Monday, January 11, 2010

Years in Review: 2008

Low Resolution celebrates the end of the Double-Ohs Decade with a year-by-year retrospective of the movies I watched and (sometimes) loved. All due apologies to Nick Davis and Nathaniel Rogers for co-opting portions of their own decade-end features. I crib with love!

[Previously: 2000; 2001; 2002; 2003; 2004; 2005; 2006; 2007]

Another jam-packed year, including two moves, two and a half jobs, my first ever trip to L.A., and a pretty good crop of movies, despite what became a dispiriting Oscar class. Here I go again, judging a year by its Best Picture nominees, but the year did become somewhat defined by the two phenomena, one nominated for Oscar, one snubbed. That I wasn't able to fully get onboard the bandwagons for Slumdog Millionaire or The Dark Knight doesn't mean the same thing for both films. I found Danny Boyle's movie to be aggressively not bad, but as a movie of the zeitgeist it totally passed me by. I enjoyed The Dark Knight considerably more, but the obsessive, aggressive, and tunnel-visioned shouting by the fanboys kept me from feeling affection for things like an awards-season campaign.

The eventual Best Picture list featured the hue and cry surrounding TDK's snub in favor of The Reader, a movie that I thought was pretty good but which bore the brunt of the annual "The Oscars are out of touch with Real America" circle jerk. Of the other nominees, I loved Milk, one of the true emotional onslaughts I felt all year, while I was definitely on the "con" side of the Benjamin Button divide, and I could not for the life of me figure out who liked Frost/Nixon enough to throw it a Best Picture nomination.

Much as I found the outrage over The Dark Knight's snub to be disingenuous, gleaning large-scale condemnations from what was essentially fans being pissed their favorite movie didn't get a prize. The Academy is the Academy, is, was, and ever shall be; if they're bullshit to you, and I can't well blame you if they are, that what do you care who they nominate. Ah, anyway. Last year's argument. But I will say, the blockbuster supporters had a better than usual case to make in 2008. Not just TDK but WALL-E, the years other rapturously reviewed, no-dissent-allowed summer cash cow. There was the buoyant Iron Man, the uproarious Tropic Thunder, the slick Quantum of Solace, the better-than-expected Kung Fu Panda. Even the more divisive (Sex and the City; Indiana Jones) and/or terrible (The Happening; Speed Racer) summer movies ended up being auteurist fascinating failures or worthy talking points (this post on SATC was probably more interesting than the movie itself).

The Year in Tilda Swinton:Defying the Oscar hangover effect, Tilda scores with small but rewarding roles in two of the year's big auteur offerings. She brought her iciness to bear in the Coens' Burn After Reading (a performance and a movie that get better with every viewing), and she was the best 10 minutes or so from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Also, her batshit awesome performance in Julia hit the festivals, though it wouldn't get the opportunity for a woefully underseen general release until 2009.

The Year in Matt Damon: Matt Damon was in Che? Huh. All right. MUCH more importantly, Matt showed up on Jimmy Kimmel Live in January as Sarah Silverman dropped her "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" video. I mention this, and the Will & Grace appearance, and the Eurotrip cameo because they all feed into his unique quality. He's the leading man with a sense of humor about himself. You could say he took Clooney's lead in this regard, but I'm having a hard time picturing Clooney doing any one of those three projects. He doesn't have to, of course. But the extra work on Matt's part does make me like him more.

Best Theater Experience: So many! I don't know why, maybe because the memories are still fresh in my mind. But while it's conceivable that my memory of, say, bawling en masse at Milk or curled up into a terrified ball at The Strangers might fade some, there are three screenings that are guaranteed to stay indelible: A visceral, kinetic Saturday-night screening if Teeth (the whole room squirmed, screamed, leapt, and laughed in unison); an uproarious MST3K-style matinee of Step Up 2 The Streets; and of course catching Cloverfield in Times Square, both for the movie itself (which I loved) but more importantly for those first panicky steps back into civilization as my body was CERTAIN I'd soon see something huge stomp down 42nd St. and that I should be RUNNING.

Click below for the best movies of 2008...

My Top 10:
1. Rachel Getting Married
2. The Wrestler
3. In Bruges
4. Wendy and Lucy
5. Milk
6. The Class
7. The Dark Knight
9. Vicky Christina Barcelona
10. The Strangers

I was sure right when I saw it, but I went back twice just to make sure: yep, Rachel Getting Married was the best movie of the year. Any time I think of it, there are five, eight, ten things about it that pop up: Kym's awful highlights, Emma's thin-lipped (and totally warranted) bitchface, the choreography of the hands in the cake-cutting scene. Details wherever you turn. Bruges remains a bright, bantery, unexpectedly affecting affair, while Wendy and Lucy was as quiet a gut punch I've seen. And I maintain that The Wrestler was more than just a star turn. The details of story (the game of Nintendo with the kid), of environment (the sparse, wood-paneled locker rooms and VFW halls), of cinematography (the choreography of images in the wrestling scenes could not be clearer or more visceral) add up to an authentic and touching film that's able to best feature Rourke's towering performance.

