker. You usually don't feel this during a super hero movie but you could actually identify with the villain. You felt a little empathy and with the performance you knew his back story and pain. It was such a magnetic, awesome and powerful performance and Heath Ledger made the Joker in this film the best villain ever in a super hero movie. Sadly Heath Ledger passed away before the film came out and the movies lost what could have been one of our best actors ever. I still consider him to be one of our best and most powerful actors. What's left behind is a shortened but no less legendary acting career that seriously rivals James Dean.

The show must go on and what is left behind is another powerful and special actress Michelle Williams who was his wife. Also my screen icon of the future is passed on to another wonderful actor Joseph Gordon Levitt. He was with Heath in "10 Things I Hate About You" and he has that same power and presence that Ledger had. Some actors leave us and break our heart and some actors drift off and break our heart. Mickey Rourke is still here and the wonderful memories of Heath Ledger will always be with us.

Now on a happier note here are the good, great and bad things that happened in 2008 and the things that made me go Seriously?

The wonderful score by Phillip Glass in "Cassandra's Dream"
Is there not any role Robert Downey Jr. can't play?
"The Strangers" was a surprisingly good, effective throwback to 70's slasher films.
"The Happening"- What the hell is happening with M Knight Shyamalan? Turkey after turkey in a row after the wonderful "Signs", "Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable".
The beginning hour of "Wall E" with it's beautiful silence reminding me of a Charlie Chaplin film.
Will Smith finally gets one wrong with "Hancock". It was great while it lasted!
I was excited for the 3D "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and found another blurry, crappy 3D movie.
Someone give Eddie Murphy a good screenplay! When is "Beverly Hills Cop 4" coming out?
Tom Cruise who knew? His hilarious cameo in the hilarious "Tropic Thunder" swearing, going bald and tearing the roof down!
Speaking of "Tropic Thunder". Robert Downey Jr. again like I asked before. What can't he do?
"Vicky Christina Barcelona"-A beautiful Barcelona back drop and three beautiful and sexy women and yes I do admit Javier Bardem was hot also.
Nick Cage playing Sylvester Stallone in "Bangkok Dangerous".
Sanaa Lathan and Robin Givens, two of the most beautiful women in the first Tyler Perry movie I liked-"The Family That Preys".
The musical score by Rachel Portman for "The Duchess".
The cringe inducing, funny and painful speech by Anne Hathaway during the rehearsal dinner for her sister's wedding in "Rachel Getting Married". It was well written and beautifully acted!
Goodbye Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes. We will miss you very much! "Soul Men"
Sean William Scott, Paul Rudd, Jane Lynch and Christopher Mintz Plasse in "Role Models" These four actors make me happy!
Finally a great vampire movie that equals "True Blood"-"Let the Right One In". "Twilight" are you there?
What happened to James Bond as played by Daniel Craig? I thought this was the start of something wonderful. "Quantam of Solace"
Beyonce singing "At Last" as Ella Fitgerald in "Cadillac Records". It was beautiful and sultry!
The old school glint and grimace of Clint Eastwood in "Gran Torino". I had 70's, 80's Eastwood flashbacks.

Memorable Performances and Future Stars:

Hayley Atwell-Cassandra's Dream
Colin Hanks-Untraceable
Lake Bell-Over Her Dead Body
Isla Fisher-Definitely, Maybe
Melanie Diaz-Be Kind, Rewind
Kat Dennings-Charlie Bartlett, Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
Amber Heard-Never Back Down, Pineapple Express
Kate DelCastillo-Under the Same Moon
Adam Carolla, Constance Zimmer-The Hammer
Simon Pegg, Hank Azaria-Run, Fatboy, Run
Norah Jones-My Blueberry Nights
Amy Poehler-Baby Mama
Chiwetel Ejiofor-Redbelt
Ricky Gervais-Ghost Town

And I am Totally In Love With:

Robert Downey Jr-Tropic Thunder, IronMan, Charlie Bartlett
Mila Kunis-Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Jane Lynch-Role Models, Glee
Rebecca Hall-Vicky Christina Barcelona
Rachel McAdams-The Lucky Ones
Sally Hawkins-Happy Go Lucky
Zooey Deschanel-Yes Man
Paul Rudd-Role Models
Amanda Seyfried-Mama Mia!

