Friday, January 30, 2009

My Favorite Movies of 2008 (Part 5)

Dice's Favorite 25 Movies of 2008
(These are, in order, the movies I enjoy, respect, desire, and love the most that I saw for the first time in the calender year 2008.)

* possible objectionable content warning

5. Cloverfield - This movie was almost as much of a social experiment as it was a film.  JJ Abrams loves a good mystery, and started this one with a stealth trailer release and little to no information other than that it was a monster movie.   What unfolded on the screen just a few months later was an incredible first hand account of what the monster movie might look like in a Youtube generation.  If you stand the motion sickness you were rewarded with a Hitchcockian delight.
4. King of Kong - Easily the best documentary I have ever seen, and a movie that should be viewed by all whether or not you hold any interest in the art of playing arcade games.  What is amazing about this movie is that it has all the elements of a great sports movie and yet it is being documented as a film, as these amazing events are happening.  The filmmakers must have felt like prospectors finding the mother lode, as each new twist and turn was mined in this tale.  What's even more amazing is that this story continues today as the good guy and the bad guy continue to duke it out.

3.  Iron Man - Jon Favreau continues to prove he just knows how to flat out make amazing movies.  Add his gift to the triumphant return of the gregarious Downey and you have the makings of a great experience.    It had the added bonus of catching people off guard, since it didn't have the pressure of a big name comic on it.  Spiderman and Batman are supposed to be amazing, but who would have thought that Iron Man would be?

2.  The Dark Knight - Overshadowed by a legendary performance by the late Heath Ledger is the fact that this movie manages to one up what was widely considered to be the perfect Batman movie, Batman Begins.  That fact that this group of people took the unreasonable expectations set after that first film and completely left them in the dust will remain a testament to the skill of many people, primary among them Christopher Nolan, who hasn't gotten nearly enough credit for what he has pulled off here.

1. Wall-E - I'm convinced that Pixar is just operating on a whole different level than any other film company working today.   It's just unfathomable to make this many movies in a row without experiencing either some sort of letdown or backlash.  Wall-E continues the streak with a cast of characters that barely even utter a spoken word for the entire length of the film and yet somehow become fully ingrained in our consciousness and more importantly our hearts.   Maybe I'm blinded by devotion to these geniuses, but I'm content to see Pixar's movies resting atop the pile each and every year as long as they keep affecting me so deeply.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Favorite Movies of 2008 (Part 4)

Dice's Favorite 25 Movies of 2008
(These are, in order, the movies I enjoy, respect, desire, and love the most that I saw for the first time in the calender year 2008.)

* possible objectionable content warning

10. Ocean's 13 - The third movie in the series somehow managed to recapture all the feelings of the first that Ocean's 12 had left scattered on the floor in a dozen pieces.  13 found footing in going back to the humor and intricacy that made the first heist so memorable, and though it doesn't fully match 11, it's at least a step in the right direction, and a lot of fun to watch.

9. I am Legend* - I was not prepared for how much I loved this movie.  I've never really enjoyed "zombie" movies (the hilarious, but offensive, "Shaun of the Dead" excepting), so I was expecting more of the same.  Let's just say I was wrong.  The depth, emotion, and resonance of this movie was incredible and Will Smith continues to solidify himself as a true screen legend. Seeing this movie at number 9 makes me think that this top 10 may be one of the strongest I've seen.
8. Gone Baby Gone* - A powerful look at the cost and peril of making correct moral choices and an exploration into whether or not the ends really do justify the means.  If you can stand the profanity in this one, I can't recommend it highly enough.  It floors me that Ben Affleck directed this, and his brother Casey's performance is nuanced and brilliant.  This movie deserved every award it won and probably many that it didn't.

7. Sunshine* - A low budget Sci-Fi masterpiece?  This look at madness and purpose is incredible both for it's sheer audacity and it's character and story development.  I don't want to give too much of this one away, but it is one of the most compelling ensemble cast performances I've seen in a long while.

6.  Bolt (3D) - Even though this is a Disney brand film, you can see John Lasseter and Pixar's fingerprints all over it.  The story is engaging, the characters are fun and given time to develop, and the drama and action are exuberant and gorgeous.  Add to all this that it used 3D technology perfectly (to add depth not gimmick) and this may have been the most flat out fun I had sitting in a theater all year.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

24 is Back

Pass up a Bauer, lose for an hour. (Everything I need to know I learned from Euchre)

My Favorite Movies of 2008 (Part 3)

Dice's Favorite 25 Movies of 2008
(These are, in order, the movies I enjoy, respect, desire, and love the most that I saw for the first time in the calender year 2008.)

