2008: A Year in Film

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Oscar time. On February 22, we will learn what is officially the best picture, performances, director, special effects, documentaries, short films, make up, etc. of 2008. ’08 was a wild year for movies, and as we come up to the biggest film awards in America (and possibly the world), I’m going to look back on the year and reminisce about the good, the bad, and the over-the-top ugly! Let’s begin…

The year opened with “One Missed Call,” one of those creepy horror films that gets rated PG-13 to get money from teens who are gullible for that stuff (thanks “The Ring”). Not long after, we get “Meet the Spartans,” an incredible waste of time (but not talent), another spoof movie from the “Date Movie” folks, this one mainly poking at “300.” Released the same day was Sylvester Stallone’s bloody, brutal action epic “Rambo,” the fourth in the “First Blood” series. In it, we basically get a retread of “Rambo 3,” when Rambo must go behind enemy lines to save a group of innocent lives.

Filming “Rambo” was no easy feat. Stallone and company arrived at their location the day of an uprising. “There were a lot of you might say ‘people’ trying to dissuade us from filming there,” said Stallone. “There were a lot of threats to myself, to the crew. There were some formidable death threats and it definitely had us fearing for our lives at times. The day we landed was when Thailand had their military coup. I’m seeing all these planes leaving and here comes one arriving and that is us. It was certainly daunting.”*

Also big that first month was “27 Dresses,” a retread of “My Best Friend’s Wedding…” One of many.

February moved and shook into existence with a box-office smashing concert film from Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana. Miley fans rejoiced and the film earned $65 million in the box office, quite a lot for a concert film!

Also released was “The Eye,” another bland PG-13 horror film. It’s a sad day when Hollywood horror films are so desperate for money that they’ll cater to the younger crowd and thus make their films much less scary. Then again, the new “Friday the 13th” was just released and I’ve heard it’s no better.

The Matthew McConaughey-Kate Hudson adventure film “Fools Gold” did well in the box office that month with $70 million. The film was received warmly by audiences, but critics hammered it. My suggestion: don’t see it unless you have to.

“In Bruges,” an independent comedy about two hitmen hiding in Belgium, was released the same day. If you haven’t seen it yet SEE IT. It’s one of the best of the year and a great romp.

Also released that month was the well-received actioner “Jumper,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” and the tense thriller “Vantage Point.” All were met with mixed feelings.

March came in with Roland Emmerich’s latest epic “10,000 B.C.” This film belonged with the summer films in my opinion, but then again it isn’t uncommon for some studios to release some of their big-budget films a little early.

You’re probably noticing something… most of these films seem pretty mediocre. And most of the films out right now (besides last year’s Oscar stuff) seem pretty much the same. It’s not because the year sucks in film. It’s because Hollywood likes to delay projects that they don’t think will succeed and release them in winter, or maybe make a cheap product (“Meet the Spartans”) and release it right at a time when there’s literally nothing else to see. Let’s do April, yes?

April didn’t have much, but it did have “The Forbidden Kingdom,” starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li in their first appearance together. The film had great action and fun humor. Not one of the year’s best, but a fun action-adventure tale.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” a comedy about a nobody musician who gets dumped by his TV star girlfriend, also came out. Following that, two more comedies were released, “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” and the funny-but-forgettable “Baby Mama.”

Harold and Kumar have become the modern Bill and Ted. Their stoner exploits are buying them box office success and there are talks of a third one.

May started with one of the year’s worst films, “Made of Honor,” a “27 Dresses-ish” romantic comedy that also feels a lot like “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” These rom-com writers just don’t have anything original do they?

May brought out an early summer, with some of the year’s powerhouse films, including “Iron Man,” “Sex and the City,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Speed Racer,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.” All films, with the exception of “Speed Racer” did exceptional in the box office, especially “Iron Man,” which grossed over $300 million.

But what of “Speed Racer?” That film cost $120 million to make, was directed by “The Matrix” scribes Andy and Larry Wachowski, and is based on a cult Japanese cartoon from the 1960s! Add a great soundtrack, awesome special effects, and more colors than a Crayola box, and you have one heck of a kid movie! Heck, you’ve got a doozie of an action movie too! So what went wrong?

