1. Speed Racer
2. The Dark Knight
3. Tropic Thunder
4. Kung Fu Panda
5. Iron Man
Guess this will be my official write-up for the year. I'm cheating a bit by using some crafty cut and pasting and minor eidting from my past entries, but all my points still stand.
5) Iron Man - Iron Man made for solid entertainment and a great adaptation. I liked that the story was focally personal in its execution; it's not so much about saving the world (though the long-term effects of leaving such weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists can obviously be argued that way), it's more about a man who finds a reason for redemption, for the purposes of prevention. As an origin story, it's an enjoyable watch; aside from seeing Starks overcoming and letting go of his once staunchly-driven beliefs, I loved the whole construction sequence of the Mark II. The constant presence of technology certainly kept me rooted in the film's world as well. (Why can't MY workstation have such uber-sleek LCD/plasma monitors like that??) The rest of the cast is great, too, especially Paltrow as Pepper Potts - she plays off of Downey Jr. so well as both his personal confidant and platonic love interest. Not to mention Terrence Howard's "How was the Fun-vee?" Rhodes. (It's a damned shame we won't be seeing him back for the sequels.) I think the most lasting impression I got when leaving the theater was, "I've gotta get me a BURGER from Burger King!"
4) Kung Fu Panda - So I went to see Kung Fu Panda back in June, largely for the purpose of staving off my anticipating for Wall•E. Having experienced more than a couple of disappointing outings from Dreamworks as of late, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from Panda - but imagine my surprise when, later, I found it to be the more enjoyable of the two. Panda feels less like a typical Dreamworks project, and quite a bit more like a Pixar one. It doesn't go terribly overboard with pop-culture and satirical references, but simply aims to tell a solid coming-of-age tale, and the importance of acceptance. A couple of folks have even likened it to the caliber of Brad Bird film-making, and though I wouldn't go that far, it's definitely got the heart of one. There are of course the fight scenes, which admittedly doesn't pick up until well into the second half, but once they get going, they're an absolute blast to watch. The casting is generally good all around, but the accolades clearly go toward Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman for their stellar performances as Po and Shifu respectively. The inclusion of James "Oh, five, ten minutes...... Seinfeld, four!" Hong as Po's pop automatically earns the film another star in my book. Overall, the film knows how to have fun, which is something that Wall•E decidedly lacked.
3) Tropic Thunder - The trailers showed promise from the very start, and I'm happy to report that the end result is a massively entertaining film. Thunder is an awesomely hilarious war action flick in its own right, but you'll dig it even more if you're in on the whole Hollywood/movie-making satire joke. Surprisingly, the movie, to me, wasn't entirely embodied by Downey Jr., despite how excellent his performance is - all the actors equally rock, and a wonderful group dynamic forms between the characters throughout the film. I particularly liked Jay Baruchel here; any film/tech geek worth their salt will get a kick out of his PS3/Blu-ray vs HD-DVD explanation. And Tom Cruise is a goddamned glorious sight to see; Les Grossman is his best role in years. Stiller shot a really slick looking movie, with lush jungle locations, and nicely choreographed battle sequences. A great score accompanies, made up of Theodore Shapiro's compositions and a hearty blend of 70s to modern licensed hits. The theatrical release was good, the Director's Cut is even better. If you're going to watch the film, definitely go for the Director's Cut.
2) The Dark Knight - I knew going in that Dark Knight was looking to break away from the typical comic book film fodder, even more so than Begins. But this..... this is gritty Michael Mann-style crime drama stuff. Dense, smart, ruthless, and darkly visceral in all the right ways; it just completely encompasses what Batman is all about. Nolan has really matured as a film director, resulting in a lean, tightly shot film; the story and direction is simply top-notch, punctuated by a well-acted script and sensational action sequences. The triangle of conflict between Batman, Joker, and Two-Face makes for an engaging watch, not to mention the inner struggles of conflict and ideology that both Wayne and Dent contend with. Even supporting characters like Gordon, Fox, and Alfred all have compelling story arcs, all expertly portrayed by their respective actors. Everybody is on top of their collective game, but Ledger's clearly the star of the show here. I'd be utterly stupefied if that posthumous award doesn't come to fruition, because his performance as The Joker is balls-out maniacal brilliance. This ain't a comic book movie, it's a graphic novel gracefully lavished onto the silver screen. And as a cinema experience, it provides a hell of a lot of bang for your buck.
1) Speed Racer - The best things in life come in forms most unexpected. I went into Speed Racer with the lowest expectations imaginable, and I came out bursting with extreme satisfaction. What started as mere curiosity after listening to the wonderful soundtrack became a year-long infatuation for the film, and a renewed love for the series. I'm still going to rely on AICN forum-goer max314's write-up, because he nailed just about every point: "In the same way that Sin City was an exaggerated, impressionistic noir, and just as 300 was an exaggerated, impressionistic war movie, Speed Racer plays as an exaggerated, impressionistic 1960s kid's show. Which is exactly what it is; it's campy, it's fun, and it's full of humour and heart. The characters are warm and lovable, the villains are wonderfully hissable, the actors' performances are all suitably camp, and the morality tale at the centre of it - the battle of family versus corporatism - gives the story a real spirit. It's infectiously charming, and even at 129 minutes the film glides like a T-180 on ice. While the story wasn't exactly the peak of literary greatness, it was very well told. The narrative was sharp, the emotionality was touching, and the plot turns were genuinely exciting. The racing scenes were bleeding spectacular, and I mean "spectacular" in a way that has never even been imagined. Honestly, it deserves an Oscar nod just for art design. What's so ingenious about the opening sequence is that it not only sets up all the characters with entertaining and emotional efficiency, but it also establishes how the cars work in this fantasy world. So despite the races being faster than anything you're ever likely to see, the main action beats are always delivered with a clarity and a style that will keep you thrilled beyond belief. Each race is perfectly crafted with the stakes and the challenges rising further and further with each successive scene..... until we reach a final showdown that leaves you utterly breathless. And the visual vocabulary of the film is truly innovative. It's like the camera is no object; as an audience member, you've never felt freer. Unlike the stylistic approach of the recent Star Wars prequels, which generally used locked off cameras and relatively tame tracking shots, Speed Racer ducks into, under and around the action in a way that opens up the medium like no other film before it. The Wachowskis seem to have yet again set another industry standard, one that will likely be copied and mimicked for years to come - until the Brothers reinvent the wheel for a fourth time, that is. As such, the rating for this film is for something that could easily end up becoming a highly influential classic."
Stallone's Rambo brought about classic jungle warfare action in a big way, and J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield delivered some genuinely frightful scares. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull was a fun nostalgic romp, with just a few minor speed bumps along the way. Wall•E, though not quite up there with the absolute best, is still a solid entry in the Pixar library. Eagle Eye had some excellent action sequences, but little else. I haven't seen acting this atrocious in a good while, and the plot device and twists were much too generic for today's standards. I also want to shoot Spielberg for the ending he came up with. You Don't Mess With The Zohan is good, stupid fun, while Quantum of Solace was a decidedly limp follow-up to Casino Royale.
In terms of movies before 2008, '07's 3:10 To Yuma wins hands-down as my favorite. A superb western, and a great character piece for both Crowe and Bale. It's also Marco Beltrami's best musical work to date.