A Year in Review: Top Men’s Movies of 2008
Ah, December, the time to look back and evaluate the past year. For guy movies at least, 2008 seemed like a strong year, both in terms of depth and top-end quality. We saw the return of a few favorites, the introduction of some new stars, and one of the best movies released in recent years.
We at Gunaxin want to take a look back at the year’s biggest hits and some of the films that may have been overlooked. You’ve probably seen some of the movies on this list, or at least remember them coming out in theaters. That’s a great start. For those that you don’t recognize, hopefully we can alert you to something you might have otherwise overlooked. With the Christmas season upon us, these movies can also make a fine gift.
We’re going to go twenty deep on this list, trying to hit not only the major blockbusters, but some titles a little less known. Obviously any one person is not expected to like every film on this list. It’s great if you do, but each person is an individual, and what may appeal to one may not appeal to another. This is a compilation that is meant to appeal to men as a whole.
And if you like this list, you may want to check out our Top 50 Guys Movies of the 1990s. So without further ado, let’s get on with the rankings:
20. Death Race
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane
Who needs a plot when there’s explosion and mayhem? In a nutshell, Statham plays a former race car driver who’s framed for the murder of his wife and sent to prison. There he is forced by the warden to compete in a gladiator style sport that’s made for television: a car race in which inmates must brutalize and kill one another on the road to victory. Win enough and you become a free man. Think Running Man, but with cars or the game Twisted Metal come to life. The movie is fun, very loud, ridiculously violent, and really enjoyable. Despite its flaws, it doesn’t take itself seriously and is simply a fun ride.
19. Street Kings
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans
This is a gritty story of a rogue cop who is pushed past his limits by corruption, greed, and violence. Reeves plays a dirty cop, but one who’s dirty in the name of justice. His boss doesn’t care as long as he gets results. When his ex-partner is murdered after potentially ratting him out, he’s both a suspect and out for vengeance to find the killers.
This thriller is littered with gunfire, constant drinking, and is a real throwback to the 1970s cop films because of its violence, profanity, and political incorrectness. Reeves is no great shakes as the lead, but he holds his own quite competently. Whitaker’s right in his wheelhouse playing Keanu’s boss, and the end result is a crime drama full of tension.
18. Role Models
Director: David Wain
Stars: Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb’e J. Thompson
From the director of Wet Hot American Summer and co-written by star Paul Rudd, comes this comedy about two hyper-caffeinated beverage salesmen who crash a tow truck into a statue in front of a local high school. In order to avoid jail time, they choose to serve 150 hours of a community service with a mentoring or Big Brother type program.
Role Models works because of Rudd and Scott. Their polarizing styles compliment each other, with Rudd being the sarcastic understated smart ass and Scott the goofy party animal. Yes, the movie follows the predictible path of selfish jerks learning lesson and transforming into compassionate paternal figures. That’s not exactly a spoiler for this kind of movie. The fun is not in the destination, but the laughs along the way.
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell
If you enjoyed Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome or Escape from New York, this might be the film for you. From writer/director Neil Marshall comes the British science fiction action film filled with a tongue in cheek splatter fest homage to the great John Carpenter movies of the 80s. Gratuitous blood geysers? Check. Insane, post-apocalyptic punks? Check. Buff, beautiful, uber-bad-ass heroine that can kill without a moment’s hesitation but still possesses superior morals to those that command her? Check. Ego-maniacal bad guy played by Malcolm McDowell? Check. Ticking clock to doomsday? Check. Starring the beautiful Rhona Mitra, she is sent into a quarantined zone to find the cure to a deadly virus. The only hitch? The zone is a completely lawless land abandoned by modern society. If that’s your kind of thing, check out this fun gorefest.
16. Sex Drive
Director: Sean Anders
Stars: Josh Zuckerman, Clark Duke, Amanda Crew, James Marsden
Ah, the R-Rated teen comedy, always a fun genre. Sex Drive is about a high school senior who goes on a cross-country road trip to hook up with a girl he met online. At least he hopes it’s a girl, you never known who’s on the other end online. This movie may be one of the filthiest and mean-spirited mainstream comedies in the past few years, but it also might be one of the smartest. Yes, the plot is very clichéd, but the set-up of the comedy is genius. A constant barrage of jokes are thrown at the audience, most of them sticking. And that’s where the joy lies, in the laughs. From the same basic concepts as American Pie and Road Trip, if you enjoyed those movies, you should enjoy this one.
Director: Louis Leterrier
Stars: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
A follow-up to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk film, the producers of this film had their work cut out for them after the critical thrashing the original film received. Although plagued by some disagreement between its star, Norton, and its director, the final product works well as comic adaptation.
I’ll admit I’ve never been a huge Hulk fan, being drawn more to the likes of X-Men, Spiderman, and Batman. Maybe its because the Hulk is more of an uncontrolled beast than strict superhero. And yet this movie is a great way to portray the Hulk and Bruce Banner as the hero. Playing essentially a cat-and-mouse game, Bruce Banner is hiding abroad from General Ross and the U.S. Government until his location is discovered. It prompts Banner to return to the U.S. in a last-ditch effort to find a cure for his “disease.” Littered with great special effects and action sequences, at the end of the day the Incredible Hulk is an entertaining summer blockbuster.
