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The Rental Year That Was


Some DVDs I watched this year fall into a "No duh" category. In other words, I'm not surprised I enjoyed watching them. This list includes Oscar nominees There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men and Atonement. My favorite was Atonement, which was so dark and disturbing a love story that it blew my mind. Additionally, The Kite Runner and Charlie Wilson's War were excellent watches, both with fascinating real-world history entwined in their plots.

Modern horror and suspense films tend to range from moderately intriguing to complete crap. Three titles that piqued my interest were Cloverfield for its innovative home video approach to a big city monster attack; The Strangers because the cabin stalkers completely creeped me out; and 30 Days of Night with its spin on vampirism and beautifully filmed scenes in a remote Alaska town.

The best action DVDs I reviewed in the last 365 days were Kevin Bacon offing his son's killers in Death Sentence, Nic Cage reprising his adventure-seeking in National Treasure: Book of Secrets and the Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy Matrix-y assassins flick Wanted.

Family-friendly titles were a little easier to come by this year despite my stringent requirement that "family" fare still entertain a guy in his late 20s. Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E and Horton Hears a Who! were a delightful trio of animated films. And Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium was a truly fun view for dreamers of any age.

Dramas tend to get my highest marks, and 2008 saw quite a few great ones. My favorites were the Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro death-and-drugs cope-fest, Things We Lost in the Fire; a look at the introduction of a Mexican girl into the international world of sex slavery in Trade; and the Affleck boys' introspective look at family morality in Gone Baby Gone.

The following were not my favorites, but given that I often judge movies by their covers, these were surprising finds. Son of Rambow is the story of a bully and a wimp who make a secret Rambo tribute film in 1980s Britain.

In a cruddy year for romantic-comedies, 27 Dresses was OK, thanks largely to the genre-crossover of James Marsden. Wristcutters: A Love Story took me on a trip into the awkwardly dreary Purgatory that awaits suicides and is my sleeper choice for 2008.

The Dark Knight might very well be my favorite movie of the year thanks to Heath Ledger. The rest of my top five, however, are a pair of dramas and a couple of serious genre-benders.

Then She Found Me was Helen Hunt's directorial debut documenting a woman's divorce that inexplicably jumpstarts the rest of her sullen life. In Bruges was a dramatic, dark action-comedy about European hitmen who think better of their work. Doomsday was a schizophrenic riot featuring action, disease, sword fighting, car chases and punk gangs set in the near future. And, finally, Bella was the realistic and heartfelt story of a Latino soccer star who loses everything, and the new friend to whom he unfolds his story.

For additional info on any of the above movies, visit All of my individual reviews are posted there. The comment option is also good for calling me an idiot if I happen to praise a movie you loathe or vice versa. I'll hope to see more of that in 2009.

—Travis Estvold