Jim Emerson of the Chicago Sun-Times complained about the film’s hyper-activity and overuse of green screen and effects. He also said, “‘Speed Racer’ is a manufactured widget, a packaged commodity that capitalizes on an anthropomorphized cartoon of Capitalist Evil in order to sell itself and its ancillary products.”**

All of that could be, but I disagree. “Speed Racer” felt like a roller-coaster ride of fast action and dazzling visuals. Yes, there is product placement and the script gets very cheesy at times. But look at the original cartoon. Was the story of the cartoon ever not cheesy?

Audiences missed this film and moved on, but I say it’s the most underrated film of 2008.

Clocking in as a huge success that month was “Sex and the City,” which grossed over $150 million. The film was a hit with fans and non-fans alike, and I must admit wasn’t too bad. I even laughed a few times.

Released in early June was the ho-hum Adam Sandler flick “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” and the very popular animated kid’s film “Kung Fu Panda.” Both films excelled, but I’d avoid the first one.

We also had our second superhero film of 2008 released in June, “The Incredible Hulk.” Surprisingly better than Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” the story seems to be a sequel for a different film. The back story displayed during the opening credits has some discrepencies from the 2003 film. Barring that, the film is the definitive “Hulk” film, starring Edward Norton and Liv Tyler and featuring some very good special effects. But the best was yet to come.

At the end of June we experienced “Wall-E,” one of the best films of the year. Telling a story of the remaining “living” thing on Earth after years of pollution and global warming, “Wall-E” follows a trash-compacting robot who lives in a storage crate and collects various junk. Then a spaceship brings a strange visitor to his parts and his world is turned upside down.

“Wall-E” was not just great animation, it was phenomenal storytelling, a great science-fiction experience with minimal dialogue scattered throughout, but constantly interesting situations. If your family doesn’t watch any other movie together this year, watch “Wall-E.” It’s fantastic.

July opened with the hugely popular Will Smith superhero film “Hancock,” and followed up with another solid comic-based film, “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.” But they were mere distractions from the big attraction that month… “The Dark Knight.”

I don’t need to tell you how much “The Dark Knight” grossed. The number is impressive, but the film speaks for itself. Never has an action film, let alone a superhero film, given the viewer so much depth in story, so much power in performances, while providing a thrill ride of effects and action throughout. It is artistically the most important and notable sequel since “The Godfather Part 2.” Barring the fact that it is Heath Ledger’s last and best performance, it is still the best film of the year.

Opening the same day was the highly successful ABBA musical “Mama Mia!,” starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. It’s a contender for “Chick Flick of the Year” (against “Sex and the City” no less), but in my opinion, the fab four reigned supreme this year, despite “Mama’s” great song and dance numbers (especially that end credits sequence).

Also released that year was the clever docudrama “American Teen,” the Oscar-nominated documentary “Man on Wire,” and the box office disaster, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.”

August started out promising with the special-effects flick “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” What better way to end the summer than a third installment to the widely successful “Mummy” series, this time featuring Jet Li as the villain! The film saw major success, despite being met with a mostly negative critic response. What’s our say? Read Shaun O’Donnell’s review in our next issue of “Hollywood Blockbusters!”

Also released was the stoner-comedy “Pineapple Express.” Seth Rogan stars with Larry Franco and the two make the perfect comedy duo. The film revolves around two stoners running from a rich gangster who’s been spotted by one of them committing murder. The film had high expectations and was received well by critics and audiences. Personally, I enjoyed it to the fullest.

“Tropic Thunder” was also released, and quickly became the year’s favorite comedy. Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. (who received an Oscar nom for his role) star as filmmakers filming a Rambo-esque action film in the middle of a war zone. Very interesting, since the year’s earlier “Rambo” film was actually filmed in a war zone.

Released later that month was “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” which was computer animated and poorly conceived. The film needed either rewrites or just needed to be scrapped, but the end result was a waste of time, and in the end only served as a pilot to the Cartoon Network TV series. Go figure!

Released late in the month was “Meet the Spartans-ish” spoof/rip-off/whatever “Disaster Movie.” Ironically, the film is, itself, a disaster. Thankfully this time the film failed to make a profit. Apparently movie-goers are beginning to send  the message to Hollywood: We don’t want this crap!

Also released was successful independent romance film “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” Roger Corman remake “Death Race” starring Jason Statham, mediocre comedy “Hamlet 2,” and unsuccessful sci-fi flick “Babylon A.D.”

About the only thing worth seeing in September was “Eagle Eye.” What else will I say about it? Find out in the next issue of “Hollywood Blockbusters.”

September was probably the worst month of the year, which is a shame considering some of the potential of the films released then.