Here We Go:

Fair Movies Good For a Rainy Day:

Smart People
Never Back Down
Mad Money
Vince Vaughn's Wild West Show
Flight of the Red Baloon
Baby Mama
Kung Fu Panda
Kit Kitredge: An American Girl
Mama Mia!
Step Brothers
CSNY: Deja Vu
Bottle Shock
What We Do Is Secret
Hamlet 2
Synecdoche, New York
Late Bloomer
Soul Men
What Doesn't Kill You

Now the Bad Movies:

First Sunday
Strange Wilderness
The Eye
College Road Trip
Zombie Strippers
Chapter 27
The Fall
War Inc.
The Reader
Savage Grace
Meet Dave
Hell Ride
Death Race
Eight Miles High
Babylon A.D.
Righteous Kill
Eagle Eye
The Spirit

My Ten Worst Movies of 2008

10.)The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Director: Mark Herman

This is what happens when the director of "Blame It On The Bellboy" makes a Nazi movie. This should be called "Stupid German Kid Gets Jewish Boy Killed" as opposed to "The Reader" being "Last Tango With a Nazi". I only joke like this because it is an example of what the writers here have done, exploit the Holocaust with riduculous situations. There was a movie made called "Schindler's List", case closed.

9.) Street Kings: Director: David Ayer. Keanu Reeves

A really bad cop movie where everybody screams at each other and Keanu Reeves is a vicious bad cop! Seriously? Keanu Reeves? Seriously?

8.) Bedtime Stories: Director: Adam Shankman. Adam Sandler

Boring, clumsy and even a five year old would say "That really sucked!"

7.) Bangkok Dangerous: Directors" The Pang Brothers. Nicholas Cage

T h i s m o v i e r e a l l y g o e s s l o w. I t i s s u p p o s e d t o
b e a n a c t i o n m o v i e. Sylvester Stallone would even say there is no way I am doing this!

6.) 10,000 B.C.: Director: Roland Emerich

Cheesy costumes, special effects, bad acting, bad dialogue and corny, boring bad time had by all.

5.) Funny Games: Director: Michael Haneke. Naomi Watts

This is a remake of a German thriller and the critics loved it and praised the director. Be careful what you wish for when said director remakes it faithfully and those same critics now hate it. This is ugly, vile and uncomfortable for even me and it made me want to go take a shower.

4.) Prom Night: Director: Nelson McCormick

This got my special Zero star review because there is nothing I like at all about it. A remake of an actually good slasher film that was goofy fun. This one is predictable, has not one scare, needlessly gory, ridiculous, ugly, boring and needless. This is actually one of the most badly directed movies of all time.

3.) The Day The Earth Stood Still: Director: Scott Derrickson. Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves! Seriously? I defend you all the time and you do not one but two bad movies in one year! This is the lamest exscuse to remake a classic since Vince Vaughn did "Psycho". A remake of one of the best science fiction movies ever! Seriously? This is painfully boring and laughable.

2.) 88 Minutes: Director: Jon Avnet. Al Pacino

I can't believe the way my hair looks!!!!! Hey it's Pacino over acting and shouting in one of the shockingly worst movies a star has ever done. I would like to meet who did Pacino's hair and say to them "Seriously? This is worse then one of those cheap, amateur films that were dumped at my door at the movie theatre in North Carolina I used to run. A slasher film, a cop thriller and a race against time thriller to stop the killer all done horribly. I did laugh a lot though.

Drum Roll Please!

1.) The Love Guru: Director: Marco Schnabel. Mike Meyers

Who was this movie made for? People who love Bollywood movies? People who love the Austin Powers movies? Little kids who like fart and bowel movement jokes? I love Mike Meyers but I don't understand how someome so brilliant would find any of this funny. This is very painful and excruciating to sit through and one of the unfunniest films ever made!

