Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Re: Are These The 20 Best Films Of 2008?

Obviously, I didn't see every film released in America in 2008, but of the ones I did see, here are my top 20 picks (up from 10) with a little added commentary.

01 The Wrestler (2008)
A tragedy to its very core. Some have criticized that The Wrestler is cliche, but it's the sincerity of the film that's so powerful, and Mickey Rourke is nothing but sincere.

02 Synecdoche, New York (2008)
I only saw this movie once, so I'm not entirely sure what it means. But I do know it features a stellar ensemble cast doing remarkable work in service of something truly, absolutely original.

03 Let the Right One In (2008)
There's something magical about the way kids regard one another, and it's captured perfectly in this Swedish vampire story. A couple strange missteps (including CGI cats) can't deter the charm of the film's two leads.

04 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is getting a lukewarm reaction from American critics because the film doesn't have much of a statement to make, about life or otherwise. It is simply the portrait of two people, and as far as that goes I was enchanted the entire time. The last shot is sorrowful.

05 Funny Games US (2007)
Either you love Funny Games or you hate it. There's not much more to it I can add -- the experience is so subjective, you just can't know anything about it until you've seen it.

06 Doubt (2008)
The acting is uniformly excellent in Doubt, perhaps the best of the year. I'd have ranked it higher, perhaps, but I was struck by how off-putting I found the last minute of the film.

07 The Signal (2007)
Taken by itself, The Signal might seem pretty slight or unremarkable, but it's the first three-director anthology I've seen that really worked (perhaps because this film tells one consecutive story instead of three short ones), had sharp horror-comedy, and was made for less than $50,000. Underrated and highly entertaining.

08 Burn After Reading (2008)
The first time I saw this movie, it just flew way over my head. I thought the Coens had let me down. When I saw it again, I couldn't stop laughing.

09 Gran Torino (2008)
The joys of Clint Eastwood are captured easily by the man himself in this well-acted action thriller that perfectly demonstrates how a film can have dramatic resonance and still be a pure crowd-pleaser.

10 In Bruges (2008)
A perfectly-scripted comedy thriller that contains a surprise gem of a performance from Colin Farrell and very funny, ludicrous gags. Good thing a friend of mine saw it or the bad Lock-Stock style American ads would have kept me away.
11 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Joyous and exciting, with a great cast.

12 Pineapple Express (2008)
Slightly twisted action film all but stolen by Craig Robinson.

13 The Dark Knight (2008)
See the bottom paragraph.

14 JCVD (2008)
Endearing and funny, with a great performance by Van Damme.

15 City of Ember (2008)
A solid family adventure that features some of the most beautiful production design of the year.

16 Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
The best film Kevin Smith has made since Dogma, which uses Seth Rogen and a Live song to perfect effect.

17 Wall-E (2008)
A visual masterpiece. Like most, I would have preferred more of the first third of the movie, but still a great film.

18 The Lucky Ones (2008)
All three of the leads are good, but this corny, even TV-level drama is elevated incomparably by Rachel McAdams, who deserves an Oscar nomination she isn't going to get for her work here.

19 Get Smart (2008)
A sharper and wittier action movie than it got credit for. I'm sure of all 20 picks, people will question this the most, but I stand by it.

20 Ghost Town (2008)
The performances make this one, and Ricky Gervais' touches to the writing are excellent.

I (like many) have to disagree with Brendon about The Dark Knight. An unbalanced and overlong film, sure, but also often very exciting and highly entertaining. I can agree to disagree, Brendon, but you said that we've had "the wool pulled over our eyes" -- how can a film dupe us into being entertained?

Note: I don't know if anyone reads this blog, but I posted it here because comments are still disabled on filmick.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Downloads and Blu-Ray

Just for the hell of it I'm going to post something here, even if it gets ignored.

This is something I posted on another website in response to a) the suggestion that Blu-Ray will never be more than a niche format and b) the suggestion that digital downloads are the forseeable future.

You say that laserdisc didn't catch on, well, not only was technology, that exponential mover and shaker, exponentially more expensive back in the mid-'90s, but as we invent more gadgets and doo-dads your average Joe ends up with more technology in his house (computer, HDTV, DVR, DVD player, surround sound, iPod, digital camera, game system, projection screen, hi-def DVD, Sirius/XM/satellite, On Demand, whatever) than he did 15 years ago. Not to mention the fact that a laserdisc was the size of a vinyl -- time has shown that people like their technology conveniently sized.

With the digital signal change in February 2008 I think people are just looking to upgrade. Neighbor Bob goes over to Neighbor Dan's house and sees his brand new 50" crystal-clear LCD or plasma screen hooked up to DTS 6.1 and he runs out and gets one. Plus, both Joe and Bob's 20-something kids are twice as techno-savvy and they don't even need to see their neighbor's display to know they want an HDTV. Even if you don't have waves of people snapping these up yet, people know what they are, and if a TV breaks these days, why go for the diminishing selection of $200 25" tube TVs when you could drop $200 more and get something much nicer?

