Every year my friend Nick Casias makes his Oscar Predictions. I am happy to bring them to you here for the first time.
"In a year of hardship and humility, movies matter even more. So much in fact that using film as an outlet to see outside our own worlds leaves audiences a little less self consumed, a little more aware, and hopefully inspired. Just maybe it can lift a spirit of somebody or make them laugh when they otherwise wouldn’t on their own. That’s what movies are made for, better or worse and hardly even do they work, and that’s why critics exist.
This year we are doing things differently. (WHY??) I’d guess many will spend more quality nights inside instead of going out. To follow Ebert and adapt to this change in lifestyle I’m giving you 20 movies this year instead of 10. Add them to your Netflix queues. As always, feedback is never rejected and always appreciated. My ultimate goal here isn’t to have myself be heard or force you to listen to my opinions for the year. My goal is to give you something to do. I hope to make your viewing experience better enhanced with the best the industry can offer! So here it is: The Oscar year in review." – Nick Casias
The Best Movies of 2008
20) Soul Men: Bernie Mac was overshadowed this year by the death of fellow talented actor Heath Ledger. Mac deserved just as much credit for entertaining movie crowds. This was just the kind of role he would have wanted to be remembered for and it happens to be my favorite Bernie Mac film to date.
19) W: Unfortunately, not everyone can go out on top like Bernie. Those less fortunate will likely be remembered for bottoming out. It was a political year in 2008, and Hollywood responded accordingly. This isn’t a movie to favor Democrats, Republicans, or independents. It’s a historic and empathetic biography of a leader with a well-intentioned leadership gone wrong. W is an in-depth look at our nation’s history over the past 8 years through the life of George W. Bush. If you love him or hate him, many will admit he is probably one of the most controversial figures of our time? Josh Brolin is amazing with his bush mannerisms and facial expressions. Everybody had forgotten his name two years ago. Since then he’s given us some of Hollywood’s very best with American Gangster, No Country For Old Men, and Milk.
18) Body of Lies: Body of Lies is the story of a CIA agent fighting Al Queda-type terrorism in the Middle East while the Americans in the CIA are working against him even more then his enemy threat. Leonardo DiCaprio is the smartest actor in Hollywood and picking this role helped solidify that. He chooses his projects that gather audience attention not because of his star attraction, but rather because of the awareness his films raise on history, culture, and political issues. (Departed, Aviator, Titanic, Beach, Blood Diamond, Catch Me If You Can). His trademark has kept him alive over a decade since Titanic when he easily could have fallen into a trap of easy money, quick studio green lights, and B or C rate stardom. He could have easily become a Macaulay Culkin or Corey Feldman in the late 1990’s. It will be a rare day when you see him do a popcorn flick or a sequel. In my opinion there is no better edge to have as an actor.
17) In Bruges: Speaking of commercial movie actors, Collin Ferrell finally found a great role to break himself out of this typecast. He plays an empathetic hit man stuck on a mission to his own death in Bruge, Belgium. This movie has comedy, drama, and a touching story of redemption.
16) The Day The Earth Stood Still: Keanu Reeves does here what he normally does best: by playing an emotionless and still actor. This remake has been criticized heavily, but if you look deeper you’ll find a touching story that speaks uniquely about the human race: how we operate and can change on the edge of time.
15) Gran Torino: Eastwood takes the same character types of Dirty Harry and Josie Whales and combines them with retirement in the ethnic suburbs. Eastwood outdoes himself again and proves he can still write, direct and act. (I want you to remember the man is nearing 70 years old.) He’s as polished in all his traits as ever and in doing so he inspires a touching story of friendship and erasing self-hatred and bigotry within ourselves.
14) The Reader: Kate Winslet plays the nicest Nazi Pedophile ever in the history of movies…seriously! It’s an unorthodox love story set over many decades between two people who shared one strong connection of loving to read and be read to. Underneath, it’s a sad story of remorse, standing up for yourself and the consequences that come from doing so.
13) Dark Knight: This would have been the best movie of the year had it been 30 minutes shorter. Still, can anyone argue how outstanding of a performance Heath Ledger gave? It was terrifying, comedic, and at times you wanted to cheer for the Joker instead of Batman. Joker played more than just a villain. He was a person who was acting on reasonable logic. That’s what made him so haunting: his witty and well articulated arguments on governing practices. Heath Ledger will be remembered forever by this one role that will have best defined him.
12) Wall E: This is the first Pixar film ever to make the list! Any movie to successfully humanize a trash receptacle without dialogue wins! It had other winning ingredients as well: a love story, a satirical look at our consumer culture, and a pretty good Sci-Fi story. Pixar is getting out of the typecast of kids movies and taking their image and audience to the higher level. I applaud them for that.
11) Vicky Christina Barcelona: This movie will make you want to pack everything up and head to Europe. Watching this movie took me back to my own experiences living in Barcelona and why it’s such an amazing place for the world. Because of the passion they possess, the love of their country, the appreciation they hold for romanticism, art, tradition, and overall lifestyle; all made Javier Bardem such a seductive character.