Faces To Watch:

Emma Stone-The House Bunny
Jennifer Carpenter-Quarantine and Battle in Seattle
Kat Dennings: Charlie Bartlett and Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
Ari Graynor-Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
Sally Hawkins-Cassandra's Dream and Happy Go Lucky
Amanda Crow-Sex Drive
Elsa Zylberstein-I've Loved You So Long
Shea Whigam-Splinter
Sharon Leal-Soul Men
Jane Lynch-Role Models
Allison Pill-Milk
Ahney Her-Gran Torino
Michael Shannon-Revolutionary Road and Shotgun Stories
Dev Patel, Freida Pinto and Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millonaire
Elizabeth Banks-Zach & Miri Make a Porno

Here are good movies from 2008:

Cassandra's Dream
How She Move
Taxi to the Dark Side
Definitely, Maybe
The Other Boleyn Girl
Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
The Band's Visit
Horton Hears a Who
Married Life
Under the Same Moon
Run Fatboy Run
The Forbidden Kingdom
Standard Operating Procedure
Tuya's Marriage
Then She Found Me
Speed Racer
The Witnesses
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Sex and the City
The Strangers
You Don't Mess With the Zohan
When Did You Last See Your Father?
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Shotgun Stories
The Incredible Hulk
Get Smart
Hellboy II
Encounters at the End of the World
American Teen
Pineapple Express
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Henry Poole Is Here
The Rocker
I Served the King of England
Burn After Reading
Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys
Lakeview Terrace
The Duchess
The Lucky Ones
Battle in Seattle
Flash of Genius
The Express
The Secret Life of Bees
Zach & Miri Make a Porno
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Transporter 3
Cadillac Records
Nothing Like the Holidays
Yes Man
Marley & Me
Waltz With Bashir
Last Chance Harvey



Robert Downey Jr-Tropic Thunder
Michael Shannon-Revolutionary Road
Heath Ledger-The Dark Knight
James Franco-Pineapple Express
Peter Mullan-Boy A
Tom Cruise-Tropic Thunder
Javier Bardem-Vicky Christina Barcelona
Brad Pitt-Burn After Reading
John Malcovich-Burn After Reading
Bill Irwin-Rachel Getting Married
Eddie Marsan-Happy Go Lucky
Josh Brolin-Milk


Rebecca Hall-Vicky Christina Barcelona
Penelope Cruz-Vicky Christina Barcelona
Debra Winger-Rachel Getting Married
Rose Marie DeWitt-Rachel Getting Married
Jennifer Ehle-Pride and Glory
Viola Davis-Doubt
Amy Adams Doubt
Marisa Tomei-The Wrestler
Taraji P. Henson-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Olivia Thirlby-Snow Angels


Colin Ferrell-In Bruges
Brendan Gleeson-In Bruges
Richard Jenkins-The Visitor
Robert Downey Jr-IronMan
Stephen Rea-Stuck
Michael Shannon-Shotgun Stories
Andrew Garfield-Boy A
Josh Brolin-W
Paul Rudd-Role Models
Dev Patel-Slumdog Millonaire
Sean Penn-Milk
Frank Langella-Frost/Nixon
Michael Sheen-Frost/Nixon
Clint Eastwood-Gran Torino
Mickey Rourke-The Wrestler
Leonardo DiCaprio-Revolutionary Road
Phillip Seymour Hoffman-Doubt
Sam Rockwell-Snow Angels


Melissa Leo-Frozen River
Anne Hathaway-Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins-Happy Go Lucky
Angelina Jolie-The Changeling
Kristin Scott Thomas-I've Loved You So Long
Meryl Strep-Doubt
Michelle Williams-Wendy and Lucy
Kate Winslet-Revolutionary Road
Kate Beckinsale-Snow Angels


Best Actor: Mickey Rourke-The Wrestler
Best Actress: Kate Winslet-Revolutionary Road
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger-The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz-Vicky Christina Barcelona


1.)The Counterfeiters (Germany) Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky. Karl Markovics

Now this is what a powerful foreign film dealing with the Holocaust should be like. A very compelling story about a man who has to change his criminal ways when he has to enter a Concentration Camp.

2.) Young @ Heart (Documentary) Directors: Stephen Walker and Sally George

This could have been a sap fest but I actually was rooting for a group of senior citizens singing in a chorus. What is unique about it is that they are singing rap, alternative and classic rock songs. This is inspiring and a real crowd pleaser!

