The Haunting in Connecticut – Fact or Fiction?

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Just how much of it is true?

Yesterday I watched the ‘based on the true story’ film The Haunting in Connecticut.

First, a short review

To be honest, despite the poor reviews the film was received, it wasn’t all that bad.  It was just average, and for a supernatural horror film, ‘average’ is pretty good these days.  In my opinion, it was one of those rare horror films that actually got better as it progressed.  In the first half or so, the attempted scares were your stock standard ‘boo’ moments and the bloody, visceral shocks you’d expect to see in any regular PG-13 horror.  I don’t know why, but for some reason I found myself actually frightened a few times in the second half, and that’s a rarity for me nowadays.  I even forgot how insanely and ridiculously stupid and non-sensical (even within the confines of the film’s own logic) everything was.  And for that,  3 out of 5 stars!

Fact or Fiction?

After I got home, I started wondering just how much of the film was really ‘based’ on the true story?  Was it even a true story to begin with?  Which characters existed and what parts of the film actually happened in real life?

And so I turned to the trusty old Internets for some answers.  The results were…interesting.

The film is ‘based’ on supposedly true events that happened to the Snedeker family in 1986 when they moved into a house that turned out to be a former funeral home.  Naturally, spooky stuff started happening.  Their oldest son, who was 13 at the time and being treated for Hodgkin’s disease (the ‘Matt Campbell’ character from the movie) started behaving strangely and their 17-year old niece said she was fondled by unseen hands.  The mother, Carmen Snedeker (the ‘Sarah Campbell’ character from the movie), also claimed to be the victim of demonic sexual assaults.  There were many other alleged disturbances (such as water to blood, putrid odours, crucifixes going haywire or disappearing etc) but these were the most serious.

Eventually, Carmen Snedeker brought in Ed and Lorraine Warren, the infamous old ghostbusting couple that covered the ‘Amityville Horror’ haunting.  The Warren’s nephew, John Zaffis, also joined in for observations.  They became convinced that the house was haunted by demons.  A Catholic priest was brought in and the spirits were exorcised, and things went back to normal after that.  The Snedekers left two and a half years after they moved in.

With help from the Warrens, the Snedekers’ story was first brought to light by the book In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting by Ray Garton, a horror fiction writer, and was also the subject of an episode of the TV show A Haunting titled A Haunting in Connecticut.  From what I’ve read about the book and the TV show, both were incredibly frightening.

Fact?

I wanted to know how credible the true story behind the movie was, so I dug a little further.

What John Zaffis said

John Zaffis is the nephew of the Warrens that were brought in by the Snedeker’s for help. Here is the full article he wrote about the Snedekers and their funeral home house.

In short, he discusses some of the background and events detailed in In a Dark Place and talks about his own experiences in the house.  Here’s an extract:

This is the case where I had my first encounter with a full formed demon and it is something to this day that I will never forget. I was sitting at the dining room table when it started to get ice cold in the room, at this point I knew something was getting ready to happen. I tried to get the other researchers or family members to respond to me by calling out to them but they did not. I knew at this point this was meant for me to experience alone. I had gotten up and walked into the hallway and looked up at the top of the stairs, I began to smell something like rotting meat which was all over this area and it was unbearable. As I continued to look up the grand staircase, I started to see something begin to form, as it slowly descended down the staircase. It was the ugliest thing I had ever seen, it had come to the last step on the staircase and it said to me “do you know what they did to us, do you know”? That was enough for me, I left the home and did not return for three days. I do not think I’ve ever encountered anything that has scared me as bad as that, I would not speak to anyone for days after the encounter, but I did go back to work on the case, the family needed our help.

Sounds pretty scary, right?

What Chip Coffey said

Chip Coffey is a self-proclaimed ‘psychic, medium, spiritual counselor and paranormal investigator’ who became involved with the Snedekers when the TV show was made. Here’s his blogger site.

Coffey also wrote an article about the haunting in Connecticut titled ‘Demons from the dark’ which mirrored a lot of the things said in Zaffis’s article. Here it is anyway.

