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Hidden Netflix Gems – Goon

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

I am not particularly interested in professional sports, generally ignoring all games except the occasional Olympics or Super Bowl viewing, but every year or so there is a sports movie that comes along and deeply and unexpectedly resonates with me. Four years ago, there was Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler, a beautiful, heartbreaking film that was easily among my favorite films of 2008; the following year, there was Big Fan, written and directed by The Wrestler writer, Robert D. Siegel. This year, the unexpected sports movie that finds a place in my heart is Michael Dowse‘s Goon, a movie about hockey that mostly ignores the game itself in favor of the fights that so often break out on the ice.

Seann William Scott delivers his best performance yet as Doug Glatt, a sweet, lovable Canadian bar bouncer who is troubled by the fact that he doesn’t have a “thing” that defines him. His father (Eugene Levy) and brother, Ira (David Paetkau), are both doctors, and his best friend, Pat (Jay Baruchel, who co-wrote the film with frequent Seth Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg), has a public access show about hockey, but Doug feels aimless, searching for his life’s real purpose. That changes one night at a hockey game, when he knocks out a player who climbs into the stands to beat up Pat, who has instigated the fight by being his usual loudmouth self. The fight in the stands garners more attention and applause than the game itself, and Doug soon finds himself recruited as an enforcer for a local minor league hockey team.

As an enforcer, Doug’s job is to injure successful players from other teams, as well as to protect his own teammates by beating up the other teams’ enforcers. It is the sense of being a protector of his team that resonates with Doug and makes him feel like he’s found his calling. It also helps him to earn the love of Eva (Alison Pill), a woman he meets one night in a bar when he knocks out an obnoxious drunk who is hitting on her, and the friendship of his team’s star player, Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). Ultimately, though, what the film is building to is a showdown between Doug and his idol, Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a brutal enforcer from the majors who has been demoted for his unsportsmanlike conduct. Though Goon follows the expected beats of a classic sports movie, its formulaic nature does not detract from its quality, and by the time Doug “The Thug” Glatt inevitably faces off against his rival, Scott’s charismatic performance and the film’s surprising likability should have even the most ambivalent viewer ready to cheer.

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An audience with the “Iron Man 2″ crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2″ — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

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Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On 'Iron Man 2'] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2″ actually takes place before 2008′s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

The Incredible Hulk

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Midweek movie news

It’s quite late, or quite early, here on the west coast, so this edition will be swift.

* Captain America has got his girlfriend, and I’ve never heard of her! However, those of you who keep up with your TV may know Hayley Atwell, who’ll be playing Peggy Carter, Cap’s WWII era love interest. Among other shows, she was featured on the not-so well received AMC redo of “The Prisoner.”

* The folks over at Dreamworks have been busy beavers. First, they began the roll out of their “Kung Fu Panda” “virtual theme park” — basically a collection of Panda-based games for kids. Also, their gearing up for the May release “Shrek Forever After.” Today, CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg spoke at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) confab about, naturally, 3-D conversions on the first three “Shrek” productions and how they won’t suck like certain live-action 3-D conversions.

Still, there was a fly in the family-friendly ointment, and that was a photo spread that’s coming out in the glossy Vman Magazine that apparently caused some unhappiness at Dreamworks Animation. I could explain why, and you may definitely read the Paul Bond’s THR article about it. On the other hand, I don’t have to tell you how many words a picture is worth.

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Movies for sale

I’m thoroughly fried this evening having done my Southern California thing and driven 180 miles basically to run family errands, but there is some more stuff going on that’s worth a mention.

* The American Film Market opens tomorrow. In case you haven’t heard of AFM, it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an event at which foreign buyers come to pick up the rights to mostly American films in various states of production. It’s an pretty important slice of the film financing process and one big event of the year in the foreign sales departments of film companies. (I actually worked in one of those myself in another life.)

One project on offer: a new version of one of the least performed of Shakespeare’s plays and one of the few this ex-English major has never read or seen: a contemporary “Coriolanus” being directed by Ralph Fiennes and starring Gerard Butler, who could use a little Shakespearian cred. Also, a film of an obscure classical play can definitely benefit from some star power. On the other hand, the script is being credited to John Logan of “The Last Samurai.” Ah, reminds of “Romeo and Juliet” … “with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.”

* Not only “Scream IV,”  but “Scream V” and “Scream VI,” may actually be coming, says writer Kevin Williamson.