3.) Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Documentary)
Director: Alex Gibney

This is a compelling look at the life of Hunter S. Thompson and I learned a lot. A great companion piece is Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" but not Bill Murray in "Where the Buffalo Roam"

4.) Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (Documentary) Director: Marina Zenovich

This is now a very topical film because of the new developments in Polanski's rape of a minor legal case. No matter your opinion on the man the movie is fascinating at looking at the case and the aftermath and Polanski's film career. This is a very balanced film that just looks at the facts.

5.) Toots (Documentary) Director: Kristi Jacobson

If you love the 40's and 50's and love Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason (my favorite comic actor of all time) this movie is a lot of fun and fascinating. Director Kristi Jacobson tells the story of her grandfather Toots Schor who owned a fancy club were many actors, musicicans and athletes would go to. To hear stories of the legends who frequented there is a lot of fun and amazing. The second best documentary of 2008.

6.) The Changeling Director: Clint Eastwood. Angelina Jolie

The Changeling is another strong Clint Eastwood directing job in a very scary and emotional story. Not at the peak of his powers and actually the second best Eastwood film of 2008.

7.) I've Loved You So Long Director: Phillippe Claudel (France) Kristin Scott Thomas

Kristin Scott Thomas gives her best performance ever in this emotional and beautiful character study. This is all about acting, story and characterization and they are all flawless.


30.) 'Boy A'

Director: John Crowley. Peter Mullan, Andrew Garfield

This is an unflinching and powerful crime drama with two of the best performances of the year by Garfield and Mullan. Andrew Garfield is up to the task of his difficult role of a released criminal dealing with the after effects of abuse. This isn't a fun trip but you won't soon forget it's power and great characters.

29.) 'The Bank Job'

Director: Roger Donaldson. Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows

An entertaining and fun British bank heist thriller with great action, thrills and great dialogue. The movie is full of nasty secrets and intrigue and this based on a true story movie is exciting and moves fast with a lot of neat twists.

28.) 'The Promotion'

Director: Steve Conrad. Sean William Scott, John C. Reilly

This Chicago based dark comedy is for anyone at a mid level job who gets screwed a lot. Sean William Scott plays against type and he plays well off John C. Relly as two employees trying to land the same promotion. I found this very funny, real, twisted and dark and I laughed a lot.

27.) 'Transsiberian'

Director: Brad Anderson. Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley

Hitchcock would have been proud of this classic type chase thriller. This has beautiful wintry locations, thrills, twists and another great Woody Harrelson performance. There is intrigue, great crisp violence and a lot of surprises as a couple go on a twisted vacation full of great suspense.

26.) 'Man On A Wire'

Director: James Marsh. Phillippe Petit

This is my pick for Best Documentary of 2008 and it is a lot more than I expected. This is a thrilling recreation of Phillippe Petit's high wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 to pull off the Crime of the Century. The movie does a gret job of recreating the crime as Petit explains what happened. So the movie is full of fun facts about the crime mixed with a movie thriller that is fascinating and terribly exciting. It also is haunting for it's close look at the towers back in 1974 and you can not escape the thoughts of 9/11.

25.) 'U2 3D'

Directors: Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington

This awesome thrill ride of a concert film in 3D Imax is an experience I hope everyone saw. Of course if you don't like U2 you probably won't enjoy it but you will be impressed. If you love U2 this is one of the best times you could have at a movie. You are right there on stage and the camera work is breathtaking. I hope this is the first in a long line of concert films with different bands in 3D Imax.

24.) 'Shine A Light'

Director: Martin Scorcese. The Rolling Stones

This is another great concert film that I saw on Imax but thank God it wasn't 3D. I don't think I could handle Keith Richards in 3D. Yikes! I wish this was all music instead of stopping for news reel footage but I like Scorcese's frantic planning bits. This captures the band well in concert and I finally get Christina Aguilera. Her duet with Mick Jagger is very sexy and hot and also Jack White lends a hand and is very good.

23.) 'The Hammer'

Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld. Adam Carolla, Constance Zimmer

This is the nicest surprise of the year and a very entertaining boxing movie that is actually different with some formula touches. Adam Carolla is very funny and has a future in leading comedy roles based on this performance. Constance Zimmer is also sweet and attractive in this light and effective love story. This is low budget, has a nice, real feel and pretty good boxing scenes. It is also a heartwarming crowd pleaser and I didn't expect that from Carolla.