* possible objectionable content warning

15. Hellboy 2 - Not quite as good as the first, but I think this is one of the most compelling comic book universes I've seen explored on screen.   I'm crossing my fingers that they will make a third, but things don't look so bright for the man with the big gun and sawed off horns.

14. Enchanted - Unlike Shrek that takes this concept and never relents on it's attack, Enchanted seems to be able to at the same time respect and embrace the movies that it is lampooning.  Disney is on a hot streak right now, and I'm glad that they have found their soul again in poignant, fun stories like this one.

13. Jumper - In many ways I feel that Jumper is a wasted opportunity.  The concept and execution of the rules of the Jumper universe are compelling and wonderful, but the story and characters they drew around it were weak and ineffectual.  I wish they could have a redo on this because I really want to see more of this world, but I highly doubt there is more Jumper headed our way.

12. Evan Almighty - Funny, smart, and biblical.  Hard to go wrong with that combo.  I applaud the filmmakers willingness to fully embrace the central theme of the Noah story, while at the same time giving us insight into how treacherous it is when God speaks.

11. 3:10 to Yuma* - There is something about a classic western that just grabs me and won't let go.  The moral dilemmas of a vigilante world, the shades of gray in the black and white hats, whatever it is, 3:10 to Yuma is chocked full of it, because I came away from this movie exhausted and fully invested.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Favorite Movies of 2008 (Part 2)

Dice's Favorite 25 Movies of 2008
(These are, in order, the movies I enjoy, respect, desire, and love the most that I saw for the first time in the calender year 2008.)

* possible objectionable content warning

20. The Happening* - A movie that only an M. Night fanboy could love, right? Well then, guilty as charged.  Somewhere around "The Village" people started turning on Shammy and I just never quite got why.  This movie is as powerful and deep as any of his other films, and in my mind only suffers because he decided to take the violence into hard R territory, which to me ruins some of the mystery and nuance.  If this was a PG 13 film it may have been one of my all-time favorites, as is I still thought it was an extremely thought provoking look at commitment in the face of tragedy (for a true look at my insanity remind me to tell you how this movie is about marriage sometime.)  Though most now call M. Night a sham, I, for one, am still still willing to proclaim Sham-WOW!

19. National Treasure 2 - The best Indiana Jones movie of the year.

18. Dan in Real Life - Usually the movies I love have an element of largeness to them, whether it be larger than life action/special effects or big ideas that make you think for hours afterward.  So it means something when a simple movie like this can crack the top 20 for the year.   There is nothing spectacular going on here, other than a heartfelt story that feels incredibly genuine, and a cast that has their parts locked down.   Well worth your time to check out.

17. Prince Caspian - I'm fairly convinced I only love these movies for message and nostalgia, but it's my list so Narnia will be represented.

16. Hairspray -  This movie is worth watching for the music alone.  Amazing songs, with some pretty amazing performances around it.  Unfortunately I found the message to be a bit of a minefield, so it stole some of that joy.  Still, I'd watch it again tonight just to see the musical parts.

Review: Lie to Me

Another new procedural crime drama with a gimmick?  Can it possibly survive?

Monday, January 26, 2009

JellyTelly is Free!!

Looks like JellyTelly has officially moved away from the subscription model.

My Favorite Movies of 2008 (Part 1)

Dice's Favorite 25 Movies of 2008
(These are, in order, the movies I enjoy, respect, desire, and love the most that I saw for the first time in the calender year 2008.)

* possible objectionable content warning

Honorable Mentions:

Alvin & the Chipmunks - I've never been one to hold it against a movie for falling into the "Children's" section at your local Walmart.   This movie was just fun enough and the music just good enough to make it completely bearable for at least the first 20 times your kids want to watch it.
Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - The fact that a new Indy movie came out and it didn't even make my top 25 is a big indication of just how torn I am on this film.  I thought it was really fun and the Indy character still resonates, but it was so over the top at points that it lost me.  The weird thing is that the old ones aren't any more subdued, but I think maybe this is a movie out of it's time.

Juno - I expected to hate this movie.  Everything I saw made it seem like a light and gimmicky take on a topic that has too much pain and depth to it succeed.  Maybe it's because of those low expectations that I actually had an enjoyable time with this story and presentation.  Yes, the dialogue is a little bit forced, but it's funny.    And the scene where she realizes her fetus has fingernails was as simple and poignant as anything I've seen in a long time.

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything - This movie should have been better, but as is, it's still a fun romp with characters I love.  Not as good as Jonah, but still worth a purchase.