Carmen Snedeker’s website

Carmen Snedeker is still around and she has her own website, which was surprisingly difficult to find. Follow this link to visit the page.

I must say, had I only seen Zaffis’s and Coffey’s articles, I would have found it all pretty convincing (maybe not convinced, but it would have been convincing).  But Carmen’s website smells funny – from the smiling ‘star-shot’ portrait to the shameless promotion of herself, advertising for supernatural investigators (including Zaffis), her touring lectures about the hauntings and (here’s the clincher) the brand new book on the haunting she is working on with Zaffis and Coffey!  Now they don’t sound so convincing anymore.

Carmen also mentions the feature film, which she believes “will bring a new understanding of what went on in the house”.  Clearly she had no idea of what the Hollywood producers had in mind.

Fiction?

From Carmen’s website, the Snedekers’ story began to completely fall apart.

What Garton said about his own book

From first publication of In a Dark Place, author Ray Garton has been savaging his own ‘non-fiction’ book and the Warrens.  I’ve found numerous examples of him condeming what he wrote as, effectively, made up.  By him.  Fiction.

Probably the most complete account comes from his interview at Horror Bound Magazine (see entire interview here – worth a read because it’s quite funny and interesting – and has some good advice for aspiring writers at the end):

Q: You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction. In one case in particular, a book that was labeled “non-fiction” should have been labeled “fiction” (through no fault of your own). For those Horror Bound readers who have a huge interest in the paranormal and who have followed the careers of Ed and Lorraine, what would you say?

 

A: Ah, the Warrens. Ed, of course, has gone to that great haunted house in the sky, but Lorraine is still around. Back in the early ‘90s, I was offered a chance to write a book for Ed and Lorraine. As a kid, I used to follow their ghost-hunting exploits in the National Enquirer. I thought it sounded like a fun job, so I took it. I went to Connecticut and spent time with the Snedeker family. They’d moved into a house with their sick son and learned the place used to be a funeral home. They claimed all kinds of spooky things had happened in the house. They’d called in Ed and Lorraine, and after investigating, the Warrens announced that the house was infested with demons. Some of these demons had anally raped members of the family.

A little aside here. Back when I was reading about the Warrens, they were ghost hunters. Every house they investigated had at least one ghost, and there was always a spooky story behind it. But after The Exorcist was so wildly popular, first as a novel and then as a movie, Ed and Lorraine stopped encountering ghosts and began to uncover demon infestations. And it seems that wherever they went, people were being sexually molested by demons. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Carmen Snedeker was an unemployed wife and mother who was running an illegal interstate lottery business, about which she asked me numerous times to tell no one. I never met the son, who was said to be ill, although I was allowed to talk to him on the phone once, supervised by Carmen. When the boy began to talk about drugs and told me that he didn’t hear and see strange things in the house once he began taking medication, Carmen ended the conversation. As I gathered all the necessary information for the book, I found that the accounts of the individual Snedekers didn’t quite mesh. They just couldn’t keep their stories straight. I went to Ed with this problem. “Oh, they’re crazy,” he said. “Everybody who comes to us is crazy. Otherwise why would they come to us? You’ve got some of the story – just use what works and make the rest up. And make it scary. You write scary books, right? That’s why we hired you. So just make it up and make it scary.” I didn’t like that one bit. But by then, I’d signed the contract and there was no going back. I did as Ed instructed – I used what I could, made up the rest, and tried to make it as scary as I could. The book was called In A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting.

As soon as it was published, I started telling my story, knowing full well that it would not be too popular with the Snedekers or the Warrens. I was right. Carmen Snedeker, now Carmen Reed, has denounced the book. She claims they had little involvement in it, which is a lie. Since the release of that book, the Discovery Channel has aired a “re-enactment” of the story called A Haunting in Connecticut, which, of course, presents the Snedekers’ story as hard cold fact. Now a feature film based on the story is going to be released soon called The Haunting in Connecticut. I suspect the movie will begin with the words “Based on a true story.” Be warned: Just about anything that begins with any variation of this phrase is trying a little too hard to convince you of something that probably isn’t true. Last I heard, Carmen is working on a new book, to tell the real story – apparently they’ve settled on one. I don’t know if Carmen runs her little interstate lottery operation anymore, but now she’s claiming to be some kind of psychic healer. She says she’s always been a psychic healer, although I didn’t hear anything about it in Connecticut back in the early ‘90s.