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie
Wanted is an odd film. It’s overly stylish, saturated with absurdity, and directed by a guy making his Hollywood debut. On the surface this looks like something that could come from Rob Cohen. Except that it stars three high profile quality actors. Freeman and Jolie have won Oscars, and McAvoy has won many critic awards for his roles in the dramas The Last King of Scotland and Atonement. It’s an odd mish mash.
McAvoy is the action hero here, and he makes an unlikely kind of hero. In Matrix-like fashion, he turns from nobody into somebody pretty fast. The explanation for how everything is possible in this movie is never fully fleshed out, but the movie features extreme action, an array of visual adrenaline, and some dark humor through out. And it has Angelina Jolie looking pretty good. Overall that’s a win.
Director: Kevin Smith
Stars: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson
Take Kevin Smith’s already crude sense of humor, mix in porno, and voilà, you have this movie. The title pretty much describes the plot. Two lifelong friends run out of money and decide to make a porno to pay the bills. If you’re looking for a real porno film, you’ll be disappointed. For nearly being rated NC-17 the sex is not terribly gratuitous, although the language is a hard R.
Even without gratuitous sex, this movie can be controversial and borderline wrong in some parts, but it’s ultimately a feel good story. Basically, this is vintage Kevin Smith, blending the cheerily offensive with heartfelt sentimentality, and while its nothing groundbreaking, its a successful comedy.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor
Sony wanted no part of a Hellboy sequel, luckily Universal stepped in to finance a continuation of the 2004 cult hit. And Director Guillermo del Toro delievers a solid follow-up to the original which should please Hellboy fans and maybe capture a few new ones.
Del Toro is known for his visual panache and enriching vision, and its certainly on display here with an overdose of dazzling visuals, seen in bizarre yet beautiful monsters and set design. But the heart of the movie is Ron Perlman and his portrayal of the titular character. Here we see him battle a vengeful Prince while dealing with some domestic issues back home. As always, we see a hilarious dose of self-aware humor mixed in with some thrilling action pieces. I’d still prefer the original personally, but I feel both movies are successes that many can enjoy.
Director: Nicholas Stoller
One can certainly debate whether Forgetting Sarah Marshall qualifies as a guy movie. It’s basically a break up movie, maybe something comparable along the lines of Swingers. And I’d include Swingers as a guy movie, so I think we can include Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It also doesn’t hurt that this comes from the Apatow camp, the guy who brought us Superbad and Knocked Up.
Starring Jason Segel, who also wrote the screenplay, it features a guy who’s dumped by his TV star girlfriend and tries to overcome the sorrow. We see TV regulars Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis in major roles, plus a number of cameos by Apatow usuals. The most memorable character, however, is Russell Brand, who plays the over-conscious over-sexed rock star Aldous Snow. The movie is amusing and sometimes awkward, but brings the laughs as the writing flows with well-timed jokes, apathetic digs, and shockingly vulgar humor. This film could even be rated higher on this list, but loses points for featuring full frontal male nudity.
10. Quantum of Solace
Director: Marc Forster
Stars: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric
I’ll get the obvious out of the way, no this is not as good as Casino Royale. That said, Casino Royale set a pretty lofty standard to hold any movie up to. While not achieving that level of success this Bond installment succeeds in its own way.
Playing as a direct sequel, Quantum of Solace begins almost exactly where Casino Royale left off. Bond is seeking revenge of the death of Vesper Lynd and is mixed up with some powerful unknown super criminal organization. A modern day Legion of Doom, except these guys all seem like escaped members of a Clue game (Mr. Greene, Mr. White, etc…). the action is non-stop, and while you are missing some Bond staples, the movie works as a second act of Casino Royale. Ultimately, Bond does show a quantum of solace at the end of the movie, allowing his character to begin anew in the next installment.
Director: Pierre Morel
Stars: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace
If you live in the United States, you’ll have to get creative to see this one. Despite being filmed largely in English and being released in Europe almost a year ago, the film remains undistributed in the United States. To top it off, the rumored U.S. release will be edited down to a PG-13 rating. Disappointing. There are DVD and Blu-Ray releases in some countries, so imports are available as well as other less than legal means to obtain the flick.
As to the movie itself, it stars Liam Nesson in a commanding performance of a father who’s daughter is kidnapped. Neeson plays the action hero here, and if that sounds a bit odd to you do not fret as he pulls it off. If you want to compare it to something you’re more familiar with, think Bourne trilogy or 24.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton
In his heart, Guy Ritchie is a guy’s filmmaker (his name is Guy after all). This is a man who brought us Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. I think we can forgive him for his Madonna diversions and whatever Swept Away was supposed to be. At least we can forgive now that he’s in his post-Madonna era.