And if HDTV is the way of the future, then Blu-Ray is the next step. People buy an HDTV and they grab the TiVo and start watching the HD channels and then, lucky them, it turns out the game system the kids want is also an hi-def DVD player, and that's all it takes.

Now, sure, I don't see Blu-Ray stomping or even thumping on the SD-DVD behemoth. But to think that this format couldn't easily be ten times as big as it is now by the end of 2009, much less 2015, is ridiculous.

The thing about downloading is that the majority of the people who currently download movies just watch them once and delete them, not to mention the fact that they're probably pirates and want stuff for free. Sure, digital downloads could easily erase, say, the video-rental market in the forseeable future, but try to imagine a world where the Best Buys and Circuit Citys of the world don't carry physical media -- it just doesn't seem possible, and until we're in flying cars I don't think it's a real risk. If Blu-Ray, an easy-to-understand next-gen format that's basically like what we have and love but better, is not going to top SD-DVD, then how can we possibly suggest that digital downloading, a somewhat foreign non-format that easily alienates or disinterests potential users will somehow dwarf both SD-DVD and Blu-Ray, not to mention material media in general?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

UPDATED: Paramount and HD-DVD

It's been widely reported that Paramount has joined the HD-DVD camp and I am almost gobsmacked by what a poor choice this is. On AICN someone from Paramount suggests that Blu-Ray is only "allegedly" winning the format war, mere weeks after sales of 300 skewed Blu-Ray by a great margin.

The most baffling thing about the decision is that there appears to be no upside for anyone. Blu-Ray customers who want Paramount movies will not switch to HD, they will merely be frustrated by the unavailable movies and will probably buy them in standard definition. Paramount doesn't exactly have a boatload of super blockbusters on slate aside from Transformers, and it sounds like the title may not end up exclusive after all (after hearing that Spielberg supports BR, I was prepared for this announcement and suspect there might be at least a couple more of them). Paramount may have netted in the range of $150 million to jump the Blu-Ray ship, but even if HD-DVD stays afloat, Paramount will probably end up losing a considerable portion of their revenue if nobody buys their HD titles (since it looks like they'll be able to get the good ones on BR and stuff like "Blades of Glory" isn't going to benefit from hi-def). Meanwhile, HD-DVD will sink further because they just blew a massive amount of cash on a deal with gaping holes in it. On top of all that, I'm sure word will spread that Spielberg is a Blu-Ray supporter and that might cause at least a handful of hardcore fans to adopt. And, of course, if HD-DVD fails during the Christmas season Paramount is just going to look really, really stupid.

Paramount suggests that the format is cheaper for consumers and is therefore better. This is ridiculous, although it has some ground in reality as I have heard several people state that they've gone for HD over Blu-Ray simply because HD players are cheaper. By Christmas, however, I expect PS3s to go on sale and Blu-Ray players to drop, and even if Blu-Ray fails to crush the competition, assuming their sales hold up that's still approximately a 70/30 margin in favor of Blu-Ray. It is again, puzzling that Paramount chose to make this decision now when in a mere four months we'll have a great idea of where the format war is going (not that we don't already).

In any case, I expect something big to happen very soon. It seems like people are beginning to sound off on the format war, as both Universal and Microsoft have made controversial statements to suggest they're keeping it alive for no reason. It would be particularly impressive (and probably deadly to HD-DVD) if Blu-Ray used a similar cash bid to buy Universal's format neutrality -- surely they see the negativity getting thrown at Paramount for making this decision (not to mention Universal owns at least a couple of Spielbergs), this is their opportunity to look like the good guy by finally buying their way out of being the last man standing.

So it seems that Michael Bay has retracted his statement about wanting Transfomers to go format neutral. We'll see. Again, this is based on the silly assumption that the cheaper player is undoubtedly what's best for the consumer. You can buy a lot of cheap standard-def DVD players at any old Wal-Mart, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

A few other notes worth making: Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits has lots to say here and here (both posts). Most intriguing are his suggestions about why Microsoft has jumped into the game, and the way Paramount staffers feel about this decision.

From forums I've surfed I hear a lot of negativity towards Hunt and The Bits about their decision to support Blu-Ray. Perhaps they're seen as one-sided. I do happen to agree with them, but if HD-DVD is willing to make a good play towards being competitive, then so be it. I don't think this Paramount deal is it, however. I'd also like to stress that I don't think the format war will be over after Christmas 2007, but I think it will be the writing on the wall. Certainly Paramount and Universal will continue to support and produce HD-DVDs for at least a couple years to come but should Sony move a million PS3s and Blu-Rays this Christmas and Toshiba and Microsoft sell a mere 20,000 units each, then it will be hard to argue that those numbers aren't indicative.

I'd also like to add that I work in retail and I don't think losing Transformers as an HD-DVD will mean a lot to consumers anyway. People will complain but in general I expect (as they often do) they will simply settle with the SD-DVD -- my point remains that no single title, no matter how big, is likely to sway someone into dropping down $300 to get a new technology (especially since you also need a hi-def television).