The Mist* - OK.  First movie with a content asterisk, and the most deserving of it for sure.  This movie is not for the faint of heart.   If you chose to wade through though the thing that will destroy you is not the swearing and violence, but perhaps the most impactful ending to a movie I have ever seen.  I won't say much else, because I don't want to ruin it, but this movie tore me up, and somehow said something powerful and true while doing so.  Also, I'm beginning to think Stephen King fans are pretty smart people.

Vantage Point - This movie gets a little lost in its own high concept conceit, but overall the plot is decent enough to make this one worth checking out. 

21 - I'm pretty sure the only reason I liked this movie so much was because I love numbers, probabilities, and math in general.  The performances aren't great (even Spacey seems to phone it in a bit) the plot is a bit overproduced, and the action seems forced.  Still, look at all the pretty numbers!

The Top 25:

25. Live Free or Die Hard - Never really saw the originals (I know, insanity) so this is in no way a vote of nostalgia.  This movie was fun, well acted, and really tight.  The action was over the top but still fit the universe it exists in and Bruce Willis is a flat out movie star.

24. Sweeny Todd* - How is it possible that someone wrote a musical based on a psychotic killer who uses a fake barber shop to kill the rich and then bake them in meat pies?  Really? And it works?  Maybe it's the Depp factor, maybe it's the fact that the music is really good, but whatever it is, somehow I loved it.

23.  There Will Be Blood* - Though it's true that this movie is worth seeing solely for the performance of Daniel Day Lewis, I would suggest that the movie itself is pretty OK as well.  The pacing is a bit slow, but it adds to the feeling that we are living this man's life as he sees passion turn to obsession, greed, and eventually insanity. 

22. Get Smart - If you ever needed any reason to take away any shred of credibility I may have had in my movie taste, you need look no further than the fact that I just ranked Get Smart ahead of There Will Be Blood.  Sorry, I love to laugh, and Steve Carell is hitting on all cylinders for me lately.  Also, I'm becoming convinced that Anne Hathaway's versatility as an actress is pretty amazing.  I had a great time watching this, and it was pretty faithful to the feel of the TV show which gave it bonus points in my book as well. 

21. We are Marshall - Yep.  It doesn't take much for me to love a sports movie.  If it's based on a true story, fills me in on the details of that story in compelling ways, and hits all the ups and downs that are inherent in athletic endeavors, I'm in.  Needless to say We are Marshall checked every item on the list, and left me (as all good "true story" movies do) perusing Wikipedia for more on the events behind the emotion.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Favorite TV of 2008

Check out for the whole list.

My Favorite TV of 2008 (Part 3)

Dice's Favorite 10 TV Shows of 2008
(These are, in order, the 10 shows I enjoyed, respected, desired, and loved the most that aired new episodes in 2008.)

Honorable Mentions:
(in alphabetical order)


The Top 5:

5. Doctor Who - Leave it to me to finally fall in love with a show that has been around for 45 years.   In my defense, it's not as if it's been easily available here in the colonies for very long.  The latest incarnation of Doctor Who just finished its 4th season and after seeing just a couple episodes (forced upon me by me brother), I became a complete and utter addict.  I spent the good portion of 2008 catching up on everything Doctor Who I could find.  The show revolves around the last of the "Time Lords", a race of beings entrusted to oversee both space and time.  Known simply as "The Doctor" our hero crosses both time and space (usually with an earthly companion) saving the day, often with such aplomb and eccentricity that you can't help but be both amazed and amused simultaneously.  But what really keeps me hooked is the depth of emotion that current Doctor (Time Lords regenerate new bodies, conveniently allowing new actors to phase in and out of the part) David Tennent manages to add to the mix.  Tennent has announced his retirement from the role after a few more special episodes and his replacement (Matt Smith) has already been tapped.  I can only hope that he manages to embody this engaging character as well as those before him.  Either way, I'll be watching, trying to make up for 45 missed years.

4. The Office - Oh Micheal Scott, how many more insensitive situations can you land in?  The Office retains it's place as my favorite half hour comedy on TV, but you can feel it teetering on the edge of becoming stale.   I think the cast is still wonderful, and the story lines are still engaging, but the beginning of this season has left me feeling just a little bit of, "been there, done that."  Still there are no shows that bring laughter more often (well maybe Wipeout, but that's different) and I still come away satisfied.  And really where else will I get my "That's what she said!" quotient. 
3. Pushing Daisies - It seems to be a rule that one show in my top 5 every year must be cancelled.  This years slot goes to the genius that was Pushing Daisies.  It was beautiful, engaging, heartfelt, warm, and ironically full of life.   It was almost as if the pie maker had touched the very landscape of television itself and brought a joy and life to it that had been so long missing.  There was no show that had better week to week scripts, full of word plays and sharp, rapid fire dialogue.  And it's gone.  Maybe we can pull a Jericho on this one and send ABC beehives until they agree to get it back on the air.   To have this show resurrected would be the most beautiful synchronicity of all.  Unfortunately, the facts are these; it ain't happening.