RocknRolla is a return to form for Ritchie, even if he doesn’t hit the heights of his previous work. You’ll see the traditional Ritchie staples here: fast pace, witty dialogue, complex interwoven story lines, and a stylish piece of work bristling with energy. The basic storyline here is simple: when a Russian mobster sets up a real estate scam that generates millions of pounds, various members of London’s criminal underworld pursue their share of the fortune. Let the games begin!
Director: David Gordon Green
Stars: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole
This is a movie rated R for “pervasive language, drug use, sexual references, and violence.” That’s a good start to any guy movie. A bizarre choice for artsy director David Gordon Green, Pineapple Express is a mixing of various genres, including action, but at its heart is all about the laughs.
And the laughs are certainly here, with just about every scene featuring some great dialogue, acting, or some sort of incredible sight gag. James Franco rejoins the Apatow clan after his work with Freaks and Geeks, and its him and not Rogen that’s the highlight of this film. This movie is another fine entry into the stoner film genre, hearkening back to the good ole days of Cheech and Chong.
6. The Bank Job
Director: Roger Donaldson
Stars: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows
Based on the 1971 Baker Street robbery in central London, the Bank Job features a group of petty criminals that rip off a bank vault with plenty of unintended consequences. The amount of truth in what you see up on screen is for you to decide, as the depiction claims to be true.
Though you see Jason Statham’s name as the lead, this is hardly a typical Statham picture. It’s a straight caper movie, and a grittier one than normal Hollywood standards. A word of warning, the picture starts with a number of seemingly unconnected characters and stories that can come across as confusing or at least complex. But stick with it, the slow build leads to a payoff of excitement and excellence toward the end as everything comes together.
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden
Sylvester Stallone is back. Well at least in reprising one of his old characters, something he experienced success with two years ago in resurrecting Rocky Balboa. The fourth installment of the Rambo franchise, and twenty years since the last film, John Rambo is back in action.
The plot here is pretty simple and more or less a vehicle to setup the action sequences. And its the action sequences you’ll remember, as there are a reported 236 kills in this one (individual body counts may vary). But it’s not just sheer body counts, the action is also visceral and downright gory at times. Think of the scenes on Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan, or in other words you may not want to watch if you have a weak stomach. One can complain about the excessive gore, violence, and general lack of story, but I think that’s the exact reason people are attracted to a movie like this. Well either that or nostalgia.
Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black
The movie starts with a few fake trailers mocking the clichés of Hollywood, including some of its personalities, films, and business tactics. Then it barrels full force into a feature that’s a unique blend of satire, action, and comedy. Although littered with comedy heavyweights like Ben Stiller and Jack Black, the scene stealer in this one is actually Tom Cruise, playing the ruthless and obscenity laced studio executive Les Grossman. Of course that’s not meant to take away from the rest of the ensemble cast, which together form a hilarious bunch. Of the names on the poster, Robert Downey Jr. has the best part, playing a Russell Crowe like superstar actor that gets deeply involved in his roles. As he would say, “I know what dude I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude!”
3. In Bruges
Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes
In Bruges is from the mind of writer/director Martin McDonagh, who won an Oscar last year for his short film Six Shooter. This movie is about two hitmen that badly botch a hit and are sent to Belgium by their boss to lay low for awhile. Despite the subject matter, the film works best as a comedy, with some action and violence mixed in.
Ralph Fiennes plays the boss, seemingly mimicking Ben Kingsley’s foul mouthed bad ass from Sexy Beast. The film has an overall European feel, and plays as something more than a simply action comedy. Still, even though it may be deeper than some films, it’s no overly artsy. I mean there’s a running joke about midgets throughout the picture.
2. Iron Man
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard
Favreau got his starts as an actor, but has started to make a name for himself behind the camera with enjoyable fare like Zathura and Elf. Iron Man is his best effort to date, and it tells the story of billionaire industrialist, genius inventor, and consummate playboy Tony Stark. What guy wouldn’t want to be that?
In another year, this movie could have easily topped this list. We see Tony Stark become Iron Man, an ordinary man that becomes extraordinary through the use of a self-designed high-tech suit. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect casting for Iron Man, and the movie delivers by mixing action, comedy, and drama in the right proportions. Don’t forget to say after the credits for a bonus.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart
Did you really expect anything else? Loved by critics and audiences, there’s a good chance that this film garners a nod for Best Picture when the Oscar nominations come out next year. The follow-up to Nolan’s reboot Batman Begins, this time we are introduced to Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker. Heath Ledger gives a commanding performance of the psychotic killer, in a version much more faithful to the comics than Tim Burton’s Batman.
The Joker is undoubtedly Batman’s most nefarious foe and ideal nemesis, and we get to see to what lengths he pushes him in this picture. This great movie does not give a single frame to breathe, filling each second with action and intrigue. It’s an ode to chaos and anarchy, depicting a real Gotham City that is dominated by fear while clamouring for a hero. The Dark Knight is simply a stunning masterpiece and the best comic adaptation to date.