Celulloid Culpability - Top 10 Film Guilty Pleasures of 2008

by PopMatters Staff

12 January 2009

Like comedy or music, one's choice in cinematic pleasure can be very personal - and very peculiar. Take this tantalizing list of shameful indulgences. You can argue over their artistic value, but their individuals rewards definitely speak to those who champion them.

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Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay

Director: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris

(New Line Cinema)
US theatrical: 25 Apr 2008 (General release)

Review [25.Apr.2008]


Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg

I’ll admit it: I saw the trailers for the first Harold and Kumar movie and thought, “Ugh, stupid. Pass.” But eventually I saw it on cable, and yeah, it was surprisingly funny. Still quite stupid, sure, but also really funny. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is, happily, more of the same. From the bottomless pool party to the surprisingly sophisticated rednecks to the return of the spectacular Neil Patrick Harris, the movie is packed with big laughs. It also plays with racial stereotypes to great effect, with Rob Corddry’s performance as the hopelessly racist Agent Fox possibly the dimmest portrayal of an FBI agent ever captured on film. Chris Conaton

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Repo: The Genetic Opera

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Alexa Vega, Anthony Head, Paul Sorvino, Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, Sarah Brightman

US theatrical: 7 Nov 2008


Repo! The Genetic Opera Darren Lynn Bousman

One part high-concept art and one part camp, Repo!: The Genetic Opera, what’s not to love about a futuristic goth/rock/punk/industrial opera about repossessing people’s organs?!. Taking place in the not-so-distant future, an epidemic of organ failure and recreational plastic surgery prompts a biotech conglomerate, GeneCo, to capitalize on the situation. Run by the decadent Largo family with an army of Genetic Repo Men at their service, payment for parts is extracted either monetarily—or with the organs themselves. Accomplished Broadway performers Sarah Brightman and Paul Sorvino (whose voice and performance shine as the ruthless, bitter CEO of GeneCo) play alongside cult favorites Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects), the vocally gifted Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Paris Hilton. The result is a uniquely musical mixture of drama, shock-horror, and comedy. Lana Cooper

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Sex and the City

Director: Michael Patrick King
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis, Jennifer Hudson

(New Line Cinema)
US theatrical: 30 May 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 30 May 2008 (General release)


Sex and the City: The Movie Michael Patrick King

A Grade-A estro-fest, the big-screen version of Sex and the City picks up at the next logical step three years from where the HBO series left off. It detours slightly, condensing the four main characters to neatly packaged archetypes for the sake of the two-and-a-half hour long film, allowing both old fans and new converts to jump in. In that sense, it detours from the TV show, less of a paeon to single life as it is a borderline cautionary tale of the pitfalls of long-term relationships. It’s something of a sweet, yet cynical catharsis for women to commiserate with on-screen representation regarding the various stages of relationships. The guilty pleasure ante is upped thanks to the parade of couture flashed on screen with MTV-style, rapid-fire precision in every frame. Not without its cheese factor (including a clichéd, slow-mo phone drop at a pivotal moment in the film), at its core, the film incarnation of Sex and the City is as much about friendship as it is fashion. Lana Cooper

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High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Director: Kenny Ortega
Cast: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman

(Walt Disney Pictures)
US theatrical: 17 Oct 2008


High School Musical 3: Senior Year Kenny Ortega

No worries here, Disney’s rabidly popular High School Musical franchise survives its transition from cable to the big screen with all of its “Up with People” élan quite intact, thank you very much. Sure, it basically just recycles the story from its first iteration; and sure, the peppy, relentlessly catchy songs only occasionally progress the plot or add any depth to the characters or themes (as you would expect, in a normal musical); and sure, it’s anachronistic and hammy and ludicrous to the point of tears. But goshdarnit, I can’t say I had a more flat out joyful and exciting film going experience all year than taking in HSM3 with my girlfriend (like myself, a rabid devotee) and a theater full of little kids, all of whom knew all the words, and a large contingent of whom were quite determined at belting out each song with manic brio and enthusiastic interpretive dance. Jake Meaney

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Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcom McDowell, David O’Hara


Review [17.Aug.2008]
Review [17.Mar.2008]


DOOMSDAY Neil Marshall

Following up The Descent, one of the scariest, most effective horror movies of the past decade, with a big dumb post-apocalyptic action movie is not an obvious move. But maybe writer/director Neil Marshall needed a break from all that intensity. Regardless of his motivation, DOOMSDAY (Yes, it’s supposed to be all capitals), is a rollicking action flick that never slows down. Shamelessly ripping off The Road Warrior and a half-dozen other movies, DOOMSDAY is the story of a superspy (Rhona Mitra) sent into desolate, long-quarantined Scotland to retrieve a possibly non-existent antidote to a virus now ravaging London. Along the way she meets cannibal punks, armored knights on horseback, and Malcolm McDowell in full scenery-chewing mode. Trust me, it’s awesome. Chris Conaton