These days, John Zaffis is the “investigator” being used to make this cockamamie tale look like something remotely resembling legitimate. Zaffis is the nephew of Ed and Lorraine Warren. He was around back when I was working on the book. He didn’t do much, just stood around. Lorraine told me he was learning the business. He told me a story about something he saw in the former funeral home – some kind of “fully formed demon,” or some such nonsense.

During my stay in Connecticut, Ed, Lorraine, and Zaffis repeatedly told me they had videotape of supernatural activity they’d shot in the demon-infested former funeral home (which I never visited because the current owners claimed the Snedekers were full of it and wanted nothing to do with the Warrens’ little dog and pony show). They assured me I would see that footage. Throughout my visit, they kept telling me the videotape was coming, that they were having trouble finding it, but they’d show it to me. By the end of my visit, there had been no sign of any videotape. After my experience with the Warrens, I talked to a couple of other writers who’d written books for Ed and Lorraine – and their stories were nearly identical to mine.

I found another message board thread on dejanews where Garton posted, and he had the following things to say about the Warrens:

I spent several days with the Warrens during that time.  I spent time with them in their home and ate with them and went on long drives with them.  Of the two, Lorraine is the sanest.  She’s an “enabler”.  Years ago, before their career in the “supernatural” began, Ed suffered from mental illness.  It was bad enough to keep him from working, and the only way he could make money was to hand paint haunted houses on dinnerplates and sell them door to door.  Once Ed decided that Lorraine was “psychic”, selling the haunted house plates eventually led to “investigating” haunted houses.  At first, they found “ghosts”.  But after the tremendous success of THE EXORCIST — both the novel and the movie — ghosts suddenly became demons.  If you go back and trace their career, you can see the sudden change.  Almost overnight, all ghosts were really demons trying to possess residents, and sooner or later, the demons anally raped someone. It never fails, every damned time, the Warrens’ demons bend somebody over a bed or a sink and beat down the back door, if you know what I mean.  From my time spent with the Warrens, I learned from Ed that their job is not really to “investigate” so much as it is to take the stories told by these families — most of whom are dealing with REAL problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, and/or domestic abuse, problems that are buried by their supernatural fantasies, which are supported and made tangible by the very eager Warrens — and arrange them into a saleable package that will make a good book, and hopefully a movie.

Not only are the Warrens frauds, not only do they give a bad name to people who are SERIOUSLY investigating paranormal phenomena, I think they’re EVIL because of the way they exploit families already deep in despair and ready to shatter. I can ignore a simple con job … but the Warrens are actually damaging people who are already damaged, who are desperate and vulnerable, using them for the sake of a book, maybe a lucrative movie sale, or another story to add to their traveling dog and pony show.  Before I worked on that book, I’d followed the adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren faithfully since I was a little boy.  I was excited to work with them.  Boy, was that a big disappointment.  It’s nice to believe there’s a smiling, grandparently couple out there chasing demons … but not when you know they’re hurting people for the sake of publicity and the almighty dollar.
What investigative journalist Joe Nickell found
Skeptical paranormal investigator Joe Nickell wrote a very insightful article entitled ‘Demons in Connecticut’. The article can be found here.
In it, Nickell discusses the background of the Snedeker family and why he thinks it was all made up for media exploitation.  It’s particularly interesting because Nickell was actively involved in trying to debunk the story when it first came to light and was being discussed on talk shows.  There are plenty of quotes from people who lived around the Snedekers who claim it’s all fake, and suggestions of how some of the paranormal activities could be rationally explained.

Concluding thoughts – so what actually happened?

