The Best and Worst of 2008
It’s been a rocky old year, no two ways about it, and the quality of the movies has been every bit as up and down as the stock market. Just look at the year’s two Coen Brothers’ movies to see what I mean: on the one hand, the superb thriller No Country For Old Men, arguably their best movie for a decade… And on the other, Burn After Reading, a chilly, thrown-together farce that’s drastically short on laughs.
Lest we forget, the year began on a series of dramatic highs: Hollywood has no faith in its ability to reach an audience interested in serious drama without the hoopla of potential Oscar rewards. That means an unreasonable number of the year’s best releases were sandwiched into the first three months of 2008. There Will Be Blood, Juno and The Diving Bell And The Butterfly were all released on the same day, February 8th – and by then we’d already had No Country for Old Men, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, Sweeney Todd, Lust Caution, Charlie Wilson’s War, In The Valley Of Elah, The Savages, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and Cloverfield.
Imagine if every month was like this! Unreasonable, I know – so how about this modest proposal: why don’t the distributors stop putting their eggs in one basket and release these quality pictures more evenly across the year. Maybe, just maybe, those older audiences who have lost the moviegoing-habit could be lured back. Instead, the cinema business is pinning its hopes on 3D. We’ll wish ’em luck and snap up those Blu-Ray bargains, thanks.
Mind you, this summer was better than most. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull didn’t live up to expectations, but Iron Man set high standards in the blockbuster stakes, and Hellboy II: The Golden Army was another treat. Pixar came up with one of their very best films, WALL-E – one of several strong animated movies, some for the family (Horton Hears a Who; Kung Fu Panda), and some just for fans of graphic novels (Persepolis; Waltz with Bashir).
And then there was The Dark Knight, a phenomenal picture, not least because it combined must-see status with challenging themes and a deeply troubled intimation that society is teetering on the brink of anarchy. I don’t mean to take anything away from Christopher Nolan when I say that much of the film’s impact derives from Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the Joker. What with Javier Bardem’s professional killer in No Country For Old Men and Daniel Day Lewis as the driven oil man in There Will Be Blood, it was a hell of a year for villains.
Ledger died in January, tragically early in his career. We also lost the directors Sidney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, Jules Dassin, and the actors Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, Cyd Charisse, Bernie Mac, Richard Widmark and Guillaume Depardieu, among too many others to mention. And your friendly neighbourhood film critic? He’s ailing fast.
The election of Barack Obama apart, 2008 hasn’t exactly been a time for optimism and good cheer, and more often than not, the movies have reflected that downbeat mood; some intentionally – some through sheer ineptitude (see my annual flock of Christmas Turkeys, below).
Which is all the more reason to cheer the success of comedy guru Judd Apatow. Scarcely a month went by without a new flick bearing his fingerprints, as writer, director or producer. Not all of them were good (Drillbit Taylor; You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) but between them, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story; Forgetting Sarah Marshall; Pineapple Express and Step Brothers mustered enough laughs to throw the impending recession into relief. To these I would add Stephen Chow’s splendid children’s film CJ7, Garth Jennings’ Son Of Rambow and Jason Reitman’s Juno as desperately needed reminders that the movies have an important role to play in helping us through the tough times.
Now: more lists!
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The Faces of the Year
Top 10 of the Year
Tom's Christmas Turkeys
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