10) 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 days: This is the only foreign film to make the list this year. Two characters over the course of a day have to deal with the consequences of having an abortion on the black market in a time when Romania is still under rule of Socialism in the 1980’s. The movie works because it draws us into a situation where we could all easily find ourselves in but ideally wouldn’t want to. There’s something enticing about watching simple situations go horribly wrong. This film was also a big winner at Cannes Film Festival.
9) The Duchess: This movie was the biggest surprise of the year. How many times can movie audiences be subjected to Keira Knightley as a member of the British ruling class in the Jane Austin era? I’m annoyed of it too but if she keeps doing ones like the Duchess… the answer is forever. Knightley plays the famous Duchess Georgina Spencer one of the most popular figures in her time for being an outspoken liberal, a feminist, and a supporter of French and American revolutions. This is not a love story but rather a story about the consequences of joining a world where people get married for the reasons outside of love. It exposes the pitfalls and desperation that being unloved can lead to.
8 ) Recount: If Pixar got its first annual mention, so will HBO. Recount has the second best ensemble cast of the year (Kevin Spacey, Laura Dern, Tom Wilkensen, Dennis Leary, and John Hurt). I don’t think any American can argue that their lives or perceptions weren’t affected in some way by the 2000 election between Al Gore and George Bush. Recount replays the events that unfolded in Florida in the days after the closest election that led to one of the most important Supreme Court Decisions in the history of the US. It leaves us with the feeling that our government somehow let us down not because of who won but rather because they refused the right of the democratic process to recount thousands of lost votes.
7) Frost/Nixon: Continuing with the topic of Government let downs, Frost/Nixon reminded us of its previous occurrences with President Richard Nixon. This movie was meaningful for a few reasons. 1) Frank Langella gave the best performance of the year playing Tricky Dick. 2) Audiences can easily relate today to that period in the 1970’s of feeling robbed, let down, or deceived. It became very prevalent in our culture today just as it was then. This movie didn’t leave us disappointed but rather with hope and a reminder that a country can rise again after disaster to great prosperity.
6) The Fall: This little known movie was probably the most creative with the most beautiful imagery of any movie this year. The Fall took four years and 28 countries to film. It’s a story of a guy on the outs nearing suicide and with the human spirit can he rebound into a great comeback. It’s hardly a new theme, but it’s done so creatively here that we cannot help but embrace it once again.
5) The Wrestler: Another story with a character on the outs. Somehow this one is more depressing, real, and touching. The Director, Darren Arnofsky, would never let his audience off easy with a heartwarming story. Instead, The Wrester takes its audience deep into the life of a broken man. Despite many mistakes made we are left with a real reason to care for him as he falls deeper and deeper into tragedy. Unless you’re a hardened viewer, this movie will drag emotion out of you and what a great reason to watch movies. Outstanding performances by Mickey Rourke who was on the outs himself over the last decade and Marisa Tomei who I’d watch in any movie.
4) Iron Man: The best comeback of the decade outside of Josh Brolin belongs to Robert Downey Jr. Tropic Thunder and Iron Man landed him back in the well deserved limelight in 2008. This movie was such pleasure to watch and never gave in to cheesy comic book-type flicks. It left us wanting to see more adventures of the wreckless and egotistical superhero. It’s maybe one of the best superheroes the movies have seen in awhile. I admit I did enjoy Will Smith as the down and out Hancock, but Iron Man won’t disappoint anyone, making it high on the list.
3) Valkerye: This decision to place a Tom Cruise movie so high will be heavily criticized. I want to hate Cruise like the majority of audiences but cannot deny this films greatness. Tom Cruise is definitely on a comeback though. He has apologized for his craziness and given us two great films in 2008 with Tropic Thunder and Valkerye. I say we forgive him. This movie sucked me in and left me inspired and more educated on a little known historic event that almost ended WWII early. The lesson is principle and honor and nobody can fight with that. What a great film!
2) Milk: If DiCaprio is the smartest actor of our time, then Sean Penn is definitely the greatest. With five lifetime Oscar nominations, this year he will join the elite club by winning his second for best actor, playing the first openly gay politician in San Francisco during the 1970’s. He truly amazes me and understands what it takes to draw emotion from an audience. He’s so believable. I saw a documentary with the footage of the real Harvey Milk and thought Sean Penn was more convincing. Milk has the best ensemble cast of the year. (James Franco, Emile Hersch, Diego Luna) all proudly represent a new generation of actors with edgier roles that push the limits of their time in the same way Al Pacino/Robert Deniro did in the1970’s with Godfathers, Dog Day Afternoon, and Serpico Taxi Driver/Mean Streets. My guess is they will all have long careers and be legends in Hollywood someday. I remember when this movie was being filmed on my block in San Francisco. During Valentines Day 2008, they shut down the entire lower Haight to film a scene. Also I remember the big "star trailer" that stood on the corner of Haight and Scott, it took up much needed parking spaces for local residents. All is forgiven now for that inconvenience as it paid off with a brilliant movie.