After reading Garton and Nickell, I was ready to write the whole Snedeker haunting off as shameless attention-seeking and media exploitation.  But then I came across this message board, where two posters (brothers) claimed to have lived in the house after the Snedekers. Well, the problem is that their identities can’t be verified, but what they’ve written seems genuine enough.  And according to them, the house was definitely haunted, just not to the extent grossly exaggerated by the Snedekers.  There were voices, loud footsteps, swinging doors – but that was about it.

As someone who believes in ghosts, a former funeral home would be a prime candidate for a haunting.  And as someone who has done a fair bit of reading on ghosts, I understand that different people have different sensitivities to these types of things.  Further, people who are fit and healthy are less likely to experience things than people who are ill.  So it is possible that the house was haunted, and perhaps the Snedekers, with their sick son and multitude of problems, experienced more of it than other people.  But just about everything else points to shameless exploitation for a bit of money.

My guess is that there were probably a few spooky things that happened at the house (paranormal or not), but nothing as dramatic as they claim (and certainly none of the crap in the movie).  But when the Warrens got involved, things just spiralled out of control and it became nothing more than a money-making venture.  Assume you believe in ghosts for a minute – okay, it’s a funeral home, lots of dead bodies, so maybe a lost soul here or there – but why all these raging demons who like to molest people?  In real life (unlike in the film) there were no explanations offered, no dark history of torture or mutilation uncovered, no ancient burial ground or corpses in the cellar.

And come on, if you had something as terrifying as demons trying to anally rape you, would you stay in the house for another second?  I don’t care if you don’t have another dime in the bank – you wouldn’t just keep the lights on and go back to bed!

(SPOILERS!) FACT VS FILM (SPOILERS!)

Read on if you have seen the film or don’t plan on seeing it.

After looking into the facts behind the story, it seems there were only a few similarities between the film and the true story on which it was based.  We know that a family did move into a house that was formerly a funeral home, and they did it to be closer to the treatment facility for their son, who was suffering from cancer (Hodgkin’s disease).  We also know that the son did undergo some drastic changes in personality, and he would eventually recover, but he was probably nowhere near death as suggested in the film.  There were probably some alcohol and financial problems too.

Apart from that, just about everything else was different.  The Snedekers had 3 sons (aged 13, 11 and 3) and a 6-year old daughter.  2 nieces would move in with them later.  There was another tenant living upstairs.  Most significantly, there was no elaborate back story about a young medium boy who conducted seances, no stolen graves, no dead bodies stashed away in the basement, no dying reverend who happens to know everything, no carvings on the body, no box of human eyelids hidden under the floorboards, and certainly no burning down of the house.

As for the ghosts and paranormal events that happened in the house, only a few people know the truth, but the one thing we know for sure is that they were nothing like what was depicted in the movie.  ‘Based on the true story’?  Hardly.  Maybe more appropriate would be: ‘Inspired by events that may or may not have happened’ – but I guess that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

I had been importing my short Flixter entries for all my movie reviews up to now, but I thought if any movie deserved a full review, it would be Watchmen, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year for many (unless Harry Potter 6 or Transformers 2 is more your thing).

Disclaimer: I will preface this review with two comments: (1) I am going to stick to my convention of not revealing much about the plot or what happens in the movie; (2) I have not read the Watchmen graphic novel yet (thought it might ruin the movie experience if I read it beforehand).

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Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Main cast: Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I)

Rating: USA: R, UK: 18, Australia: MA

Running time: 163 minutes

4 out of 5 stars

Watchmen is likely to be one of the most unusual films you will ever see.  It’s about superheroes, but it’s not your typical superhero movie.  Most of the superheroes don’t display any obvious supernatural abilities (which really just makes them people who like to fight crime and have costume fetishes).  It’s often difficult to discern who is good or evil, right or wrong.  Probably all of the main characters exhibit some form of mental disorder at varying levels of seriousness.  In a sense, they are the anti-superheroes.

As I said, I don’t like to reveal the plot for those that don’t want to know about it (but I assume most people who go to see it have a rough idea).  All I will say is that the story takes place in an alternate historical version of 1985, during the peak of the US/USSR Cold War.  This becomes clear in the opening sequences.

However, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, because at its heart, Watchmen is a character movie.  The story is told in non-linear form, jumping from character to character and revealing their back stories through flashbacks.  There is a central line in the plot, a mystery waiting to be solved, but the focus is firmly on the characters – who they are, how they became the way they are, their personal struggles, their fears, desires, motivations and ambitions.  At the same time, there is this constant undercurrent about the nature of human beings, and in particular, their capacity (or lack thereof) for understanding and compassion.

The Watchmen graphic novel (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) first came out between 1986 and 1987, which explains the setting.  For many years, it was regarded as unadaptable, and after seeing this film, I got a sense of why that may have been the popular opinion.  It’s a shame that the movie was not made closer in time to the graphic novel, because the story reflects many of the contemporary anxieties of the American public of that period.  Many of those anxieties are still relevant today, but they have evolved (in the wake of 9/11) and the impact is not quite the same as it would have been.

Directing and Screenplay

Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter (who wrote the original script) and Alex Tse (who kept the best elements but amended much of it) should be commended on bringing Watchmen to life at last.  As I haven’t read the graphic novel, I cannot comment on how good the adaptation was, but as a standalone film, it was very good, though not great.  The difficulty may lie with the running length – at 163 minutes, it is very long for a superhero movie (though not as extraordinary as it would have been a few years ago) – but at the same time, you get a strange feeling that there was much more of this bizarre world yet to be explored.  Perhaps the director’s cut, which is supposedly 191 minutes (and coming out with the DVD), will be a more complete picture for those that want to see more of it.  For some, I imagine 163 minutes is already too much.

Acting

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Haley as Rorschach was amazing

The importance of the acting in a film like this cannot be understated.  For the most part, the actors in the lead roles delivered believable performances that traversed a plethora of emotions.  The clear standout would undoubtedly be Jackie Earle Haley as the freakish yet intriguing Rorschach, the best character by far.  You’re already impressed with him when he wears a mask that obscures his entire face.  You then become even more amazed when he takes off the mask.  Truly brilliant.

Not far behind is Patrick Wilson (Haley’s co-star in the magnificent Little Children), an extremely underrated and underappreciated actor who plays Nite Owl II, a slightly overweight and awkward social misfit.

If there is a weak link, it would have to be Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias.  While he may fit the bill physically (tall, lean and traditionally handsome), he doesn’t quite exude the charm and presence needed from the character.  Not to take anything away from Goode’s performance because it was adequate, but if you have to pick on someone it’s him.

Violence, Sex and Special Effects

Given the classification ratings for Watchmen, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of incredibly bloody and gruesome violence (as well as ‘normal’ violence), a bit of sex and nudity (both real and assisted by special effects) and some coarse language (though not as much as I expected).  I’m glad they made this film for adults rather than worry about the classification and go for a toned down version that simply wouldn’t have worked.

The fight scenes were superbly choreographed – smooth, crisp and whole, thankfully avoiding the rapid cut scenes that have plagued action films of late.  And from the guy who directed 300, I would have expected nothing less.  On the other hand, Snyder didn’t shy away from some of the more frightening scenes either, displaying the pain, gore and blood in all its glory.

As for the special effects – they were good, but certainly not groundbreaking.  They did a fairly decent job with Billy Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan, but there were times when you could easily spot things that were completely computer generated (not that you would expect them to build the real thing).

Conclusion

On the whole, Watchmen was very very good – but it fell considerably short of the masterpiece some it expected to be.  It may seem unfair, but you cannot NOT compare the film to its source material (or at least its reputation if you haven’t read it), which is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time.

There were some absolutely brilliant sequences littered throughout this movie, but it was more scattered than consistent.  Those expecting an all-out action flick might be disappointed because there are quite a few ‘dull’ character development moments in between.  I assume there will probably be 4 broad classes of reactions to Watchmen: (1) loved the graphic novel and therefore loved the movie; (2) loved the graphic novel but felt the film did not do it justice; (3) haven’t read the graphic novel and now want to after seeing the film; (4) thought it was weird and stupid and didn’t get it.

