Let's get something out of the way right off the bat. This is not a list of critically acclaimed indie releases which no one saw because they didn't get any advertising. Those movies may have been skipped by audiences, but most of them are having their names screamed so loudly by critics and awards givers that let's face it, they've had their shot. In Bruges, you're awesome but you're already getting Oscar buzz. Sorry Slumdog Millionaire, you do not need another champion.
This is about movies which people might have been interested in, heck should have been interested in, but for often baffling reasons weren't. By now you've heard plenty of people screaming about what a terrible year 2008 was for movies. Sure a lot of people saw The Dark Knight, but then they turned around and saw Twilight and Beverly Hills Chihuahua twice. These are the movies they should have been seeing instead, movies which if they'd seen them they would have loved, movies which deserved better from all of us. It's not too late. If you missed them, seek out these movies on DVD and give them the attention they deserve.
City of Ember
The air has gone out of the fantasy genre and in a year littered with terrible Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings knockoffs City of Ember dared to be different. Imaginative and creative, City of Ember is flawed but also incredibly unique. The story of a lost, steam-powered city buried deep beneath the ground after the apocalypse should have been a crowd pleaser with stunning, eye-popping set design and a big stars in Tim Robbins and Bill Murray. One problem: Fox forgot to advertise it. At Comic Con they took a select number of journalists on what was by all accounts, a stunning train tour of the movie's massive set, and then Fox never said anything about the movie again. The film's ad campaign was all but non-existent and it was dumped on their release schedule buried amongst a pile of other garbage releases. City of Ember deserved better than to be one of the year's biggest flops. Heck I'm certain it would have done better, had anyone known that it existed.
The touching story of a dog's devotion to his little girl master, Bolt made $100 million at the box office, which makes it seem like a lot of people saw it. But not compared to the business done by most of the year's other computer animated films, even the bad ones like Madagascar 2. Disney's animation division has finally gotten its head together and for their efforts they were rewarded with some of the lowest box office totals for a major animated film released this year. At fault is probably the film's marketing which, made it look more like Chicken Little than a modern day Old Yeller. Or maybe it's just Disney's track record which, after years of mediocrity has probably made audiences a little gun shy whenever Cinderella's Castle isn't immediately followed by Pixar's Lamp Jr. logo. Or maybe it was simply animated movie fatigue, after a year in which everyone had already shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars on movies like WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda and, yes, Madagascar 2. Whatever the reason, Bolt should have gotten a bigger bite of the bone.
Smart People refused to dumb itself down and for its efforts was rewarded with a deafening silence. The movie tells the story of a high-IQ family dealing with everyday life and the problems of relatives. Dennis Quaid gives one of the best performances of his career and since the movie has Ellen Page fresh off her Juno Oscar buzz, you'd think someone would have been paying attention. They weren't. In yet another case of barely there marketing, few even knew the movie existed let alone had a clue that it might be any good. Miramax could have spent at least a little money on advertising, couldn't they? Or maybe if they'd released it later in the year, when critics wake up from their film festival slumber, poke their heads out of their newspaper holes, and start looking for awards movies to trumpet. It couldn't have hurt. It would be hard for Smart People to have done much worse.
This was easily the most vile, seedy, morally bankrupt movie of the year. I can't believe no one showed up to see it. No really, it's amoral and filthy in the most glorious of ways. Maybe there wasn't much potential there for it to become blockbuster but it ought to have garnered at least enough attention to become a cult movie or something strippers show to warm up the audience at stag parties or something. That never happened. Though there seemed to be a lot of buzz around the movie leading up to its release, it all fizzled by the time Choke finally trickled out into theaters. And I do mean trickled. Those who were interested in seeing it seemed to have a hard time figuring out when or if it was playing. I'm still not sure when or if it ever made it to the theaters in my area. Maybe it'll find the life it deserves on DVD and three years from now we'll all be attending Choke Fest instead of Lewbowski Fest. Though they might want to call it something besides Choke Fest. Bad things happen when you type that into Google.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
If you've kept up with this site over the course of the past year, then you saw this one coming. Our unabashed love of Kevin Smith's latest is no surprise, what's surprising is that no one beyond his normal audience bothered to see it. Zack and Miri Make a Porno ended up making only very slightly more than all of his other movies usually do, even though it had even better reviews, two of the biggest comedy stars on the planet, and a fairly robust marketing campaign. Hey, it's also really really funny. This should have been Smith's big mainstream breakout, the movie that finally propelled him into the big time mainstream alongside the people like Apatow, who have been doing his shtick for years. What went wrong? My guess is timing. The Weinstein Company released the movie on Halloween. Nobody wants to go see a raunchy comedy on Halloween. They want horror and so on the film's opening night, Friday night, it was trounced by the season's horror movie de jour. It never recovered.
It wasn't until Ghost Town flopped that everyone woke up and realized that Ricky Gervais is not a celebrity. If there was a theme in 2008, it was the waning power of the geek. Geeks know who Ricky is, but there simply aren't enough nerds left out there anymore to matter. They're all on the internet or they've morphed into Twilighters or something. But Ghost Town was a surprisingly smart, funny, and emotional movie. The premise seems stupid but Gervais was too brilliant to let it stay that way. He makes magic out of thin air. If only anyone had shown up to see him do it. What if Jesus had turned water into wine in an empty room? Would we still have Christianity? If people had bought tickets to Ghost Town, would we be praying to Ricky Gervais? Maybe we should be anyway.
I first saw The Wackness way back in January at Sundance where in a rather lackluster festival it was one of the few movies getting buzz. That buzz never translated into anything real as Sony Pictures Classics botched the movie's marketing by making it look like some sort of abortive stoner comedy and the movie was released to slip slowly into obscurity. That's wack. Those who have seen it know that it's a special little film, a perfect homage to growing up in the 90s, even for those of us who didn't grow up in New York dealing pot. Josh Peck, who till now had shown no aptitude for well, anything, acts his ass off and Ben Kingsley does the most strangely effective and affecting Robin Williams impression I've seen since Williams did one of himself in Aladdin. Oh and it has one of the Olsen Twins! Wait, that may not seem like a positive. But really she doesn't suck. A movie where an Olsen Twin doesn't suck? Come on, that has to be something pretty dope doesn't? Seek it out. Watch it. Itunes the soundtrack and imagine the Fly girls dancing in your living room while you listen. You'll thank me for it.
The Fall (as championed by Stuart Wood)
Chances are you never got to see The Fall this year. That's because every major studio passed on the project in favor of churning out mediocre or flat out awful uninspired crap like Meet The Spartans, The Happening or Quantum of Solace. Yeah I said it. Refusing to be beaten by Hollywood's deference to the lowest common denominator and with the complete creative control that only comes from working outside the studio system, director Tarsem damn near ruined himself financially to ensure his fantasy movie chronicling the fairy tale an injured actor recounts to a naïve little girl in a 1930s hospital, became a reality. Or should that be unreality. Quite simply, despite a narrative thread that starts to unravel a little in it's shaky final act, The Fall is the most visually stunning movie you are likely to see in recent times. Shot in 26 locations in 18 countries this is a movie that demands to be seen on the biggest, boldest cinema screen you can find and it features a stunningly natural child performance that shows up Dakota Fanning as the phony cyborg she really is. There are few movies that can be so ambitious and yet so simple at the same time. It was only because of the efforts of directors David Fincher and Spike Jonze, who were so impressed by the movie that they fought for it, that somebody, anybody out there saw it at all.
For more of Cinema Blend's BEST OF 2008 click HERE.
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