2. House - I'm still baffled at how Hugh Laurie makes me root for such a despicable man.  It's  as if he (and the writers should get obvious credit as well) knows exactly when to throw in that minuscule moment of vulnerability in his eyes that makes you feel sorry for him and want him to heal.  Add to that, the fact that his barbs and callousness are so often painfully hilarious, and you have the most compelling character on television.  I also love that the cast around him has shifted a bit and continues to morph, as it allows an ever expanding playground for his terror and wit.  House you are a sick man, and I love you.

1. Lost -  I know I don't exactly sound unbiased with my "BEST SHOW EVER!" shout outs to this piece of pop genius, but it's not even a contest anymore.  The closer Damon and Carlton (show runners Carton and Cuse) get to the series finale the tighter the story telling and mystery revelation become.    What the creators, writers, actors, and crew have done with this is a completely unique animal in the world of television and one we will likely never see repeated.   To craft a sci-fi show that not only asks a million questions, but promises to answer them once all is said and done, and then to begin to pull it off is astounding enough, but the real points are scored in the drama.  The characters and themes continue to be the most compelling on TV, and now that more answers than questions are coming our way, it adds up to an incredibly satisfying experience.  If you don't watch, I beg you,  Netflix/Hulu/ the episodes in order in a time frame that will allow you to join in for the final season or so.  It will be worth it, I promise.  Unless all this stuff is a little high minded for you, in which case, go watch Wipeout again.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar thoughts

Thoughts on the noms for Heath, Downey, and Pixar.

My Favorite TV of 2008 (Part 2)

Dice's Favorite 10 TV Shows of 2008
(These are, in order, the 10 shows I enjoyed, respected, desired, and loved the most that aired new episodes in 2008.)

Honorable Mentions:
(in alphabetical order)

On to the Top 10:

10. So You Think You Can Dance - The most legitimate competition show on television.   It outclasses Idol by a mile, and balances out the travesty that is America's Got Talent on the respectability continuum.    They accomplish this in many ways; rotating judges (who actually know their stuff), allowing professionals to participate, and only putting through contestants who are amazing at what they do (no sob stories or freaks make it through solely for entertainment value).  But the primary piece of genius that gives this show so much cred is that they keep us out of the final decision until the end.   We get to vote, but at the end of the day the judges (you know, those people who actually know a thing or two about this stuff) make the call.  It all comes together to create not only the most impressive talent show on TV, but genuine drama and intensity of competition. 

9. The Mentalist - The highest freshman show to make the list, this show captures my attention for it's light hearted approach to the typically dark and dreary world of the crime drama.   That and the wonderfully confident, yet nuanced, work of Simon Baker (yet another non American throwing on an American accent.) whose titular character is part Svengali and part Sherlock Holmes.  What is yet to be seen is if this conceit (of using mentalist gimmicks to solve crime) will be sustainable (a la CSI) or become quickly tedious (a la Numb3rs).   Only time will tell, but for now it's got me hypnotized.

8. Survivor - Both Gabon and Fans vs. Faves proved to be great seasons of the show that started the reality TV craze almost a decade ago.  Perhaps the key tool in the most incredible moments recently has been the hidden immunity idol.  The fact that players continue to find new ways to use and abuse this precious commodity is testament to both our ingenuity and naivete as a human race.  The show also continues to be an eye opening and sometimes even heart breaking look into human nature and how we treat each other.   This may be a show that has slid off your radar over the years, allow me to suggest you zone it back on.

7. Chuck - Zach Levi is the heart and sole of this show as the unassuming, sincere, and always in over his head Chuck.  The supporting cast is great, and I love the fact that the show refuses to take itself too seriously, but at the end of the day it's all about one man and his well intentioned bumbling into an accidental career as an uber spy.  This is pop entertainment pure and simple, just how I like it.
6. 30 Rock - There is certainly much ado about Tina Fey these days, and it's well deserved.   I've been on the Fey train for a while now (check last year's list for proof, as well as for evidence of my consistency in picks 8-6) and I think it's great that she is finally getting the press and awards.  However, 30 Rock has always been more about the cast of characters swirling around Liz Lemon than the Lemon herself, and that's what makes this show tick more than ever.   These guys are the very definition of the word ensemble cast, and it's a pleasure to watch them work each week.  I'm still mourning the loss of the other SNL inspired show "Studio 60", but at least we have this gang to enjoy for another year.