Dread Central's Best & Worst of 2008
I saw close to 100 movies over the past 12 months so when it came time to compile this list, I was quite thankful for my trusty spreadsheet with ratings and comments about them all. Despite some very dismal lows (and oh, how low they go!), there are so many bright spots that limiting myself to just five is impossible. As a result, with apologies to the sticklers in the group, here are my picks for the Best of 2008, starting with a quick Top Five:
5. Midnight Meat Train: Certainly the finest looking, most stylish film of 2008 was screenwriter Jeff Buhler and director Ryûhei Kitamura's adaptation of Clive Barker's The Midnight Meat Train. When we got home from our journey to find a theatre even showing the damn thing, I wrote "makes the top five", and now, four months later, I can't disagree. It has terrific tension and the badass bad guy of the year. The few lapses in judgment by the characters only serve to make it more of a fantasy situation, which ties in nicely with the reveal of the train's ultimate destination and purpose. The ending could have been fleshed out a bit better, but again, since it's such a fantasy, it allows the viewers to imagine it however they choose. Not a perfect film by far but certainly deserving of mention and a round of applause.
4. Cloverfield: Aside from Punisher: War Zone (which, I dare say, was a good deal more magnificently bloody and brutal than any other flick that debuted this past year), the only film I saw twice in the theatre was Cloverfield. Its portrayal of our post-9/11 ADD-afflicted, instant gratification-demanding world was dead on. I couldn't be more different from them, but I connected with the characters and found the whole Cloverfield experience nothing but stellar. And the monster attacks were none too shabby either. Sure, it would have been nice to see more of the beasts, but all in all, it was the best time I've had at the movies in years -- even more so the second time around.
3. Repo! The Genetic Opera: Meat Train's fellow Lionsgate cast-off Repo! The Genetic Opera is next on my list. We've told you guys almost everything there is to know about it. It is the hands down winner of the 2008 Blown Opportunity Award. But I'm confident it will find its audience and attain its rightful position in filmdom's hierarchy. Nothing comes close to matching its visionary sweep and visual stimulation. Or its originality and creativity. Everyone involved does such a great job; it's imaginative, funny, clever, and touching -- in a word, operatic!
2. Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Imaginations must have been running utterly rampant on the set of Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II. It came close to being my #1 pick, but a few things kept it back, especially Selma Blair's performance, which I found to be a bit of a weak link with some badly delivered lines. But otherwise it was beautiful -- inside and out. His hero may not have a human soul, but Del Toro sure does, and he knows how to use it to its best advantage. Hellboy II is stunning with its deep emotions and poignant moments between the characters with just a touch of comic relief. It's everything you could want -- plus a bunch of truly remarkable monsters and creatures. Even the villain is very three-dimensional and sympathetic. But all empathy belongs to Red -- and Perlman. He IS Hellboy!
1. The Signal: You want complex, interesting characters? Look no further than this intense, thought-provoking three-way from David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry. The idea of breaking up a film into segments and having different directors shoot each one isn't new, but these guys execute it quite brilliantly with just enough overlap to keep things real and moving forward. When I saw it way back in February, I wrote this "scary and extremely violent sci-fi Pulp Fiction plus Affair to Remember [is] probably one of the year's best." Indeed, when all was said and done, it was THE best!
And so, what else merits special consideration? My "Best of the Rest" include indie sensations Dance of the Dead, Netherbeast Incorporated, and Teeth. Theatrical releases Quarantine, Doomsday, and The Incredible Hulk easily earned a 4 out of 5 rating so I'd say that makes them worthy of an end-of-year commendation. On the tube we were treated to HBO's delightful "True Blood" and E4's ingenious "Dead Set". Rounding things out are the headsy and arresting Gabriel and Spiral as well as a trio of offerings from Sweden, France, and the UK, respectively: Let the Right One In, Inside, and The Cottage. Any and all of these are outstanding reminders of the superior parts of 2008.
Unfortunately, along with the good comes the bad. Being a firm believer in the old adage If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, I'll keep it short and sweet:
5. The Happening: The worst script of the year had to be The Happening. Not to insult teenagers, but it honestly could have been written by one. I don't know when I've been more talked down to by a film. Between this and the equally god-awful Max Payne, Marky Mark ought to be counting his blessings he's got "Entourage" around to pay his bills.
4. Shrooms: Even a ridiculous twist that Shyamalan himself would have seen coming a mile away couldn't save Shrooms. It wins the award for biggest letdown and most untapped potential. The worst part? I just know there was a decent movie somewhere in that mess!
3. Saw V: On the other hand -- trust me -- there is nothing remotely decent about Saw V. It is simply a slap in the face to the franchise's fans with its over-simplifications and explanations. But Julie Benz's wig is a real hoot!
2. The Eye: There were plenty of direct-to-DVD movies that I rated lower than The Eye remake, but nothing that hit the multiplex was worse in my opinion. The jump scares are abundant, the climax downright silly, and the chemistry between Alba and love interest Nivola non-existent. In short, the prepubescent girls sitting by us LOVED it!
1. April Fool's Day (2008): Not even the 12-year-olds, however, could muster much affection for April Fool's Day, the disappointingly substandard follow-up to The Hamiltons from the formerly promising Butcher Brothers. Considering how few critics have included the AFD remake on their end-of-year worst of lists, I'm convinced Creepy, Buz, and I are the only people on the planet who willfully subjected ourselves to it. It's abysmally dull and boring with awful acting and below average filming techniques. No other project from 2008 came close to matching its level of bad.
But plenty tried. The runners-up include Mother of Tears (oh, Dario, how far the mighty have fallen!), Mirrors (Kiefer, don't quit your day job), and Pulse 2: Afterlife (on the bright side, Pulse 3 is an improvement). Rounding out the bottom of the barrel, we have Women's Studies (which I had quite high hopes for), While She Was Out, and Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead. Do yourselves a favor and just keep moving along; there's nothing to see here.
Thanks for the memories, 2008! One can only hope 2009 will be even more impressive.