* Desperate for some more potent Oscar bait in the wake of the demise of “Amelia,” Fox Searchlight may apparently be moving up the release of “Crazy Heart” a country-music drama starring Jeff Bridges which, Steven Zeitchik writes, is being touted as “The Wrestler” goes country music. Sounds good to me, but in some ways that movie was already made back in ’73 with Rip Torn.

Okay, Mickey Rourke‘s character was a lot nicer, but the underlying spirit isn’t all that different.

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Recycled horrors and boomer-bait form box office threesome

It’s an odd duck of a weekend coming up, movie-wise. Our new releases include two films seeking to squeeze just a few more dollars from some long-running horror franchises and a historical prestige comedy which isn’t generating a huge amount of prestige.

Though it’s not quite a given, the prognosticators assume that one of the horror franchises — neither of which has been screened for critics — will top the weekend box office. I think you’d have to give the edge to Warner/New Line’s “The Final Destination,” mainly because it’s in 3-D. The format may gin up interest in the fifth installment of the nearly decade old series highlighting elaborately gruesome deaths and definitely will gin up ticket prices at the nearly 1,700 venues showing it in that format. The other horror flick, The Weinstein Company’s “Halloween II,” is not only a sequel, but a sequel to a reboot/remake. The cachet of director Rob Zombie has probably helped give this thing some steam and apparently both horror films are doing the “tracking” thing well, says THR‘s Carl DiOrio. Still, splitting the fright ticket here seems almost inevitable as the films appeal to largely the same audience.

The numbers being bandied about for both films seem to top out at no higher than $20 million or so, with significantly lower amounts for one or both likely. Of course, that mean’s it’s far from impossible that neither film will win the weekend, and Quentin Tarantino‘s verifiable hit “Inglourious Basterds” might just walk away with its second #1 slot to go with its strong weekday performance. Of course, with Hollywood concerned for the fate of Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s new company, the performance of both the Tarantino and Zombie productions will be very closely scrutinized.

Taking WoodstockLikely to come in fourth place is something completely different. Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” a fact-based comedy about the young entrepreneur who found himself inside a musical/historical whirlwind when he set up the epoch-making music festival at Max Yasgur’s farm. Though Lee is thought of as a rather heavy-duty director these days in the wake of “Brokeback Mountain,” humor has always been a strong suit going back to his early Taiwan-centric international hits, “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” (which had nothing to do with cannibalism). Even the downbeat “The Ice Storm” is far more darkly funny that it’s usually given credit for.

That, however, was then. Our own David Medsker apparently reflects critics as a whole in his split decision on the film, and that doesn’t bode well because this isn’t a teenager-centric horror flick. Movies appealing to boomers are helped by good reviews; movies by arthouse-fave directors like Lee need good reviews; movie starring culty stand-ups like Demetri Martin in their first starring role might benefit from good reviews, too. So, a meh-by-definition 51% Rotten Tomatoes rating doesn’t really cut it and I will expect this one to do moderate business at best once the general apathy sets in. Still, that might be ameliorated somewhat by the ongoing interest in all things baby-boomer and to a lesser extent by the absurdly young looking Demetri Martin’s cable TV fame. (Martin, by the way, is 36, despite having a near identical hairstyle to me at age 12. Funny guy, however.) The presence of Emile Hersch, Liev Schreiber, and Eugene Levy in the Greco-Jewish dominated cast might not hurt, either. At least it gives violence-averse aging hippies and ultra-PC liberals (and I’ve known a few) some appropriate entertainment.

Patton Oswalt in That pretty much covers the new releases. However, film geeks in L.A. and New York will have the chance to see a frequently hilarious nightmare version of a sports geek via the acclaimed tragicomedy, “Big Fan,” from Robert Siegel, the very talented writer of “The Wrestler.” Our sports-loving compatriot Mike Farley digs it, and I very much admired it, in a bummed out sort of way, as well when I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival several weeks back. The mass of critics agree, too. Patton Oswalt might not look much like Robert DeNiro did during his “Taxi Driver” days, but in every other way, he gives Bobby D. a run for his money.

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The boy-men of LAFF, Part 1: “Big Fan.”

The Los Angeles Film Festival is really just getting started for me, but already I’ve seen two movies that are definitely noteworthy, both having to do the age-old issues of males delaying maturity and I’m sure there’s more of that coming. I’ll discuss the mostly insightful and funny “Humpday” tomorrow. Today, I have a darker task.

