Top 10 Films of the Year (cont.):
#5: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
I could not have expected less from this movie. I was in Moscow, desperate for American cinema, and there were literally two films playing in English in the entire city… Iron Man, which I’d already seen twice, and this film. The premise looked laughable and sitcom-ish – a man goes on vacation after his girlfriend dumps him…and lo and behold, the girlfriend is staying in the same hotel! With a new guy already! Hijinks will ensue!
But this film shocked me with its brilliance. It is my second-favorite romance of all time, coming in just behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it was also one of the best comedies I saw this year. The film brilliantly conveys the post-breakup condition (particularly from the guy’s perspective), as well as every potentially awkward situation you can have with a girl… Something I could certainly identify with. Jason Segel (who also wrote the film) plays the same character he’s been playing since “Freaks and Geeks”, and makes me wonder just how well-meaning and overbearing he is in real life… He is entertaining, to be sure, but Mila Kunis’ performance (which I rave about in “Part 2: Best Supporting Actresses”) is just incredible, and is truly what elevates this film from a mere raunchy comedy.
#4: Man on Wire
This documentary tells the story of Phillippe Petit, the man who successfully (and completely illegally) strung a wire between the twin World Trade Center towers, shortly after they were built, and spent almost an hour walking on it. The film uses a combination of interviews, footage, photographs, and gripping reenactments to tell the tale. It strikes a tone very much like a heist film, as Petit forms his team and plan, and has to figure out some way to get into both towers, get hundreds of pounds of cable and equipment to the top without provoking suspicion, somehow fire the cable from one tower to the other, and spend several hours rigging it – all without getting caught before getting onto the wire, and possibly plunging to his death.
It is a breathtaking and joyous story, and Petit himself is an absolute pleasure to watch as he recounts the tale. …and if it makes a difference to you, it’s the best-reviewed film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes.
#3: The Dark Knight
You either already know why, or you probably don’t care.
See this film. If you already have, see it again.
#2: Slumdog Millionaire
It’s a very strange premise… Jamal Malik, an 18-year-old kid from the slums of Mumbai competes on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, and is suspected of cheating for making it to the 10 million rupee question. As he tells his life story to the police detective interrogating him, he explains (in perfect sequential order) how the events of his life came to give him each of the answers to the questions. And as this story is told, we hear about Latika, his long separated childhood sweetheart. The rest plays out as you might expect. Will he and Latika be reunited by his appearance before a TV audience of millions? Of course. It is written. It is destiny. This is a beautiful, uplifting fairy tale that is all about the journey, rather than the destination.
And since it’s done in the Bollywood style… You just know the destination will include a rousing dance number. This film is City of God by way of Mumbai, with just a hint of Disney princess. It is a beautiful, well-acted, and unforgettable film.
#1: The Wrestler
Everything I had to say about Mickey Rourke (“Part 4: Best Actor”) and Marisa Tomei (“Part 2: Best Supporting Actress”) could go into explaining this film’s brilliance. Darren Aronofsky, director of such disturbing or perplexing films as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, allegedly approached Mickey Rourke and told him, “I can resurrect your career, but you have to do exactly as I say.”
Rourke allegedly said that on any other day, he might’ve punched Aronofsky out on the spot, but he was feeling particularly receptive. It is a good thing for this film that he was, because I don’t know who else could possibly have played this role convincingly.
And yet, this film may be what really launches Aronofsky’s career from semi-obscurity. This is easily the most accessible of his films. Every grainy, documentary-style frame of this film feels real, as we see Randy “The Ram” Robinson (real name: Robin Ramzinski) try to sort out the shambles of his life, including his fading pro wrestling career, his friendship with the stripper Cassidy (Tomei), and the relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Every last moment of his performance is genuine and heartbreaking. The film ends as you might expect, and yet the final frame is ambiguous as to the Ram’s fate. Does he die, in the pursuit of what he loves, or does he live, to continue his perpetually tenuous grasp on the important things in his life?
Regardless of the outcome, the Ram is a tragic character, flagellating himself for his own sadism and our entertainment. And Rourke pulls it off in a huge way.
This is a film that will stay with you. It is a sad film that feels joyous as you watch it.
Burn After Reading
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army