22.) 'Doubt'

Director: John Patrick Shanley. Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis

This claustrophobic and intense chamber piece has a wonderful cast that is at the top of their game. This movie creates a great debate on the moral quandry of the story and is pretty balanced. The movie always makes you think and Streep, Hoffman, Adams and Davis are outstanding in this provocative drama. It is a little stagy and full of acting moments but great nonetheless.

21.) 'Frost/Nixon'

Director: Ron Howard. Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Rebecca Hall, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt

This stage play adapted to the screen could be Ron Howard's best directing effort but not his best movie. Frank Langella is amazing as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen is his equal as David Frost. This battle of wits is fun, intense and well played and the film captures it's time period brilliantly. Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon and Rebecca Hall also make a great impact. I watched the real life Frost/Nixon interviews after and this movie nails it.

20.) 'Tell No One'

(France) Director: Guillame Canet. Marie Josee Croze, Francois Cluzet, Kristin Scott Thomas

This is another tense thriller and mystery that Hitchcock would have loved. This is very well written and unfolds like a great novel. There are twists and turns that make sense and it has very well directed suspense. It also has one of the most beautiful women in the World in Marie Josee Croze.

19.) 'Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist'

Director: Peter Sollett. Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Ari Graynor

I probably love this movie more than anyone but the second time I watched it I knew that it was really a great movie. This has a wonderful soundtrack, another wonderful Michael Cera performance and plays like a junior "After Hours". This coming of age road trip comedy has a sweet love story and two actresses who make an impact. Kat Dennings and Ari Graynor are beautiful,funny and have good comic timing and can certainly do comedy. My little sleeper of 2008.

18.) 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'

Director: Nicholas Stoller. Jason Siegel, Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Russell Brand

This is an extremely funny and twisted comedy with a bunch of fresh new faces that are all great and funny. Jason Siegel makes a good, awkward leading man, Mila Kunis is beautiful and shows she is a good comic actress and Russell Brand is hilarious. The twisted puppet show at the end of the movie is brilliant and made me laugh until I cried. That alone is worth the price of admission. This is a great companion piece to "There's Something About Mary".

17.) 'Let The Right One In' (Sweden)

Director: Tomas Alfredson. Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Finally we get the Vampire movie we all deserve with blood, jolts, scares and mood instead of weak, sissy, teenage fluff. This is the best foreign film of the year and a truly scary horror film but also a great coming of age drama. This is a very moody, suspenseful movie with classy thrills, effective blood and kills. The young cast is also brilliant and the story creates great tension.

16.) 'Role Models'

Director: David Wain. Paul Rudd, Sean William Scott, Jane Lynch, Elizabeth Banks, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ken Leung

This starts off as a raunchy comedy and turns out to have a super sweet story that is touching. The movie is definitley not a scmaltz fest and is truthfully very funny but you end up caring about the characters. This is very well written and the actors are all fantastic. The invaluable Paul Rudd is becoming one of my favorites and just by opening his mouth he makes me laugh. Every role he touches is gold and Sean William Scott plays off him very well. This also has a priceless and hilarious performance by Jane Lynch who is the Meryl Streep of comedy. This movie is very funny from the first frame to the last.

15.) 'The Visitor'

Director: Thomas McCarthy. Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Hiam Abbass

Wonderful character actor Richard Jenkins finally get his due with a great leading role in this indie drama. Jenkins is outstanding in this small, intimate drama that is very effective and touching. This is a movie about normal people trying to live their lives in extraordianry circumstances.

14.) 'Wendy and Lucy'

Director: kelly Reichardt. Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams gives one of the best performances by an actress this year and she is showing a great range that equals a Meryl Streep. This very low budget movie is not full of soul shaking drama but it is still powerful. This is a good look at America's homeless problem and is also a strong, unusual love story. People who like Marley & Me would also appreciate this in a different way.

13.) 'Happy Go Lucky'

Director: Mike Leigh. Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan

Sally Hawkins has such a warmth and infectious smile in this movie that you just want to hug her! She makes a strong star making performance in this bright comedy that turns out to have a little dark edge. Eddie Marsan is also powerful in a role that makes you cringe at first and is a great compliment to Hawkin's sunniness. His is a performance that will get him noticed in Hollywood. This movie starts off light and funny at first and then surprisingly starts to gain tension and depth. This is another great use of improvisation by the great Mike Leigh.

