2008's top films

<em>Time Out </em>ponders the best and worst films of 2008. Do you agree with our choices? Let us know your top 2008 releases.

The blockbuster

Good: The Dark Knight
How do you make a film that ponders the dangers of a police state when facing unspeakable terror? Dress one bloke up as a bat and another as a clown, of course. Christopher Nolan’s bleak Gotham nightmare was Heath Ledger’s last complete project and serves as a reminder of a promising talent lost too soon. It was, perhaps, at times difficult to follow and even a touch long, but The Dark Knight was still worthy – as Hollywood films go – of its enormous box-office returns. AB

Bad: Quantum Of Solace
After Casino Royale you got the impression the Bourne movies had knocked some sense into the bloated Bond. Now, after Quantum Of Solace, you’re left wondering whether they might have finished him off. Daniel Craig’s miserablist 007 was back and more droopy-jawed than ever, but this disjointed, overlong, plotless twaddle was one of 2008’s dampest squibs. No one even worked out what the title was about. Our guess: a measure of disappointment equivalent to watching an under-par Bond flick. AB

The remake of a classic

Good: Funny Games
Time Out was curious when news reached us that the English-language remake of Michael Haneke’s violent on-screen treatise on, er, on-screen violence was going on general release. It is not, after all, the most family-friendly of movies, and certainly more art house than mainstream. Considering the dead-eyed violence the film arguably celebrates, we remain torn as to how ‘good’ we can say Funny Games is. But we sure are glad we got the chance to judge that for ourselves, without any discernible sign of the censor’s scissors. CJ

Bad: The Strangers
Hollywood’s interpretatoin of French horror Them was a Liv Tyler vehicle that quickly veered off-track, trundled into a bush and burst into flames. Unhappy couple Tyler and Scott Speedman were bullied, attacked and utterly humiliated by three masked figures for absolutely no reason whatsoever. It doesn’t take long at all for you to feel you’re the one on the end of the torture – something that’s made all the more perplexing by the sheer joy with which Speedman and Tyler are made to beg, scream and suffer, all without any discernible attempt to convey a message. AB

The Abba musical

Good: Mamma Mia
The creators of the hit ABBA stage musical got it just right when they transferred their golden goose to the silver screen – cheesy, slightly naff and seriously lacking in a cohesive storyline it might be, but Mamma Mia is perfectly pitched for its intended audience: the crowds of hen parties and middle-aged women who’ve been flocking to cinemas in their droves. And getting to watch an off-key James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) strangle his way through ‘The Winner Takes It All’? That’s worth the price of a ticket alone. CJ

Bad: Mamma Mia
Who could not love a tale of female bonding against the backdrop of an idyllic Greek island setting and a soundtrack that everyone – yes everyone – can sing along to? Where to start? Poorly acted, poorly sung and with no storyline to speak of, Mamma Mia is the apogee of kitschy style over substance. Not even the sight of an off-key James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) strangling his way through ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is enough to elevate this poor excuse for a box-office smash into the status of a ‘classic’, kitsch or otherwise. CJ

The literary adaptation

Good: No Country For Old Men
Elegiac, rich and layered, No Country For Old Men is an excellent film and – by virtue of changing almost nothing from the book – an excellent adaptation. Javier Bardem was praised for his portrayal of cold-eyed reaper incarnate Anton Chigurh, but the entire cast excels, with Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Kelly Macdonald all making the most of an excellent script. The shift from man-on-the-run action movie to mournful examination of mortality caught many off-guard, but we loved every second. JW

Bad: Jumper
What would you do if you could jump anywhere in the world instantaneously? We’d have leapt to Kathmandu to escape from this dreadful mess. Loosely adapted from the book of the same name, it saw Hayden Christensen – a man whose continued ability to get work is even more unbelievable than this tosh – as a teleporting anti-hero on the run. An incoherent story, an ending that ties up nothing and Saumel L Jackson putting in the worst peformance of an increasingly shaky career made this a bomb. JW

The hype monster

Good: Iron Man
The Dark Knight is regarded as 2008’s best superhero movie, but it’s easy to forget that until that film was released, everyone thought it would be impossible to top Iron Man. Not only did it have Robert Downey Jr’s much-publicised starring role as snarky billionaire hero Tony Stark, it was also blessed with a witty and genuinely engaging script and great support from Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and a surprisingly sexy Gwyneth Paltrow. While the grim Dark Knight is the better film, the smart and sassy Iron Man is far more enjoyable. JW

Bad: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
The new Indy movie was never going to live up to expectations, but nobody was expecting a nonsense storyline, no emotional resonance, cheap-looking green screen, a bloated cast that makes Indy a passenger in his own movie, and the otherwise engaging Shia LeBeouf as unconvincing Indy replacement Mutt Williams. Oh, and an indestructible fridge. Now Lucas is talking about spinning LeBeouf’s character into his own movie. If you want a vision of the future, imagine George Lucas’s boot stamping on your childhood – forever. JW

The Dubai story

Good: Dubai International Film Festival
The Dubai International Film Festival returned and once again provided us with a much needed and uncensored injection of cinematic art. There was Steve McQueen (The Turner Prize winning artist, not the dead actor) and his brilliant treatment of the IRA hunger strikers in Hunger, as well as Nosferatu and, of course, W. – Oliver Stone’s take on George Bush Junior’s presidency, which opened the festival. The 180 films to choose from were enough to keep the film buffs among us satisfied for just rather longer than a trip to the multiplexes usually affords. AB

Bad: Sex And The City
For fans of Carrie Bradshaw and her Manolo-clad crew, 2008 was a year of tears, tension and tantrums. Sadly, this was nothing to do with Sex And The City: The Movie’s titillating script, but the ‘will it, won’t it’ saga surrounding the film’s release in Dubai. While the ultimate shoe/sex homage was due to air mid-June, this was then shoved back to August – amid rumours of renaming it Shoes And The City (or something else equally distressing) – before censors threw their hands in the air, declaring it ‘too explicit’ for our realms. It’s not so much the banning as the dithering that really got our goat. AW

2009 highlights

Films on the horizon

Che: Parts 1 & 2
This two-part epic has already previewed at DIFF. Benicio Del Toro stars as the famous revolutionary leader.
Chance of a UAE release: 50 per cent.

The Wrestler
The Golden Lion winner at this year’s Venice Film Festival stars Mickey Rourke as a beaten-up old wrestler. It’s a return to form for Darren Aronofsky, director of Pi.
Chance of a UAE release: 60 per cent.

Rachel Getting Married
This Jonathan Demme-helmed movie stars Anne Hathaway, moving fearlessly away from Get Smart and other er, ‘light’ roles to play a recovering addict who attends her sister’s wedding.
Chance of a UAE release: seven per cent, and that’s charitable.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen again. This time he’s enlisted Javier Bardem (of No Country For Old Men fame) as a painter who’s one corner of a love triangle with Penelope Cruz and, you’ve guessed it, Scarlett Johansson.
Chance of a UAE release: disappointingly good – 80 per cent.

Three Monkeys
Another DIFF veteran, Three Monkeys is a crime thriller directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The Turkish auteur is something of a darling of the indie scene after Climates and Uzak.
Chance of a UAE release: c’mon it’s been on at DIFF – 75 per cent.

Watchmen
Zack Snyder turns Alan Moore’s famous comic book into a movie, presumably on the strength of 300’s rather dazzling visuals. But we have little hope that the original’s complexity will survive.
Chance of a UAE release: nailed on – 100 per cent.

The Box
From Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly. This adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story Button, Button stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden.
Chance of a UAE release: when did a Diaz movie not make it here? Ninety per cent.

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