Looking back on the year in film that was 2008, I’m left with but one question for Hollywood: “Why So Serious?”
I wish I could say it was the best of times, but mostly it was the worst of times. Still even in the worst of times, there are plenty of alcoves to hide treasures. As the world financial markets crumbled, a great depression engulfed the multiplexes from the darkest of comedies (all those alcoves In Bruges) to the darkest of popcorn flicks (The Dark Knight) to the saddest, coldest of Decembers. 2008 produced not only some of the worst films I have ever seen (Be Kind Rewind, The Day the Earth Stood Still), but also some of the most depressing (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Revolutionary Road).
Overall 2008 was a stifling and mediocre year for films. There was no There Will Be Blood…no Atonement…not even a Juno. More big-name, big budget, big wastes of time came down the pike than ever before. Films like Hancock, The Happening, and The Day the Earth Stood Still made me wish Hollywood had gone bankrupt along with our economy. Veteran directors returned to their old stomping grounds for better (see Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Oliver Stone’s W. or Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon) and for worse (see Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening). Few chances were taken this year, and those people who did take chances, like Tarsem with The Fall or Baz Luhrmann with Australia, did so safely by celebrating the grandiosity of film images and epic storytelling. For every enjoyable piece of trifle like the wildly imaginative Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, there was an insufferable piece of trash like The X Files: I Want to Believe. And critics seemed far too desperate to proclaim a new indie darling as mediocre films like The Visitor and Slumdog Millionaire received unwarranted praise in the wake of nothing else brewing.
But of course, even in bad years there’s quality to be found. The darkly comic and still resonating In Bruges heralded the arrival of a new talent in writer/director Martin McDonagh way back in February. The summer season witnessed a cultural zeitgeist with the most satisfying event picture of the decade in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a sequel that along with its predecessor packs the strongest one-two punch against the world’s fear of terrorism, mob rule and fascism since Fritz Lang’s M and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse warned pre-WWII Germany of the very same things. Meanwhile, the truly independent Tarsem dazzled us with images never before captured on film in the unfairly little seen The Fall, and those still haunted by 9/11 found catharsis in watching a French man walk a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the inventive documentary Man on Wire. And the end of year proved redemptive for old La-La Land as an orgy of prestige pictures came roaring forth in the final weeks of December. In the twelfth month at the last minute of our darkest hour, successful adaptations of stage plays (Doubt, Frost/Nixon) and literary material (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Revolutionary Road) reminded patient audiences that Hollywood can still provide us with much to talk about.
The murky year ended on a melancholy note with the best film saved for last, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. While other films staked their claim on being timely, David Fincher’s film about a man aging backwards proved that nothing is timeless. These bad times, too, shall pass, and in what may prove to be ironic in the future, so might the film’s favor.
The Year in Pictures (2008):
So schedule a reduction, Golden Globes. Au revoir, Oscars. D. H. Schleicher presents the only awards that matter…to him:
The 3rd Annual Davies:
Awarding Excellence and Idiocy in Film for the Year 2008.
The Top Ten Films of 2008:
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- In Bruges
- The Dark Knight
- Man on Wire
- Revolutionary Road
- The Fall
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Picture: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Director: David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Actor: Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon
Best Actress: Kate Winslet for Revolutionary Road
Best Supporting Actor: Ralph Fiennes for In Bruges and The Duchess
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Reading of Dramatic Lines: Meryl Steep’s tete-a-tete with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt concerning her phone call to his previous parish.
Best Dramatic Reading of Comedic Lines: John C. Reilly telling Will Ferrell his singing voice “sounds like Fergie mixed with Jesus” in Step Brothers
Best Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh for In Bruges
Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Roth for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Most Underrated Film: Tarsem’s The Fall
Most Overrated Film: Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire
Best Franchise Film: The Dark Knight
Worst Franchise Film: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Best Editing: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Worst Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Music Score: Carter Burwell for In Bruges
Best Cinematography: Mandy Walker for Australia
Most Depressing Film: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Most Uplifting Film: Man on Wire
Warmest Film: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Coldest Film: Doubt
Funniest Film: Step Brothers
Most Painfully Unfunny Film That Should’ve Been Funny: Be Kind Rewind
Funniest Film That Was Meant To Be Serious: The Happening
Movie Trend I Thoroughly Enjoyed: Movies celebrating movies and storytelling (Son of Rambow, The Fall, Australia and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Movie Trend I Completely Ignored: Box-office hits targeting young girls (High School Musical 3, Twilight) and their moms (Mamma Mia! and Sex & the City).
Worst Picture: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Results from past Davies Awards can be found by clicking below:
We encourage feedback and suggestions for categories next year.
Reviews for many of the films mentioned here can be found under the “Movie Reviews” category.
All of my reviews of this year’s winners, as well as many other insightful critiques, can be found archived on the Internet Movie Database:
Written by David H. Schleicher