In the case of last night’s screening of “Big Fan” — a last minute addition to the festival which, in Los Angeles, will be opening at the Nuart Theater in September as part of a limited release — we have a case of Peter Pan as absolute worst case scenario. Written and directed by Robert D. Siegel, who wrote last year’s terrific, and not entirely unrelated, “The Wrestler,” the film stars thinking man’s comic, one-time CGI gourmet rat, and, we’re now learning, skilled dramatic actor, Patton Oswalt as Paul Aufiero, (i.e. every fanboy’s worst nightmare of what he might become), who eventually encounters something beyond every fan’s worst fear.

An utterly single-minded follower of the New York Giants, a random remark to his favorite player (Jonathan Hamm) during an encounter at a strip club sets off a brutal attack by the stoned player, which sends him to the hospital and the player to suspension.  Paul is hurt by the attack, but he seems more concerned that the suspension might be destroying the Giants’ chances for a good season. In this situation, most of us would have dollar signs and/or rage in our eyes, but all poor, embittered, yet absurdly loyal Paul has is concern that he won’t be belittled by “Philadelphia Phil,” (Michael Rappaport), an equally strong fan of the Philly Eagles with whom Paul does nightly battle on a sports talk call-in show.

This might sound like an interesting setup for a comedy, but while “Big Fan” is extremely funny for fairly long stretches,  Paul, who lives at home with his despairing mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz, whose performance is too real for comfort), exists in an emotional horror show. Those who found “The Wrestler” a bit dark will see that that sometimes bleak and tragic film really was “Rocky” in comparison to this grim, utterly unredemptive, but oddly cathartic tale. If you can see this pretty extraordinary directorial debut for Siegel and not think of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” you haven’t seen them.

It’s only a shame that people who see the film in its theatrical run this September, mostly won’t have the pleasure of a live appearance by Patton Oswalt following the film. The comedian, who in real life is a pretty serious cinephile, had the audience in stitches and was probably the best antidote to what might have been the most thoroughly sad and hopeless film most of us have seen in a long time.

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Bullz-Eye’s Best and Worst Movies of 2008: Associate Editor Jason Zingale

It’s never easy coming up with a Top 10 list – both for the best movies and the worst. On one hand, some films are just technically better than others, and on the other hand, some are just more enjoyable. I kept this in mind when compiling my year-end lists for 2008, and so while an Oscar contender like “The Wrestler” may seem like it ranks low in comparison to guiltier pleasures like “RocknRolla” and “Tropic Thunder,” I would rather see both of those movies over the former almost any day of the week.

Another problem is that the studios tend to delay the release of their prestige films until the end of the year in fear of being overshadowed by other Oscar bait, and this time around, not a single Best Picture candidate (save for “The Dark Knight”) was released before December. That makes things difficult when you’re a film critic living in Ohio (you see, just because something opens in New York or LA doesn’t mean it opens everywhere else in the country), and when the rest of the year is so exceptionally average, you depend on those types of movies to help fill out your list.

Thankfully, I managed to catch just about everything a respectable film critic should see before year’s end (except for Steven Soderbergh’s “Che”), and though my list may feature a few surprise entries, I’m willing to stand by each and every one. The same goes for my worst-of list, though I doubt anyone will be surprised by what they find there.

THE BEST MOVIES of 2008:

1. “The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to “Batman Begins” will likely get the shaft when it comes to Best Picture nominations, but ask anyone you come across and I guarantee that four out of every five people will not only list “The Dark Knight” as their favorite movie of the year, but the best as well. The late Heath Ledger’s knockout performance as the Joker certainly helped in this respect, but despite a villainous turn so good that the actor himself couldn’t stop licking his lips onscreen, the film was far from a one-man show. Everyone from Christian Bale to Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman made this movie what it is, and if you thought “Batman Begins” was dark and gritty, you ain’t seen nothing yet. “The Dark Knight” is the “Empire Strikes Back” of comic book sequels, and just like George Lucas’ own space trilogy, it’s hard to imagine Nolan topping this one.

