Monday, September 1, 2008

Summer 2008, A Retrospective

The summer draws to a close, and with the season gone, we must bid farewell to the films that came in its wake.

What a year it was.

Never before have we seen so many superhero movies of such high caliber released so close together. In terms of comic book movies, the past four months cannot be compared with past summers or even past years. You need to look at decades. We can say with neither hyperbole nor irony that the past four months saw a greater number of exceptional comic book films than either the 1980's or 1990's. Really.

And that was only half of it. We've seen fantasy, science fiction, and animation, as well as a few films that defy description. This has been an amazing summer.

Rating these films has been trying to say the least. We saw no fewer than twelve movies at the theater this summer. Some we saw more than once.

Of course, as is always the case, as time passes our opinions change with it. So, in celebration of the season that's passed, we would like to revisit these twelve films and reminisce. Rather than arrange them arbitrarily or by date, we'll count down to our favorite film of the summer:

12. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
While we saw no movies this summer that left us with nothing positive to report, this came the closest. There were certainly impressive visual elements about the film, but the awful script prevented it from leaving any real impression.

11. Prince Caspian
This was a bit mixed. There was actually a great deal to enjoy here, and the absurdity of watching children slaughter their foes on the field of battle made for an enjoyable evening. But fine cinema this was not.

10: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
By most metrics, this was a far superior movie to the two that preceded it - and perhaps several that follow. Even so, this came very close to getting stuck behind Caspian: in fact, we entertained the thought of declaring it our least favorite of the year, behind even The Mummy. Why were we so venomous? It is a question of expectations and legacy. We expect a great deal from an Indiana Jones movie, and this did not deliver. While other movies we've seen may have been worse, this was easily the largest disappointment. Still, there were enough exceptional moments that we were forced to confess we liked it better than the last two films.

9. Wanted
At this point we've crossed a line. Beginning with Wanted, every movie that follows is one we really enjoyed. Of these, we've placed Wanted at the BACK of that line. Why? Because after seeing the movie, we read the comic. While the source material is far from perfect, it is a much more intelligent work than the film, and the movie suffers in comparison. Nevertheless, this was still fun to watch.

8. Kung Fu Panda
We initially described this as 'likable,' and there is no reason to alter that appraisal now. Kung Fu Panda was highly likable, but not much more. We'd have liked more, of course, but we were content with what we received.

7. Tropic Thunder
Had we compiled this list immediately after seeing Tropic Thunder, we may have placed this at number eight. But Tropic Thunder improves with time: there is a lot here to reflect on and enjoy. This wasn't a movie we'd planned on seeing at the start of the summer: indeed, we hadn't even known of its existence. But every summer needs at least one surprise, and this was 2008's. If you miss this in the theaters, be sure to rent it when it hits dvd.

6. The Incredible Hulk
Here things grow truly difficult. From here on in, every film is one which achieved greatness. That The Incredible Hulk is in sixth place reflects only the strength of the summer: had this been released last year, it would have easily made our top three.

5. The Dark Knight
Before you grow upset, let us say this: were this a list of the BEST movies of the summer, this would have easily claimed the #2 spot. But this is a list of our FAVORITE movies, and, while we certainly enjoyed The Dark Knight, we have too many points of contention to place it higher. We understand why we're in the minority here, we appreciate why others have elevated this movie to the level it's achieved, and respect the movie for what it was. It is an amazing film and a cultural phenomenon, and we wish it could have beaten Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time (it was stopped, we suspect, only because dvds have become a more popular method of viewing films). But, simply put, there were movies we enjoyed more.

4. Iron Man
This is an example of a comic book movie that was done right. Those making the movie understood why the character worked. They understood the world they were playing with, and they put together a film that was both completely enjoyable and fascinating at the same time.

3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Everything we just said about Iron Man applies to Hellboy II, only more so. This was immensely enjoyable to watch. What's more, as we mentioned in our review, it bodes very well for The Hobbit. As much as we enjoyed the first Hellboy, this puts it to shame. This is an incredible sequel.

2. Speed Racer
In the interest of full disclosure, we are forced to admit there is a chance Speed Racer's placement was influenced by the negative response it received from most critics - we are occasionally rebellious and enjoy being contrary. But make no mistake, we absolutely loved every minute of this movie. There is nothing else like it in existence, and that is a tragedy. To anyone who couldn't appreciate Pops Racer's line about the "non-ja"... you've our sincere sympathy. This movie may not have been for everyone, but it was absolutely for us.

1. Wall*E
What else could it be? Wall*E is undeniably the best movie of the year so far. It is also our favorite. While we still consider it slightly beneath Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, it is still one of Pixar's best. We've seen this twice already, and when the dvd comes out, we'll watch it a dozen more times.

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