I put myself in the third category.

Oscars/Golden Globes Film Reviews Part III

I’ve done it.  I finally managed to watch all the Oscar/Golden Globe nominated films I could possibly get to before the Oscar ceremony on Sunday!

Here’s the third instalment of my short Flixter film reviews and possibly the best of the lot!  The first instalment can be found here (Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, The Reader, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, In Bruges, Pineapple Express, Burn After Reading, Tropic Thunder, Changeling, Mamma Mia, The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda) and the second here (WALL-E and Gran Torino).

Again, ratings are out of 5 stars.

rachel-getting-married1Rachel Getting Married (3.5 stars)

Years of suppressed family emotions explode around a family wedding. Well-written script with some clever dialogue and witty interactions, even though this type of drama would not be everyone’s cup of tea. A remarkable performance by Anne Hathway (I didn’t know she could act this well) and a solid supporting cast. Not all of it worked but enough of it did.

 

doubt1Doubt (3.5 stars)

Extraordinary performances all round (Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman as always, but Amy Adams really stole the show as the doubting nun), but it was an obvious play adaptation with lots and lots of talking. The characters were extremely well defined, though I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain clunkiness in the way things panned out. Not to take away too much from this film because it tackles many of the themes very cleverly through subtle actions and explosive dialogue.  Doubt is indeed an apt title for this film.

 

milkMilk (4 stars)

True story about the first openly gay public official in America.  Pretty incredible movie and a ridiculously superb performance by Sean Penn. It was entertaining, informative, frightening and enlightening all at the same time. Hard to believe it was only 30 years ago that this happened in our world. I particularly liked the ending where they showed the real life counterparts of the actors.

 

revolutionary-roadRevolutionary Road (4 stars)

It’s hard to know where to begin with a movie that explores the essence of life, love, marriage, children, work, dreams, hopes and reality. It is so rare to see such a brutal, honest, emotional portrayal of suburban and married life, no matter what era. Granted, some people won’t get it for one reason or another, but those that do will find a story that will resonate with them for a long time. All performances are outstanding – I know Kate Winslet has gotten all the attention for this role and The Reader, but Leonardo DiCaprio is really her equal in this film, and it’s a shame he didn’t get the same recognition. Michael Shannon was also brilliant and stole every scene he was in.

 

benjamin-buttonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (4.5 stars)

A strange premise but an ultimately rewarding film. The make up and special effects are the best I’ve ever seen, both the ageing and the de-ageing stuff is just phenomenal. The film works not really as a running narrative but rather as a series of moments, like its tagline. I found it very captivating to go through the journey of life with this bizarre character, through his ups and downs, flaws and all. There are some minor problems and it is a tad too long, plus Brad Pitt wasn’t truly able to capture the nuances of the ageing process (he acted like the way he looked rather than the age he was) – however, I think when it’s all said and done this is one of the more memorable movies in recent years.

*     *     *

NB: Just a few words about my rating and review system.  First and foremost, they are taken directly from Flixter, so are always short.  I don’t like to discuss too much plot in my reviews because I think it ruins a movie.  Which is why (even though I can’t help but watch them) I generally dislike previews because they tend to give away too much by revealing the best bits and almost always contain spoilers.  I also hate long reviews that reveal too much plot (this happens a lot these days in reviews I read) – what’s the point of telling everyone what the entire film is about?  With my ratings, they are out of 5 and are entirely subjective, always decided on the spot based on gut instinct after viewing.  I never re-adjust a rating afterward and I don’t compare them to previous ratings – hence two films can have the same rating but I may think one is better than the other.  Also, I tend to find there is a significant difference between 2.5 stars (below average) and 3 stars (good) and 3.5 stars (pretty good) and 4 stars (excellent), more so than other half-star differences.

Lastly, the only 5 star film reviewed in these 3 posts is The Wrestler, which I think is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  For the Best Picture Oscar nominees, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are tied with 4.5 stars, but I think the latter is the film I prefer.  Though it is a moot point anyway since Slumdog Millionaire is going to win!