The Dark Knight

2. “Frost/Nixon

I had a feeling that Ron Howard’s big-screen adaptation of the award-winning stage play would be good, but not this good. Staged like a no-holds-barred boxing match between its two stars, “Frost/Nixon” blazes through its tension-filled two hours so fast that you almost forget to breathe. Credit goes to Peter Morgan for writing such captivating material and making it work in movie form, but without its two stars – Frank Langella and Michael Sheen – the drama just wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Langella, in particular, captures the spirit of Nixon without even trying to look like him, and it works surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that if Sean Penn wins Best Actor for his work in the incredibly mediocre “Milk,” the Academy might as well just close down shop and stop giving out awards. The same goes for the movie itself, because “Frost/Nixon” is so good that you’ll want to watch it unfold all over again the minute it ends. And mind you, that’s coming from a 26-year-old with absolutely no interest in politics.

3. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Those who thought David Fincher’s “Zodiac” was too long probably won’t like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” because it’s even longer. Still, there’s an argument to be made as to why both movies needed to be so long, and in the case of the latter, it’s that because the story is about the entire life of one man. That he’s living his life in complete reverse is what makes the film so appealing, and the visual effects that Fincher employs in order to accomplish such a feat (aging and de-aging star Brad Pitt) makes the whole experience nothing short of magical. Based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Benjamin Button” has to be one of the most peculiar love stories ever captured on film. The two lead performances may not be extraordinary, but considering the source material, they’re still quite an achievement. Women may swoon at the thought of seeing Pitt in his 20s again, but it’s his time as an old man that proves the most memorable.

4. “Slumdog Millionaire

“Slumdog Millionaire” is supposed to be this year’s “Juno,” but apart from the fact that they’re both indies being distributed by Fox Searchlight, there’s not a single thing about either film that bears resemblance to the other. This isn’t a knock against “Juno” (it was, after all, my second favorite movie of 2007), but Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” is just a far more complex film; and one that, despite its eventual happy ending, doesn’t have too many feel-good moments scattered throughout. This is a movie that doesn’t go easy on its characters – from torture and violence to rape and drugs – and yet to call it anything other than a fairy tale would be to seriously downplay the spectacle that Boyle has created. Dev Patel is clearly a star in the making, but while he’s the one getting all of the credit, it’s the entire cast (including phenomenal performances from the six Indian kids playing the younger versions of the main trio) that makes “Slumdog Millionaire” so amazing.

5. “WALL·E

I’ll admit it: I had my hesitations going in to “WALL·E.” Though Pixar has proven in the past that they can do just about anything, the fact that there would be virtually no dialogue had me worried that they could pull it off again. Based on it’s placement on my list, however, you can probably deduce that, well, yes, they did do it again, and it’s one of the best movies they’ve ever made. Though the first act is unquestionably the most enjoyable part of “WALL·E,” as the junk-compacting robot embraces his inner Buster Keaton, the movie offers plenty of laughs throughout. Some have complained that the film is little more than a two-hour lecture about the environment, to which I say, so what? Pixar has always prided itself on telling stories that appeal to people of all ages, and what better way to learn something than to watch a movie starring one of the coolest robots ever?

6. “Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood is a legend. There’s no question about it. And if this truly is his final onscreen role, then at least he made it a good one. “Gran Torino” is one of the funniest movies of the year, and it’s all thanks to Eastwood’s performance as a grizzled Korean War vet who spends his days growling at the insensitivity of his kids (they buy him a Gopher and a phone with giant buttons for his birthday) and muttering racist comments at his Asian neighbors. Though it’s easy for a character like this to come off as extremely unlikable, Eastwood somehow manages to turn him into a charming old man who doesn’t take shit from anybody. This is a role that, in any other year, Eastwood would be a lock for a Best Actor nod. The same could be said of the film as well. The screen veteran has a tendency to under-direct his movies, but it’s exactly this simplicity that makes “Gran Torino” so good. It’s original, heartfelt, and above all else, the most intentionally funny dramatic thriller you’ll ever see.

Gran Torino

7. “Iron Man

Those who were lucky enough to attend the “Iron Man” panel at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con already had a pretty good idea nearly a year in advance of how much the movie was going to rock, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be as cool as what Jon Favreau delivered this past May. As the first blockbuster of the summer season, “Iron Man” didn’t just exceed expectations at the box office – it demolished them, all while assuring Marvel fanboys that life after Spider-Man wouldn’t be so bad after all. Robert Downey Jr. is flawless as Tony Stark, and his supporting cast is just as great, but what ultimately makes “Iron Man” such a fun ride is that it took everything great about film (comedy, drama and action) and made it work in the context of a comic book movie. Granted, “The Dark Knight” did it even better just a few months later, but that doesn’t make “Iron Man” any less of a success.