12.) 'Gran Torino'

Director: Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood, Ahney Her, Bee Vang, Christopher Carley, John Carroll Lynch

This is a very entertaining and fun time at the movies and another great Eastwood directing job. Eastwood's latest great films seem to have an edge and darkness to them. "Gran Torino" turns out to be lighter, funnier and it is great to have Eastwood back on screen acting and having fun. This has a solid story, doesn't preach in it's racism angle and is funny and touching. A real find here is Ahney Her who can spar with Eastwood verbally with great skill. This is one of Eastwood's best performances of his career and that magical glare is back. The ending is also a perfect way to wrap up the film's story.

11.) 'Tropic Thunder'

Director: Ben Stiller. Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jacl Black, Tom Cruise, Brandon T. Jackson, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride

This is one of the funniest satires of Hollywood and the movie business ever made. There are a lot of big laughs, a great string of movie trailer parodies, a masterful Downey Jr. performance and a surprisingly raunchy Tom Cruise. The great cast is outstanding including great turns by Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey and Steve Coogan. This is a little deeper in it's dig at Hollywood then I expected. All I can say is that Robert Downey Jr. can do no wrong and he alone makes this one of the 20 best movies of 2008. Well this is actually to me the funniest comedy of 2008!


As I have been doing these lists since 1983 I have changed my mind on placements at my Top Ten List so some of these can change. This is my first list on this blog so let me tell you any movie on my Top 20 can sneak into the top ten because after time some opinions change. Almost any movie on my Top 10 can replace the number one movie. This year my top 2 are pretty safe though those might switch spots but the others can change. Without further ado...

10.) 'Revolutionary Road'

Writer: Justin Haythe based on novel by Richard Yates
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates

I have gotten a lot of negative flack for loving this very hard to love movie but some people love 'The Reader' and I love this movie. If you love a challenging film that doesn't pander to the audience and you love "Mad Men" then you might love it also. Based on one of my favorite books I have read in a long time "Revolutionary Road" I find the movie is a pretty great if not as great an adaptation of the powerful book. This movie set in the 50's is very stately and cold and is hard to embrace but I love powerful movies and the ending is powerful! It also has one of the best performances by an actress in a few decades by Kate Winslet. She is perfect showing vulnerability, bitchiness and strength as the woman married to Leonardo DiCaprio who is also great. This is Winslet's best performance in a long line of them along with "Little Children". This along with Charlize Theron in "Monster" is an iconic performance and I was blown away by her. Proof that this movie was not embraced was that Winslet was nominated for the wrong movie which is also more Hollywood safe "The Reader". Steppenwolf actor Michael Shannon also is great in a small part that is very memorable. The depiction of the 50's is flawless, the story is well transferred to the screen from the book and I felt an emotional connection to it. It's look at marriage is uncompromising showing how realizing your individual goals and dreams can be compromised. How communication is very important and how some people get married without coming to terms with how hard it is to have a successful marriage. I loved the book and I think the movie does an outstanding job of bringing it to life on the screen.

9.) 'Rachel Getting Married'

Writer: Jenny Lumet
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Anne Hathaway, RoseMarie Dewitt, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin

Like "Revolutionary Road" this is a hard to embrace movie that I loved. You can tell by these two choices I invite being challenged by dark material. This is director Jonathan Demme's great return to form with a more intimate movie. Yes the hand held camera takes getting used to but a lot of movies have already done this technique. Yes the title character is selfish but if you like family dramas this is powerful. The performances are the main selling point and Anne Hathaway is a revelation. I did not see this performance ever coming out of her. Debra Winger also returns to her old amazing form with a very great performance playing pretty much a cold bitch. This movie feels intimate, challenging and anyone who has a screwed up family or family member will identify with this movie. The speech by Hathaway's character during her sister's wedding rehearsal dinner is awkward, funny, painful and powerful. I also must mention that RoseMarie Dewitt and Bill Irwin give great performances that are Oscar worthy just like Hathaway and Winger.