Best Director:
Darren Aronofsky - The Wrestler
Laurent Cantent - The Class
Jonathan Demme - Rachel Getting Married
Martin McDonagh - In Bruges
Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight

Best Actor:
Colin Farrell - In Bruges
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Sean Penn - Milk
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Best Actress:
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins - Happy Go Lucky
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Michelle Williams - Wendy and Lucy
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Best Supporting Actor:
Emile Hirsch - Milk
Bill Irwin - Rachel Getting Married
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Gary Oldman - The Dark Knight
Brad Pitt - Burn After Reading

Best Supporting Actress:
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Rosemarie Dewitt - Rachel Getting Married
Ari Graynor - Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
Michelle Williams - Synecdoche, NY

Ten Films That Have Endured
Sex and the City
American Teen
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Burn After Reading
Synecdoche, NY
Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist

As dubious as I find "mumblecore" as a genre, Baghead certainly seems like a good representative of whatever it's supposed to be, and Greta Gerwig is already becoming a breakout star. Maybe it's only me who thinks Wanted is going to have a long shelf-life with its verve for car-throwing and fate-looming. Doomsday is worth your while for all the reasons given here and here. It'll be sad if it doesn't become a cult favorite. Nick and Nora seems like a movie I'd have watched 25 times back when I was a teenager. As it stands, I still really like it, but I'm definitely looking at it from the outside. Synecdoche, NY, as I've said before, is a skillfully made, ambitious movie -- one that largely succeeds in what it's going for, too -- but one I really did not enjoy aside from a few moments/images/performances. I'd compare it to this year's Antichrist in the way it draws you into the director's emotional state and drags you down to their level.

Five Films I Should See Again
My Blueberry Nights
Slumdog Millionaire
The Happening

The first three on my list are movies I thought did a lot of things right but still left me wanting. Stop-Loss took an admirably wide angle on its subject and featured a strong central trio of performances from Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but got too episodic for its own good. Blindness had its moments (and Julianne Moore was great) but should have felt more harrowing. My Blueberry Nights is the one I'm not sure could have been much more than it was -- a quiet little character tale -- but its leisurely rhythms and some of the performances (Natalie Portman; Jude Law) were quite good. As for Slumdog, I'd like to have a bit better hold on my reasons for dissatisfaction with it. And The Happening? That shit needs a rewatch with booze, some popcorn, and the meanest, funniest people I know.

I'll be getting to the best of 2009 in a couple weeks, so stay tuned. And thanks for keeping up with all these decade-end features. I really enjoyed all the conversations they sparked, so please do continue to hit up the comments.


Stephie said...

Ari Graynor - YES! I loved everything about her in Nick & Nora. It's so hard to play drunk convincingly, let alone hilariously, and she nailed it.

Watching that movie makes me feel like I'm 17 and partying with my friends. It's the closest thing I have to time travel.

Also, I never watched "The Happening" until this weekend, but Mark Walberg had me at "Hey, so let's talk about bees you guys!" I suppose I can thank SNL for this, but all his lines had me giggling. The terrible plot was just an extra bonus.

Scott said...

So only one nominee among the actors of In Bruges? At this point I think that might be my favorite film from 2008.

Pillow Fighting Fanatic said...

I love Nick & Nora and can not delete it from my DVR. There's something so pitch perfect about it that I have to watch over and over again. I also loved Jay Baruchel's character and all the other small characters that just seem so at ease in the film. Tell me it wouldn't be fun to spend a full night out on the town in Tom's van, with Tom, Dev and the other guy. That's my idea of a night out. Love.

Carrie Ann said...

I've never thought about this until today, but I wonder why it is that the Oscars are always targeted as being out of touch with AMERICA, while the Emmys seem to get flack for the complete opposite. No one is out there saying that NCIS should win Best Drama, or even be nominated. Why is it OK for the TV awards to ignore popularity, but not for the movie awards?

Joe Reid said...

That's actually a really good point, Carrie Ann. My guesses would be twofold:

1) The big Emmy juggernauts, while not CSI-level hits, still tend to be West Wing/Lost/Grey's, network shows that are still hits, or else tony HBO/AMC fare like Sopranos and Mad Men that, while watched by fewer people, still get love from your more average-joe types.

2) More people care about the Oscars, and specifically more people feel like they SHOULD care about the Oscars, even if they only get out to theatres for less than 5 movies a year. The Oscars are an event, the Emmys aren't, so the uninformed feel like they should have an opinion on it. And when they don't recognize any of the nominated movies, it becomes Hollywood's problem.

Carrie Ann said...

Those two points are probably the crux of the thing. I think there's another underlying factor of your second point, which is that because films are still considered an artform, while TV isn't, people feel insulted if the nominations all come from movies they've never heard of. It implies that they are stupid, to which they respond, "No YOU are stupid, Hollywood elites."