A couple of weeks ago Nick ran a Steady Leak about his general disappointment in the films of 2008. In a lot of ways I have to agree with him – 2008 doesn’t really stack up against 2007. But not many years will stack up against 07, a year that I think will go down as one of the better in film history, alongside stalwarts like 1999 and 1939. Any year that gives us No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood is going to stand out in the history books, and 2007 has even more great films to go along with those masterpieces. It’s hard not to be spoiled after a year like that.
But I have not come to bury 2008 but rather to defend it. I think Nick’s being a little tough on 2008, especially in light of the fact that this year took a little longer to warm up. Hell, many of the great 2007 movies were just getting to the middle of America at the beginning of 2008! So yeah, 2008 started slow, but the last months of the year will see some truly great films hitting theaters.
Let the Right One In opened in New York and LA this weekend, and will be expanding elsewhere shortly. I was worried about overhyping this marvelous gem, but early reports from Chewers who have seen the film indicate that you can’t overhype this thing – it’s just that good. I think it’s a seminal genre film, and one that you’ll be using to judge the taste of future mates and friends. Any year that contains Let the Right One In can’t be all bad.
And there’s more! Last week I saw Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and was moved to tears by the film’s power and beauty. I don’t know if it’s Boyle’s best film, but it’s up there, and it’s possibly his most powerful. And the week before that I saw Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant directorial debut. I don’t know if it’ll make my top ten at the end of the year, but it’s a movie that deserves to be seen, chewed on, discussed and probably seen again.
Then there’s Rachel Getting Married, Jonathan Demme’s return to the world of quality filmmaking and Anne Hathaway’s strongest statement as an actress yet (and, I’m betting her biggest Oscar grab to date). He’s not the only old-timey director coming back with very good or very interesting films in 2008. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a no apologies needed good movie from Woody Allen and while I found Miracle at St. Anna deeply flawed, it showed that Spike Lee remains a director making movies you must see. And the Coen Bros followed up a masterpiece with a comedy classic in Burn After Reading. Hell, even Kevin Smith got back into the game with the enjoyable if not great Zack & Miri Make a Porno.
2008 has also been surprisingly heavy with good fun movies, as opposed to so many other years where all the ‘fun’ movies are impossible pieces of crap. I’ve begun trying to catch up on what I missed in theaters this year and the first film on my list was Neil Marshall’s delightfully derivative Doomsday, a movie for the kind of people who think action filmmaking peaked in the 80s. This year’s superhero crop was also especially good, with Iron Man being the far and away most enjoyable but The Dark Knight being the surprisingly strongest. I can quibble about that film’s running time and overly complicated plot, but I have to tip my hat to Christopher Nolan and company for making a superhero film as ambitious as that.
Meanwhile Rambo remains the stunner of 2008, a movie that had no business being as good as it was. Other films surprised, but mostly because they came from the unknown: The Wackness emerged from nowhere at Sundance to blow me away and Alan Ball’s Towelhead snuck up on me with an affecting story and a round of great performances.
This year’s documentary crop has been astonishing as well. I really need to catch up on docs before the end of the year, but the ones I have seen rank way up on my list of favorite films of the year. Man on Wire is probably in my general top ten for the end of the year, and I loved Religulous to pieces. Dear Zachary blew me away, leaving me a puddle of tears, while Chicago 10 really got my blood pumping.
2008 hasn’t been a banner year for the mini-studios, but two of my favorite films came from the dependants: Paramount Vantage had Son of Rambow, a movie every film lover must see, and Fox Searchlight had Choke, a heartwarming movie about perverts and sex addicts. Then there’s the excellent Brothers Bloom, a real independent movie coming from a real independent distributor, Summit.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, 2008 gave us two action comedies that really work – the amazing Pineapple Express and the hilarious, if less over-all successful, Tropic Thunder. Any year where James Franco reasserts himself as a comedian and Ben Stiller reminds us why we liked him in the first place is a good year for me.
2008 isn’t even over. Today I’m seeing Soderbergh’s four hour Che, and tomorrow I see Gus Van Sant’s Milk. Either of these films could drastically upset the tenuous top ten I’ve been building in my head (especially if I count Guerilla and The Argentine, the two halves of Che, as two separate movies). I still haven’t seen The Wrestler, which, based on the script, is all but guaranteed to be in the running for my top ten. And The Curious Case of Benjamain Button yet looms on the horizon. The in-house buzz I’m hearing from Paramount makes this one sound like a nuke getting dropped in the final days of the year, blowing everything else away. We’ll see soon enough.
And these are just some of the movies I’ve seen. I know I need to catch up on a whole ton of stuff in the coming weeks – including things that I think have no chance of making my top ten. For instance I’m really glad I finally got to Doomsday – it won’t make any year end lists for me, but it reinforces the warm feeling I have for 2008.
Sure, 2008 is no 2007, but taken as its own beast, I think this year has a lot to offer movie lovers. If today was December 31st, I don’t think I’d have a problem making a top ten list of which I’d be proud. But between now and the real December 31st there are lots of exciting movies waiting to sneak in to that top ten. I can’t wait to see them.