8.) 'Wall E'

Writers: Jim Reardon and Andrew Stanton
Director: Andrew Stanton
Voices: Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin, Kathy Najimy, John Ratzenberger, Sigourney Weaver

The first hour of this amazing animated epic is pretty much a silent movie that reminded me of a Charlie Chaplin film. An animated film that can do that has to be very special. This is proof that kids are smart and they like challenging material and they don't always go for fast moving garbage. This movie is also very funny and breathtaking to look at and will probably become more special over time and after multiple viewings. The last half is not equally as masterful as the first but the use of music, the voice of Wall E and the look at the future is masterful and very entertaining. Pixar over the decades has been a wonderful gift to the movies. Bravo! and Encore!

7.) 'Iron Man'

Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard

To prove that I am not a prude and that I actually strive to have fun at the movies I am putting a super hero popcorn movie on my list. This movie is just plain fun, entertaining, fast, action packed and I loved the characters. Robert Downey can do anything I think we can all agree on. Now he can add super hero to his resume and actually he is one of the best ever. It has a great villain in the great Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow looks the best she has in years. This is a super hero who is a fascinating and layered character. I knew nothing about this comic book hero going in so I had fun discovering it here. Now we can add Iron Man to Batman, Superman and Spiderman as the subject of outstanding movies. Also Robert Downey Jr. here as he does in everything he touches just makes you smile and want to follow him anywhere. This joins the list as one of the best super hero movies ever made.

6.) 'Snow Angels'

Writer: David Gordon Green based on novel by Stewart O'Nan
Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, Nicky Katt, Griffin Dunne, Tom Noonan, Amy Sedaris

This is one of the darkest, most powerful movies I have seen and it twisted my guts inside out. Though it is also one of the most beautiful and hypnotic movies I have seen and it does have a subplot that is beautiful and touching. Sam Rockwell proves that he belongs with the best of them with an amazing performance. Rockwell has been great in a lot of small roles and he is flawless here reminding me of a young Deniro. Kate Beckinsale was a revelation to me here giving a soul baring performance proving she can act. I warn you if you have a child this will be one of the hardest movies you will ever see but it is not exploitive. This is a tough movie but the performances are amazing, the look of the film breathtaking and the story is like a good novel. Amongst the center story of a painful relationship is a sweet love story between Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby that is beautiful. Remember the name Olivia Thirlby because like in "Juno" she is a very good here. You probably will see her in the future at the Acadmy Awards.

5.) 'Slumdog Millonaire'

Writer: Simon Beaufoy based on novel "Q & A" by Vikas Swarup
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Irrfan Khan, Anil Kapoor, Medhur Mittal

Now back to a life affirming and joyous crowd pleaser that reminded of the films of old that were brash and larger than life. It is no surprise that this won Best Picture at the Oscars. This is that old Hollywood magic movie that tells an underdog story with color and poise. It is a very energetic and moving film that has a lot of dark moments but will make your heart soar at the end. The actors playing the children give wonderul, exciting and mature performances. Dev Patel gives us a hero we can cheer for and makes a great first impression, Freida Pinto is beautiful and Anil Kapoor is wonderfully slimy as the game show host. What might make it a future classic is it's willingless to tell a larger than life story that appeals to all ages. It has been compared to a Dickens type of classic story and I would have to agree with that.

4.) 'Milk'

Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Diego Luna, Allison Pill. Victor Garber

I loved this movie better the second time I saw it for the first time I was learning a lot about Havey Milk. After I first saw "Milk" I looked back at an outstanding documentary "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" from 1984. When I looked back at "Milk" I saw that director Gus Van Sant had recreated that time and place perfectly and that Sean Penn was brilliant and felt like he was the real Harvey Milk. Sean Penn is one of my favorite actors and he amazes me in everything he does and this is a much different role for him but he is Harvey Milk. I realized watching this that we were dealing with a man as important as Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. This movie is a major labor of love and it is a heartbreaking, touching, funny and powerful drama. Along with Penn, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco and Allison Pill give great performances. Van Sant has made his best film and it is a stirring and intimate epic of tolerance, change and love.