8. “RocknRolla

Say what you will about Guy Ritchie, but the dude makes entertaining movies. Unfortunately, it looked like the crime caper specialist was all but done after marrying Madonna. Ritchie wasted ten years of his life into with the music superstar, and with the exception of his son Rocco, the only other things he had to show for it was a BMW short film, the atrocious “Swept Away,” and the clusterfuck “Revolver.” Thank God for “RocknRolla,” then, the director’s long-awaited return to the world of the London underground and arguably his best and most mature film to date. Sure, Ritchie still seems to favor style over substance, but film’s eccentric cast of characters more than makes up for it. Gerard Butler and Tom Wilkinson, in particular, are both fantastic in their respective roles, and Thandie Newton takes part in one of the funniest dance scenes ever recorded on film. Word is Ritchie is just itching to make a sequel, and if it’s even a fraction as good as the original, then it’ll likely wind up on whatever year-end list it’s eligible for.

9. “American Teen

Nanette Burstein’s film about high school life in the “mostly while, mostly Christian, and red state all the way” town of Warsaw, Indiana is about as close to home as any movie is ever going to get for me (I grew up about 200 miles away), which is probably why I’m so willing to look past the obvious favoritism that was shown to certain subjects during filming. Then again, it’s hard not to fall in love with Hannah Bailey, the unofficial star of the movie. Whether it’s her unconventional beauty, her free-spirited lifestyle, or the fact that she just doesn’t seem to belong, the audience gets behind Hannah from the moment she’s introduced. “American Teen” is smart, funny and downright entertaining, and whether you’ve just graduated from high school or are about to attend your 20-year reunion, you could only be so lucky to have a video yearbook as impressive as this.

10. “Son of Rambow

Movies like “Son of Rambow” don’t get nearly as big of an audience as they deserve, which is a shame, since it’s one of the best and most wildy inventive family films that I’ve seen in a long time. And who better to make a movie that incorporates animated doodles into its character’s imagination than the director-producer duo that created the wacky, stop-motion music video for Blur’s “Coffee and TV”? It’s a match made in heaven, though much of the film’s success is thanks to newcomers Bill Milner and Will Poulter, who give child actors a good name. Anyone with a young son needs to watch this right away – just don’t forget to let them watch it with you. Animated movies shouldn’t be the only source of entertainment for parents looking to teach life lessons, and though it does feature its share of smoking, “Son of Rambow” does more good than harm.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Tropic Thunder
In Bruges
Let the Right One In
Religulous
The Wrestler

THE WORST FILMS of 2008:

1. “Strange Wilderness

In all my time as a film critic, I’ve never given a zero-star rating. That is, until this giant piece of turd marked with Adam Sandler’s stamp of approval crawled into theaters nearly three years after it was made. From recurring gags about joke-shop hand buzzers to dreadfully unfunny set pieces involving gay turkeys and guys named Dick, there’s not a single redeemable moment in the entire film. The script is so lazy that the two main characters are actually named after the writers, and though it technically qualifies as a comedy, there’s nothing about “Strange Wilderness” that will actually make you laugh. Even those terrible parody movies usually have a good joke or two hiding within them, but this is a new low. Speaking of parody movies…

Strange Wilderness

2. “Meet the Spartans

Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are surely Angels of Death sent from Hell to destroy Hollywood. Their latest parody film, “Meet the Spartans,” is so lazily constructed that Fox should be fined the entire box office gross for releasing it in theaters. This a movie that attempts to take all of those gay jokes about “300” and turn it into a 67-minute movie whose biggest highlight is the end credits. I always wondered how these kinds of films even got greenlit, and now I know the answer: in-movie advertising. “Meet the Spartans” is jam-packed with shameless plug after shameless plug, including not-so-subtle commercials for Subway, Gatorade, Krispy Kreme, Budweiser, Dentyne Ice, Red Bull, and, well, you get the point. The people running Fox are clearly greedy idiots, but even they must see the errors of their ways by now.

3. “Disaster Movie

Unfortunately, Lionsgate has not. Just when you thought one Friedberg/Seltzer parody movie was too much, they went and made another one… in the same year. What makes “Disaster Movie” worse than “Meet the Spartans,” however, is that half of the jokes are based on references to films that weren’t even in theaters when the movie was being shot. Guys dressed in Wal-Mart-quality Iron Man, Hellboy and Incredible Hulk costumes are hit with plastic cows for three straight minutes, Carrie Bradshaw is played by a dude, and Beowulf pops up to continue the tirade of gay jokes started in the last film. So why the slightly better ranking? Frankly, because “Disaster Movie” has brief moments of hilarity. Namely, a bit involving Alvin and the Chipmunks singing death metal that will have you rolling on the ground in laughter. Granted, it’s one of the only times you’ll actually be laughing with the movie, but at least there are no commercials in this one.

