The Most Surprising(ly Good) Movies – 2008

1. Let The Right One In – You probably know this already, but this is a vampire movie (or at least, a movie with vampires.) I had no idea. And that probably accounts for a lot of the surprise factor. But that alone could easily have been counteracted by any manner of misstep along the way. In fact, from when Eli jumps down from the jungle gym and it’s off, just that little bit, I kept waiting for it to be ruined by some obvious effect or expository speech or flashback… something. And yes, while the cats crept close to that line, they never crossed it. The people behind Twilight ought to be doubly embarrassed for making such a bland piece of terrible with this coming out at the same time. But I suppose they are too busy counting your daughter’s allowance.

2. Fool’s GoldMatthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson should make a movie together every year. Maybe more often than that. Both of them bring a tremendous energy to things that probably don’t deserve half of it. And putting them together seems to amplify that energy tenfold. Mixing them into a competent treasure hunting movie almost seems like it would result in some sort of overload. But they are able to ground the swarming ridiculous events in their reasonably realistic relationship resulting in a movie that is the perfect blend of romantic comedy and adventure.

Except for when a gun is fired underwater. Movies have to stop making that look possible.

3. Paranoid Park – With Elephant still lingering painfully in my memory, another teenage mumble drama from Gus Van Sant seemed like a dangerous proposition. But from the brilliantly subdued interrogation in the first few minutes, it was clear this movie was going to be different. Even when the true events are revealed, you still won’t know exactly what happened or how to feel about them, just like the protagonist, even though every one else seems to know both.

4. Over Her Dead Body – I just watched this a few hours ago and I do fear its virtues will fade quickly. But it isn’t necessarily staying power that lands a movie on this list. By all indications this was going to be a terrible terrible movie. An afterthought vehicle for a middling television star. But not only does it have a fantastic cast (Paul Rudd is great, as you would expect, and so are Lake Bell and Lindsay Sloane, as you should expect – even Jason Biggs and Eva Longoria are better than they need to be), it is neither a prohibitively silly nor derivitively generic romantic comedy.  I won’t go so far as to call it smart, because it really isn’t (and also that tends to sound stupid), but it doesn’t have to be.

5. Role Models – It’s not that I expected this to be bad. But from the ads, save for Seann William Scott’s delivery of “Whaaat?” it did not look promising. But somebody knows what they are doing, because not only did that campaign get people to the theater to see it, it completely misrepresented the sort of humor largely found within the movie for which it stood. The story is distractingly standard, but despite that, it’s the funniest movie of the year.

 
 

6 -10

The Ruins – While in the end, it is exactly what it looks like, a formulaic horror movie where a bunch of teenagers find themselves in a remote place surrounded by terror, it is the epitome of that formula. With a great cast, characters that are neither too smart nor too dumb simply to serve the story, and a dual-pronged attack of monster, it is by far the best movie about hostile plant life of the year.

Lakeview Terrace – When an audience full of black people erupts in applause when the white protagonist shoots Samuel L. Jackson at the end of a movie, that movie has clearly done its job. On the surface, Lakeview Terrace’s frame job story is nothing you haven’t seen before, and the racial threads that run through everything aren’t exactly treading new territory. But the fusion of them somehow cuts a new path to the most cathartic crowd pleasing ending of the year.

The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie – Granted, a lot of the surprise of this comes from the fact that I had no idea I even had a chance of seeing it. (It played as the opening feature before a drive-in presentation of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.) But still, there was a sinking feeling when it came on. I had been led to believe Veggie Tales were awkwardly presented morality tales plucked from Bible passages. When really, they’re fantastical adventure movies starring simplistically computer generated fruit with distinct and polarizing personalities. And they seem to be having concurrent mid (and late) life crises in this particular installment. Maybe not the most relatable kids’ movie characters ever created, but effective nonetheless.

Definitely, Maybe – I love Ryan Reynolds. I’ve seen every episode of Two Guys And A Girl (And A Pizza Place) at least twice. But the romantic comedy mystery conceit seemed dumb and not supported by anything romantic nor comedic. Well, it isn’t terribly funny, but I don’t get the impression it was ever supposed to be. And the other elements work more than well enough to make up for that.

The House BunnyAnna Faris has been the best thing about plenty of otherwise terrible movies. It’s about time at least some of her fellow castmates (in this case, Emma Stone and every frat boy with one line) finally decided to join her.

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