3.) 'In Bruges'

Writen and Directed By Martin McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Collin Ferrell, Ralph Fiennes, Clemence Poesy

This movie gets even better with multiple viewings. I have seen it three times and I love every minute of it from it's flawless screenplay to it's acting. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Ferrell give Oscar caliber performances as hit men in this wacky comedy with a dark underbelly. It is not only funny but violent, profane and always exciting. Collin Ferrell is incredible and charasmatic in his role. He gets all the great lines and he creates a person full of pain and clulessness perfectly. It is such a great performance and the screen play written by playwright Martin McDonagh is probably the best written movie of 2008. It is full of offbeat dialogue, black comedy and surprisingly deep emotions. Also incredible is Ralph Fiennes like you never have seen him before as a nasty, violent, profane and hilarious killer. This is a fun movie with three of the best performances of the year.

2.) 'The Dark Knight'

Writers: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Eric Roberts

This is the best super hero movie since "Superman II" and it is so much more than that. Take away Batman and Joker and you have a film noir classic that could have been made in the grand Hollywood age of the 40's. This is what big blockbuster, commercial film making is all about. This is such a dark movie with a screenplay that tackles vigilantism, moral decisions of right and wrong and it is so beautiful to look at! Chicago has never looked this awesome and this movie proves how amazing our city is with it's architecture and beauty. You also have outstanding action sequences that are spellbinding! The chase down LaSalle street with trucks, cars and the batmobile is one of the best chase sequences ever. The movie looks glorious in Imax and I actually felt queasy as the camera swoops down tall buildings and through the city. Of course one of the great pleasures of this movie is the performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. He creates something unique and twisted and actually makes you feel a twinge of sympathy for him. What really makes him different than Batman is one of the issues brought up. Heath Ledger has given us the best super hero villain ever on screen so far. Also strong is Aaron Eckhart who also gives an Oscar caliber performance. This is more of a complicated story than I thought with many layers and I loved it! This is actually a super hero movie about something. I have seen this movie many times and it still holds up so I know I haven't over rated this. I am just tired of The Mummy movies, the weak super hero movies like "X Men", the recent Superman and movies like "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe". This movie is a breath of fresh air and it reminded me when summer blockbusters were cool, exciting and larger than life. Movies like "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Star Wars", "Close Encounters" and "E.T." don't get made anymore. It is all about lifeless dreck and CGI effects and no characters to really embrace. Technology has ruined our storytelling anbition and "The Dark Knight" still proves there is life left.

and my favorite movie of 2008 is...

1.) 'The Wrestler'

Writer: Robert Siegel
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

"The Wrestler" is my favorite movie of 2008 for many reasons. People know I am a big wrestling fan but that is not the reason I love this film. Going to a major wrestling match and meeting these wrestlers I have learned how kind they are, how dedicated they are, how much they care for each other and what a sense of family and unity they have. These men and women actually break their back, bones and even destroy their faces to entertain their fans. Mickey Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson has crippled himself so bad he has to swallow pain pills like they were candy. Mickey Rourke is finally back and it feels very good to me. He gives the best performance by an actor in 2008 and his Randy "The Ram" Robinson is my favorite character of 2008. This is a small, independent film with a screenplay that knows it's subject. The great thing about this movie is that it's really not first and foremost just about pro wrestling so if you hate pro wrestling you can still love this movie. It is mostly about finding your way back after you have lost your way. It is about a daughter and her estranged father and about a man's love for a woman that just might help him get back on his feet.Randy needs people in his lonely existense like these two women or all may be lost. Rourke is so great here reminding us why he was so iconic in his early career. This is a battered Rourke, an older and wiser actor. There are many parrallels between Rourke and this character he is playing. The movie gets everything about pro wrestling right and the story is very moving and touching. Rourke's speech at the end of the movie is the best moment of acting by anyone this year. Also excellent are Marissa Tomei and one of our best young actresses in Evan Rachel Wood. Marisa Tomei also creates a great character with heart and a gentle grace. Just the thought of watching Rourke makes me want to see this movie again. It is great to see him at the peak of his acting powers again and I missed him. Watching his performance alone is one of the main reasons I am picking this the best movie of 2008.

Well I finally finished my year end list for 2008. The good news is that I won't take that long to bring you my 2009 list. I will publish my new list every year around the end of January so look for the 2009 list very soon. I will also write about my top 100 movies of the 70's. 80's. 90's and 2000-2009 very soon as well. Actually the 60's and 70's might turn out to be my top 50. A person can only see so many movies in a lifetime so until next year fall in love with the movies!