4. “Over Her Dead Body

It’s a pretty clear indication that your movie sucks when the funniest bit involves a talking parrot. One could even argue that it’s the only funny bit of the movie, but that wouldn’t change the fact that “Over Her Dead Body” is one the worst romantic comedies ever made. It’s not that ghost stories can’t work in that context, either. The Ricky Gervais vehicle “Ghost Town” is the exact same movie, and though much of that film’s success is thanks to the comedian’s unique brand of humor, he receives great support from screen vets like Greg Kinnear and Téa Leoni. Paul Rudd, on the other hand, is partnered up with Lake Bell (she’s been better) and Eva Longoria, who is not only a major reason why the movie sucks, but also gets top billing for what is essentially the third lead. Sorry honey, but appearing in every rag in town does not a star make.

5. “Meet Dave

After Eddie Murphy’s fantastic performance in “Dreamgirls,” it looked like the comedian might actually begin taking his career seriously. Who knows, he could have even strung together a comeback so good that everyone would finally forget about “The Adventures of Pluto Nash.” Unfortunately, Murphy went the other route by making “Norbit,” and one year later, he re-teamed with director Brian Robbins for a movie just as bad. “Meet Dave” was supposed to be big summer comedy for the family, but all it proved is that Murphy isn’t funny and Robbins is a shit director. Lame jokes about printing money out of the ass aside, “Meet Dave” has got to have some of the worst special effects work I’ve ever seen. True, that’s not the reason the movie flopped, but if you’re going to make a film as painful to watch as this, at least make it look good.

6. “Untraceable

If there’s one studio that just doesn’t seem to understand the inner workings of the film industry, it’s Screen Gems, who continues to put out direct-to-video-quality movies every year. Their techno thriller, “Untraceable,” is a sloppy genre flick that’s equal parts good (“Se7en”), bad (“Saw 3″) and ugly (“Feardotcom”). What it lacks in originality, however, it more than makes up for with gaping plot holes, silly clichés, and enough product placement to make you sick (though not as sick as “Meet the Spartans”). How typically good actors like Diane Lane and Colin Hanks managed to get roped into this movie is beyond me, but they must have thought that they were making something a little less trashy than this. When the “Saw” series features a stronger moral code than the one that appears in your film, however, there’s something horribly wrong.

Untraceable

7. “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins

Contrary to what you might have read in fellow BE editor Will Harris’ review of the film, “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” is not an average comedy. Nevertheless, there are a few things that you can learn from watching a movie like this. For starters, Martin Lawrence is just as annoying as you remember. I can’t think of another high-profile actor who is as consistently unfunny as Lawrence is in every one of his headlining roles, and yet somehow, he continues to get work. Secondly, while Lawrence may have stopped trying to mimic Eddie Murphy’s career, he’s chosen a less superior replacement (if that’s even possible) in Tyler Perry. And finally, Michael Clarke Duncan is one funny dude. It’s certainly been hinted at in past projects, but the hulking actor is one of the only genuinely funny things about the film. Pity he wasn’t in it more, because then maybe the film would have been ranked eighth instead of seventh.

8. “Nim’s Island

The makers of “Nim’s Island” clearly don’t believe that a movie has to make sense for kids to understand and enjoy it, and when those kinds of films make $100 million while far superior ones like “City of Ember” tank, well, it really grinds my gears. This has got to be the worst movie Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler have ever made, and they should know better. Butler’s crimes aren’t nearly as bad as Foster’s, however, who should never step foot near anything even remotely resembling a comedy for the remainder of her career. Abigail Breslin isn’t as much to blame as her adult costars, but it still sucks to see such a talented young actress wasted in kiddie fodder like this.