1) Slumdog Millionaire: You couldn’t tell it by the ridiculous title or the plot summary, but this really was the best movie of the year. As Roger Ebert pointed out, "it will do for India what City of God did for Brazil". Never in my opinion has a movie been so successful in bridging Bollywood and Hollywood, one could argue it was done similarly eight years ago with Asian audiences for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is the first major movie to surpass that quality. The difference is this one made us all feel great at a time when audiences needed it. Away from politics and recession talk, this movie was the perfect refresher to greater hope. It worked for so well for so many reasons. It was able to overcome its own flaws and amaze everyone who saw it. I don’t know one person who left the theatre not feeling somehow touched about what they had just experienced. It showed so much heart. I haven’t seen this underdog storyline work so well since Billy Elliot back in 2000. Maybe this will be a sign to studios that the time has indeed come to start using film as an avenue to bridge more cultures and nationalities together for wider appeal instead of gaining large appeal through making sequels to horrible films past their prime. This critic sure hopes so; it just may be good enough to lead us in that direction! It really is that good and well deserving of the best of the year.
The Worst Movies of 2008
10) Meet The Spartans: Please for the love of god stop making spoof films, especially when they are spoofing bad movies like 300! It’s okay to spoof classics like the Matrix occasionally
9) 88 Minutes: I’m sure actors like everyone else are having money problems in this economy, but that doesn’t forgive big actors who take bad roles because it equals a big payday. Al Pacino has put himself in the category making horrible movies this year. 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill were the two examples Pacino gave us this year weren’t even worth staying at the theatres longer than two weeks. A year ago he was called out by his mentor and longtime friend Francis Ford Coppola in a GQ article, Coppola says "Those guys (referring to Al Pacino, Robert Deniro, and Jack Nicholson) are living off the fat of the land and lost their edge" He also specifically said Al Pacino "Is stuffing cash in his mattress". It’s hard to prove him wrong.
8 ) Meet Dave: Fan-mail time: Dear Eddie Murphy, please stop acting! Just live off your royalties from the 80’s. I can’t stand another Dr. Doolittle 3, Norbit F type movie
7) Saw V: These movies are so violent and serve no purpose other than to make money.
6) Jumper: The premise didn’t sound bad but the outcome was.
5) 10,000 BC: Did anyone end up seeing this finally? Anyone at all?
4) 21: It took a great book Bringing Down the House and ruined it by turning a story about gambling into a love story
3) Street Kings: So predictable it was satirical! Seriously! Anyone tired of seeing cop movies where they are surprisingly betrayed by their cop partner? If not see Keanu Reeves
2) Pride and Glory: Now this type of mistake of making a predictable cop movie I’d expect from Keanu Reeves, he’s never held the highest standard. But Edward Norton I expect more from. You will be punished for being a good actor in a bad cop movie… between this and the hulk movie you need a new agent and a better year!
1) What Happens In Vegas: I can handle a good romantic comedy from time to time. Even when it’s predictable …so long as its well made or gives us something new we hadn’t previously seen. What Happens In Vegas had none of the above. It wasn’t well acted, the story was horrid, and it didn’t have one comical or redeeming moment. Fans of the genre may want to look elsewhere.
The unique thing about the year is that I choose a love story for both the best and the worst of the year! I was tempted to ad Rambo to the list but Rambo is far too much of a badass to make this list…
Oscar Commentary/ Predictions
I only focus on the 6 major categories because I know that’s what the majority of those receiving this care.
Best Supporting Actress: My guess is Penelope Cruz for Vicky Christina Barcelona and she should too, I’m not biased because she’s so lovely/ beautiful or because I enjoyed this film so much. It’s because she’s been overdue for some time now, approximately two years since Volver to be exact and the academy never forgets. Don’t believe me? Remember in 2003 when Denzel won his Oscar for Training Day? Or Russell Crowe in 2001 for Gladiator? Its what’s known as payback Oscars for actors robbed in awards past.
Best Supporting Actor: Health Ledger for Dark Knight! I’d bet you my house if I owned one.
Best Actress: I’m quite sure Melissa Leo probably did a better job in Frozen River, but Kate Winslet is even longer overdue than Penelope Cruz. Plus she did two great films for the year that earned her two different Golden Globes. The press loves her and so will voters. A possible upset could be Anne Hathway who’s really developing as a young actor. Put her in that same category I mentioned earlier for a new generation of great actors
Best Actor: Sean Penn for Milk. Most are cheering for Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler. It’s so certain that I’m taking a big risk choosing Penn. I’m certain he is the greatest actor of our time and so do academy voters.
Best Director: Danny Boyle pulled off the hardest directing feat of the year. He filmed multiple untrained actors in India and as well his movie is bound to win top honors this year WHAT MOVIE???????
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire! It’s the most deserving too. In a time of suffering as 2008 saw, I think it enlightened audiences the most this year. The Academy recognizes these trends and adapts to the themes of the times. They will get political or involved in social causes to make their point. During the Watergate era of the 1970’s, they chose Rocky (1976) for Best Picture. In the era of the great depression they gave us Frank Capra hits like "It Happened One Night". America needs a boost and it got it this year with Slumdog. Years from now, when audiences look back they will think that although 2008 was a year of change, pain, and trouble Hollywood kept the enduring human spirit alive with Slumdog Millionaire as the years best film.