Runners-Up 2008: #5 (Tie) - "U2-3D" and "Speed Racer"
Yeah, that's right. I said it.
These two films are tied for most times I saw anything in the theater all year long. I would have seen U2-3D ten more times if I could have. It's just incredible on the biggest screen you can find showing it. It is the single most effective use of 3D that I've ever seen. Watching the film in a great digital house is NOT like being in the best seat in the house. No... instead, watching the film is like being in a seat that no one could ever sit in, a seat that took you personally swooping in over the crowd, up close on the stage, overhead, in the front row... there is one moment in the middle of the film where Bono plays right to the camera, close up, and what makes it remarkable is that it's the only time he really plays right into it. It's so intimate in the middle of this spectacle that it's a little shocking.
I remember seeing U2 in Atlanta for the Unforgettable Fire tour. And at that point, they weren't a mammoth commercial force. They were still gathering steam. And the show at the Omni was packed, but it felt small, intimate. Like they were playing for you. That, of course, is what makes anyone's favorite band their favorite band... that personal connection where you feel like that is the music you were listening to everything else to get to. I've seen them over and over since then, all the way through the last big swing through the States. But in all that time, I've never seen a U2 show like the presentation of this particular set of concerts in Buenos Aires. Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington did spectacular work in shooting and then building these shows into one powerful visual experience. I don't think I'll be owning a suitable home video version of this for many, many years, so I guess I'm left hoping it will play during slow seasons at digital IMAX houses near me.
And I wouldn't complain if the same thing happened to "Speed Racer". The IMAX screenings I went to of this film are my favorite non-festival theatrical experiences this year. "Speed Racer" doesn't make my top ten because of some screenplay issues, but they could have pretty easily been solved with a quick 20 minute trim after Speed's first visit to Royalton's offices. Just have Speed say no there. Back to the racing. Movie solved. Otherwise, I think this is the best live-action kid's film since "Babe: Pig In The City." It has its heart in the right place in terms of family, and the Racer family emerge as the most improbably well-realized movie family of the year.
And did I mention the racing? Cause, um, holy shit. The racing. Say what you will about the crazy cartoon reality of the film (I think it's entrancing and pop-art beautiful), but the pace of the action stuff is impeccable. If you can't sense a real control of rhythm and tension in the way the races of "Speed Racer" are constructed, then I'm not sure we speak the same language of "action filmmaking." The Wachowskis redeemed themselves completely as far as I'm concerned, after the flopsweat of the "Matrix" sequels. And even if "Speed Racer" didn't make a dime, it exists, and the BluRay version's pretty sweet.