9. “The Love Guru

Some people will surely have my head for not placing Mike Myers’ latest costumed comedy higher up on the list, but while “The Love Guru” really is as terrible as everyone says it is, there’s something strangely entertaining about watching the former “SNL” star bomb for 88 embarrassing minutes. Not to give Myers more credit than he deserves, but “The Love Guru” simply shouldn’t have been this bad. The inspired casting of Justin Timberlake as the film’s villain, Jacques “Le Coq” Grande, proved once again why the musician should quit his day job and become a full-time cast member on “SNL,” while the commentator team-up of Stephen Colbert and Jim Gaffigan had the potential to be so much better. Unfortunately, their limited screen time falls just as flat as all the dick and fart jokes that Myers hurls nonstop at the audience. And did we really need to see two elephants fucking on screen? Yeah, didn’t think so.

10. “One Missed Call

“One Missed Call” isn’t a particularly scary movie, which is kind of like making a comedy that isn’t funny (see above). It is pretty creepy, however, and it’s a shame that director Eric Valette didn’t have a better story to work with. I mean, really, cell phones? Didn’t Jason Segel and Russell Brand make fun of a similar movie in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall? It was no doubt inspired by this one, because I can’t imagine an idea that stupid could be thought of more than once. And what the hell is Ed Burns doing in a horror movie anyway? He’s not the greatest actor of his generation, but I thought he had a more taste than this. Even Margaret Cho was smart enough to get in and get out before anyone recognized it was her, and she probably bought a new house with the paycheck.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS:

The Spirit
In the Name of the King
Fool’s Gold
The Other Boleyn Girl
Made of Honor

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Bullz-Eye’s Best and Worst Movies of 2008: Senior Editor David Medsker’s picks

With mere weeks to go, I had no idea what my list for favorite movies of 2008 was going to look like. More accurately, my list contained several movies that my inner critic told me had no business whatsoever in a year-end top ten list. There were a lot of movies that I liked (as you’ll soon discover), but not a whole lot that I loved. Starting about December 1, though, that changed dramatically. Whew.

Oh, and if you just read fellow BE critic Jason Zingale’s list before checking out mine, your eyes do not deceive you. Unlike, say, EW’s Owen Glieberman and Lisa Schwartzman, who seem to go out of their way to run lists as dissimilar as possible, JZ and I are pretty much on the exact same page this year. A meeting of the minds, or a lack of options? A little of both, I suppose.

Best movies of 2008

1. The Dark Knight
I’m not sure how Christopher Nolan is going to top this. This is so much bigger, smarter, darker and bleaker than any other superhero movie ever made that it’s insulting to lump it into the superhero category.

2. WALL·E
Repeated viewings of this since its release on DVD have elevated it towards not just the top of my list of 2008, but on the list of Pixar’s finest work. The dancing-in-space sequence is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
As a longtime David Fincher fan (his video for Madonna’s “Oh Father” still gives me chills), I’ll be the first to admit that his reputation has loomed larger than the quality of his work. He puts his money where his mouth is here. The last ten minutes are devastating.

4. Frost/Nixon
The only man who can give Samuel L. Jackson a run for his money at saying the word “motherfucker”: Richard Milhous Nixon.

5. Iron Man
Let that be a lesson to you: always take the Humdrum-vee over the Fun-vee.

6. RocknRolla
My pet theory: the name of Gerard Butler’s character One Two is a reference to the Specials’ song “Little Bitch.” Can anyone confirm this?

7. Slumdog Millionaire
Do you think that guy that won all those “Jeopardy” episodes was tortured like this movie’s hero was?

8. Let the Right One In
If you see one vampire movie this year…it ain’t “Twilight.” This Swedish import combines the lure of the undead with the hell that is junior high school. The ending to this movie is sadder than any I’ve seen all year, even the one with the dead dog.

9. Revolutionary Road
Only Leo and Kate could make a movie about two miserable suburbanites so watchable.

10. Tropic Thunder
“Now let’s make a movie!” *Clank* “Oh.” *BOOM* Nothing all year made me laugh harder.

Honorable mentions:
The Wrestler
Choke
The Wackness
Burn after Reading

I Was a Middle-Aged Teenager, Part Deux

I’m 40 years old, but some of my favorite movies – or scenes – came from movies that were aimed squarely at my inner 20-year-old.

Step Brothers
If we were to update our Movie Tunes piece, the “Sweet Child o’ Mine” scene would easily be in our Top 20.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
It had what most Apatow-related movies sorely lack: balance. And hot damn, how awesome is Mila Kunis?

Sex Drive
Rumspringa! WOOOOOO!

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
If anyone is thinking about seeing if this will work in real life, we beg you, STOP. The world has enough bad amateur porn as it is, and your friend isn’t a tenth as hot as Elizabeth Banks.