Top 5 films of 2008!

I was just doing an online poll (www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/) of the top 5 movies of 2008.  The site provides a long list of films released in Australia in 2008 (which means some more recent films may not have made it – eg ALL of the best picture nominees for this year’s Oscars), from which users would first pick a shortlist.  And from that shortlist, the top 5 would be selected.

I was surprised.  2008 will always be remembered as the year Obama became president and the world economy went to hell.  But it also had some very decent films.  Very memorable ones.

So without further delay, here’s the 5 films I ended up with, in no particular order (drumroll please):

  • There Will Be Blood (5 stars)
  • Taken (4.5 stars)
  • The Dark Knight (4.5 stars)
  • Iron Man (4.5 stars)
  • Burn After Reading* (4.5 stars)

* I had picked Lust, Caution first, but switched at the last minute.  I suppose Lust, Caution was the better film, but I enjoyed Burn After Reading more, so there.

The results were totally unexpected.  There Will Be Blood was a classic, so that was a no-brainer.  I don’t usually rate action films that highly, but Taken was the best action film I had seen in a really long time.  I surprised myself by having 2 superhero movies in the list, but these (The Dark Knight and Iron Man) are undoubtedly 2 of the best superhero movies ever made.  Burn After Reading is the type of movie people either loved or hated, and I think to some extent it depends on the mood you’re in at the time of viewing.  I was in one of those moods, I guess, so I found it absolutely hilarious (though I may not get the same result on a second viewing).  Plus I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers and Fargo is one of my favourites of all-time, so there was also a little natural bias.

I should say that this is really more a list of my 5 favourite films of 2008 rather than necessarily the 5 best films.  Nevertheless…

What were your top 5?

Update: Golden Globe Film Reviews

I did a post not long ago reviewing the films that were nominated for the Golden Globes.  I guess I should now also be adding the Oscar nominated films to that list.

Since that post, I’ve seen a couple more: WALL-E and Gran Torino (the latter was not nominated at the Oscars though).  See the short reviews (from Flixter) below (ratings out of 5):

walleWALL-E (3.5 stars)

A very different animated film. I suppose it was well done, with amazing visuals (but nothing revoluntionary) and incredibly little dialogue, instead preferring to rely on the simplicity of the story, the cuteness of the characters and scattered humour to keep audiences interested. It also had a strong message about the environment and inactivity. But at the end of the day, it was still just another animated film. It certainly had its moments, but it’s going to take much much more for these types of films to seriously impress me (I should mention I’m not usually a big fan of animated films).

gran-torinoGran Torino (4.5 stars)

The story of an angry, racist, lonely old man and his relationship with his Hmong (Asian) neighbours. It was far from a perfect film – parts of it were stereotypical and heavy-handed, and some scenes lacked effectiveness. Nevertheless, it’s a film that moved me for one reason or another, and it’s a film that is likely to resonate with a lot of viewers long after the final scene. It touches on many important themes – life, death, family, loneliness, religion, racism, prejudice, redemption – and also presents the stark reality that a lot of youths are facing in America these days (and not necessarily just the minorities). In particular, I think it had just the right dosage of humour and the final resolution was also very well done.

I’ve still got plenty more to get through, including Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Revolutionary Road, Doubt, Rachel Getting Married, Defiance – just to name a few.  I’m trying to get to them as soon as I can…

2009 Golden Globes Film Reviews

I love watching movies.  I also love writing.  So it’s only natural that I also like to review films.  So far I’ve got 431 reviews and 1202 movie ratings on Flixter, so that says a lot (and that’s just what I can remember).

With the Golden Globe winners announced yesterday, I thought it would be a good time to share a few short reviews on some of the movies I’ve seen that were nominated (taken straight from Flixter). It’s also a good way to give my blog some much needed padding in its baby stage.  I’ll add more if and when I see them (and there’s A LOT I still want to see).  Feel free to agree/berate my ratings, which by the way are out of 5.

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