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Never Back Down

Director: Jeff Wadlow
Cast: Sean Faris, Djimon Hounsou, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet, Evan Peters, Leslie Hope

(Summit Entertainment)
US theatrical: 14 Mar 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 4 Apr 2008 (General release)

Review [14.Mar.2008]


Never Back Down Jeff Wadlow

Never Back Down is essentially The Karate Kid with mixed-martial arts and no conscience (or grasp of reality) whatsoever. The movie depicts a high school where everyone’s lives revolve around fighting, house parties are just a cover for mixed-gender brawls, and absolutely everything is captured on video and immediately uploaded onto YouTube. And it feels like almost half of the film’s (two hour!) running time is taken up by montages set to the cheapest jock rock the producers could find. Yet despite its adherence to formula, Never Back Down is enthralling in its lunacy: its depiction of teenage life is so ridiculous it borders on surreal, and its “use violence to solve your problems” moral goes from odious to hilarious by the time the hero’s mom is encouraging him to participate in unregulated street fights. Jack Rodgers

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The House Bunny

Director: Fred Wolf
Cast: Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Colin Hanks, Kat Dennings, Beverly D’Angelo, Katharine McPhee, Rumer Willis, Kendra Wilkinson, Kiely Williams

(Columbia Pictures)
US theatrical: 22 Aug 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 10 Oct 2008 (General release)

Review [22.Aug.2008]


The House Bunny Fred Wolf

If you subscribe to the brilliance of the “smart-dumb” comedic stylings of the criminally underutilized and underappreciated Anna Faris (which I most certainly do), then The House Bunny was the one and only late summer comedy you had penciled in for 2008. A distaff version of Old School, with Faris playing a Playboy Bunny forced to find a new gig as a sorority house mother after eviction from the Mansion, the film is a showcase for the breezy off the cuff daffiness and impeccable comic timing that has become Faris’ bread and butter. Though ultimately disposable, and falling far short of capitalizing on its girl power message, I think I laughed more in the first half hour of The House Bunny than I did during the entirety of the summer’s much vaunted Tropic Thunder, and enjoyed Farris’ turn as Shelley the Bunny more than any other female performance I saw this year. Now, someone please, get this girl a better agent!  Jake Meaney

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Step Brothers

Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott

US theatrical: 25 Jul 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 29 Aug 2008 (General release)

Review [7.Dec.2008]
Review [25.Jul.2008]


Step Brothers Adam McKay

The script for Adam McKay’s latest anarcho-comic circus was probably about five pages long, tops, and filled with notations like, “Will and John go off on each other,” and it shows. There’s roughly three seconds of plot in this patched-together piece about two unnaturally immature step brothers (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly) forced to live together (they don’t like it, there’s your story). But the non-sequitur obscenities the two concoct in their hilariously frenetic free-association rants eventually reaches a fever pitch that leaves you gasping for air. Chris Barsanti

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Ian McDiarmid

(Paramount Pictures)
US theatrical: 22 May 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 22 May 2008 (General release)

Review [21.May.2008]


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Steven Spielberg

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has a lot working against it, it’s true. Just by coming 20 years after Last Crusade, it was facing an uphill battle. Then you have the scenes that go past simple ridiculousness into outright egregiousness. Yes, the refrigerator sequence and the greaser monkeys were unforgivably awful. But Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford know what they’re doing, and they keep the movie fun despite George Lucas’s subpar story. And let’s not forget the unfairly maligned Shia LeBouf. Hated in many places on the internet for no apparent reason, he turns in another likable, solid performance as Mutt, and he and Ford play well against each other. It may be the weakest of the four, but Crystal Skull still captures a lot of what made Indy great in the first place. Chris Conaton

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Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, Traci Lords

(The Weinstein Company)
US theatrical: 31 Oct 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 14 Nov 2008 (General release)

Review [31.Oct.2008]


Zack and Miri Make a Porno Kevin Smith

Writer/director Kevin Smith delivers arguably his foulest and funniest flick yet with Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Two platonic pals, Zack and Miri, find themselves strapped for cash and decide to produce and amateur porn with their friends to makes some cash. Complicating matters is the worry of repercussions of on-camera sex taking a toll on their friendship. As Zack, Seth Rogen, a staple of Judd Apatow comedies, is a natural fit for Kevin Smith’s brand of likeable raunch alongside Smith’s long-time side man, Jason Mewes who pops up in a supporting role. The female cast members also carry the, ahem, load with Traci Lords lending authenticity and Banks as the reluctant starlet. Slightly controversial with advertising for the film edited or omitted in some markets across the nation, the film’s title belies a very real sort of romance—once you get past jokes about bodily fluids and fornicating with a flashlight. Lana Cooper

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