Wanted
I’d debate whether Morgan Freeman’s character was telling the truth in the movie’s final bloodbath, but does it really matter? This was big, dumb, silly, and an absolute blast.

Pineapple Express
Between this and “Choke,” I’ll never think of anal beads the same way again.

Role Models
Finally, a Seann William Scott movie that didn’t make me want to drown kittens.

Docs that rock

Man on Wire
Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

The Kids Movies Are Alright

Kung Fu Panda
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Horton Hears a Who

Appealing to a man, but made for a woman

What Happens in Vegas…
Definitely, Maybe
Baby Mama
27 Dresses

Worst movies of 2008 (that I saw)

1. The Love Guru
Not even Justin Timberlake could save this from being the unfunniest movie of the year, if not all time. It’s like a bunch of teenagers came up with dick joke punch lines, then worked their way backwards for setups. Painfully bad.

2. Meet Dave
It’s over, Eddie. The next time you have a thought about a family movie comeback vehicle, let it go.

3. Over Her Dead Body
The only Eva worth watching this year is the one in “WALL·E.”

4. Untraceable
Screen Gems makes “Saw Lite,” tries to equate gawker’s block on the highway with willingly contributing to the death of another human being. Uh, sure.

5. Mad Money
Note to self: get job at Federal Reserve. If Diane Keaton can steal from them, so can I.

6. Deception
Hearing Michelle Williams say “fuck and suck” might be the funniest thing I heard in a movie all year.

7. Nim’s Island
Someone once asked Elijah Wood why he did the movie “Flipper.” His answer: to swim with dolphins for six months. Now we know why Abigail Breslin did “Nim’s Island”: to play with sea lions. We forgive you, sweetie. Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler, on the other hand, have some ‘splaining to do.

8. Made of Honor
Made all the more sickening by the fact that this will stand as Sydney Pollack’s final performance. He steals the movie, but the movie he’s stealing isn’t worthy of his presence.

9. Married Life
A black romantic dramedy that’s neither dark, nor funny, nor romantic.

10. The Spirit
“NO EGG ON MY FACE!” Um, I don’t know how to tell you this, Sam, but this movie is one giant piece o’ egg on your face.

Well made, but repulsive in every other regard

Funny Games
Few movies will make you angrier than this self-serving cheat of a film. It’s basically two hours of director Michael Haneke saying, “Fuck you America, you violent, brutish thugs.” America responded by (rightly) ignoring his film. I guess we’re not as brutish as you thought, Michael, and what does it say about you that you tried to profit from our supposed misery? Douchebag.

My co-workers saw them so I didn’t have to

Meet the Spartans
Strange Wilderness
Disaster Movie
88 Minutes
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins

Bonus points to that last movie when cast member Mike Epps gave us quite possibly the worst interview ever.

“Snakes on a Plane” award for Movie Title of the Year

“The Midnight Meat Train.” And surprise, it actually wasn’t that bad.

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Get ready for “The Wrestler”

Bullz-Eye.com’s Jason Zingale explains how Mickey Rourke lives up to the hype with a memorable performance in “The Wrestler.”

An engaging character study of a man seeking redemption, “The Wrestler” may be overly sentimental and even a bit long, but Randy is such an interesting subject that you don’t really mind. This is the movie Sylvester Stallone wish he made with “Rocky Balboa,” and though the story itself is predictable, it’s the smaller moments within that elevate the character to something beyond just a two-dimensional clown in a pair of flashy tights. Mickey Rourke’s powerhouse performance is a heartbreaking tour de force that only gets better with each passing minute, and though he has some stiff competition from the likes of Frank Langella, you’d be kidding yourself if you don’t think Rourke will still be a frontrunner at this year’s Oscars.

Bruce Springsteen wrote and sang one of the songs from the film, as you can hear in the trailer below. Rourke explains how that came about:

“I wrote Bruce a letter, because we’ve known each other over twenty years, and he knows what I used to be, or whatever. Where I went. What I’d been reduced to. I told him how I felt lucky now and didn’t have to end up being this guy, being Randy (character from The Wrestler). A while later I got a call in the middle of the night: he said he’d written a little song, for nothing. It’s fucking beautiful, right? I was honoured he took the time, because he’s a busy cat. I mean, I’m so goddam proud of this magical movie and to have Bruce’s input… ain’t nobody in Hollywood with all their millions can just ring the man and he’ll do a song, y’know?”

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