Top B-movies of '08

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by Erin Donovan

A term originally coined for less publicized films that played at the bottom of a double bill, today I am defining B-movies as films dedicated to entertaining its audience, occasionally at the expense of practicality or good taste. These are in no particular order:

Mamma Mia - Mark Kermode described this film as like being invited to an A-list karaoke party where everyone is way drunker than you. $570M at the box office later the likes of Meryl Streep, Stellan Skaarsgard and Pierce Brosnan staring into the camera singing ABBA songs doesn't seem so preposterous. Next stop, Jersey Boys!

Stuck - Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) gives the exploitation treatment to a story straight from the headlines. A nurse hits a homeless man with her car and leaves him, stuck in her windshield, in her garage for several days. Features an especially great performance from Stephen Rea who spends most of the 90 minute runtime moaning and bleeding.

The Happening/The Strangers - Two tributes to bygone eras in genre film-making. The Happening is basically a Red Scare propaganda piece (in the vein of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or even Red Dawn) filtered through the lens of An Inconvenient Truth. The Strangers, a gory slasher flick, wherein the fate of its protagonists is sealed by the opening credits, is reminiscent of classics like Night of the Living Dead or Black Christmas.

Lakeview Terrace - Neil LaBute brings the same gentle touch to examining race relations that once inspired Walter Chaw to dub him "a mirthless chronicler of gender distrust" with previous films like Your Friends and Neighbors, In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things. Samuel L. Jackson (a modern hero of B-movies) brings great charm and pathos to dialogue like: "Is that a 'We are the World' fuck you?" and scenes that involve angry laundry folding.

Death Race - B-movie king Roger Corman's (and Paul Bartel's) cult classic (starring a young Sylvester Stallone) gets re-made to little acclaim but it was worth it to see Joan Allen put a Hannibal Lecter spin on a prison warden role. And of course, Jason Statham doing shirtless pull-ups will never fail to entertain.

W. - In what will be remembered as the year of Barack Obama, lefties expected a scathing critique of our 43rd president from Oliver Stone (JFK, Natural Born Killers, Nixon). But the former provocateur was only interested in the War on Terror as a backdrop for W.'s daddy issues and feelings of familial inadequacy. Worth seeing merely for real life Republican Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Cheney wildly chewing scenery in the only wholly fictional scene of the film.

Transporter 3 - There was near unanimous agreement that the third was the second best, or even best, entry in this heist series that mixes elements of James Bond, Speed and Die Hard. Director Olivier Megaton took over the franchise and got back to the winning formula of suits, exploding car chases and gravelly-voiced one liners.

While She Was Out - Kim Basinger gets to put a new twist on her trademark Tear-Stained Victim (LA Confidential, Cellular, Door in the Floor), here playing a suburban mother to two angelic moppets but married to a cruel bully. After a confrontation with Lukas Haas (and what appears to be a really pissed off chess club) the suburban punks bicker among themselves about what her designer perfume is ("It's Bulgari!" "No, it's Chanel #5!"), while she brutally kills them one by one. (Note: DVD release for this one has been delayed.)

Doomsday - After making two of the headiest horror films in recent memory (The Descent, Dog Soldiers), Neil Marshall went full tilt in the direction of hedonistic savagery in this film that boasts cannibalistic gladiators, Fulci homages, exploding rabbits and a Milla Jovovich look-alike (Rhona Mitra) to save the human race.

White Dog - B-movie legend Samuel Fuller's most controversial (and subsequently most beleaguered) film about a dog trained to attack black people and the process Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield and Burl Ives go through to try to retrain him. This long out of print film finally received a proper release (and from Criterion, no less) this year and we couldn't be more thrilled. (Read my review here.)

Honorable Mentions:Mother of Tears, Gran Torino.

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