We had the Nicolas Cage actioner “Bangkok Dangerous,” (also featured next issue), which was immediatley billed as “Another Nicolas Cage Movie.” “The Women” featured Meg Ryan amongst other talented actresses and eventually succumbed to being a horrid “Sex and the City” clone. Tyler Perry released an ill-received drama titled “The Family That Preys.” The Coens dropped us a confusing and overdone “Burn After Reading.” The Dane Cook, Jason Biggs film “My Best Friend’s Girl” flopped, as did the tender romance picture “Nights in Rodanthe,” starring Richard Gere…

But the biggest disappointment of September was “Righteous Kill,” featuring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro appearing on screen together for the first time since Michael Mann’s “Heat.”

Some people think Robert De Niro and Al Pacino would be a kick to watch just reading a phone book,” says Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. “Well, bring on that phone book. ‘Righteous Kill,’ a.k.a. The Al and Bob Show, is a cop flick with all the drama of ‘Law and Order: AARP.’ This movie defines drag-ass.”+

It’s sad to see these two titans of film go this way in their career. Once upon a time, they were the kings of drama, with pictures like “The Godfather Trilogy,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,”  “Scent of a Woman,” “A Dog Day Afternoon,” “Casino,” “The Devil’s Advocate,” “Scarface” and, together, “Heat.” All of these films are worth watching, especially for any movie buff. But now what are they making? “Meet the Fockers,” “Insomnia,” “The Adventures of Rocky and Bulwinkle,” “The Recruit,” “15 Minutes,” “Two for the Money”… They’ve hit a downfall in their careers.

Here’s what I want: another film directed by Scorcese or Coppola that stars one of these guys. It doesn’t have to be both… but I’d like to see another great film from those directors and those actors. To DeNiro’s credit, he did direct the excellent spy film “The Good Shepherd,” and Pacino was strong in the very good “Merchant of Venice,” but let’s see these two really shine.

October always provides some scary horror flicks just in time for Halloween, and this year Hollywood delivered “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.”

Ok seriously, the two big horror flicks in October were yet another “Saw” sequel, “Saw 5,” (see our review in a coming up issue), and Clint Eastwood’s thrilling “The Changeling,” which is not so much horror, but still provided a lot of suspense!

Seth Rogan returned that month to make the over-the-top sex comedy “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” or, abbreviated for TV, “Zack and Miri.”

At the beginning of November we were bombarded by “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” which I will say this: If you liked the first “Madagascar,” you’ll probably like this one too. Personally, I thought the first one worked a little too hard for laughs and not hard enough for story. Good for kids, but for older audiences, I’d see “Wall-E” instead. Actually, see “Wall-E” period.

Also released that month was a small foreign film called “JCVD,” a fictional story about Jean-Claude Van Damme, the popular action movie star. Van Damme starred in it and the film was met with positive critical reviews.

The other big indy film released that month (and possibly the biggest indy film of the year) was Danny Boyle’s Oscar-nominated, Lauden-winner^ “Slumdog Millionaire.”

If you haven’t found a worthy reason to see this movie yet, despite what everyone is telling you about how great it is, at least see it for these reasons: the film is well-made, well-acted, happy, sad, beautiful, inspiring, heart-wrenching, suspenseful, stunning, entertaining, compelling, and very, very well put together. In my view, it’s the year’s second-best film, and my pick for the Best Picture Oscar. Don’t think about it anymore. See this film.

December had a nice mix of big blockbusters and Oscar-hopefuls. At the beginning we had Marvel Comics film “Punisher: War Zone,” a follow-up to the underrated 2004 release “The Punisher,” as well as the sci-fi actioner “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

We also had the well-acted Oscar nominee “Frost/Nixon,” the powerful “Doubt,” the inspiring “The Wrestler,” the endearing “Gran Torino,” the epic “Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Revolutionary Road,” and “Defiance.”

Also released that month was very suspenseful but incredibly inaccurate “Valkyrie,” starring Tom Cruise as a German soldier out to assassinate Adolf Hitler. An intriguing plot, directed by Brian Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote Singer’s excellent “The Usual Suspects,” the film didn’t deliver on several counts. It was met with critical scorn and a so-so performance in the box office.

So how did 2008 add up as a year in film? In my opinion, this was a very good year. Despite our “Valkyries” and “Made of Honors,” 2008 was a strong year for the film world. “The Dark Knight” grossed well over $500 million domestically, and had a worldwide gross of $999 million, making it the second-highest grossing film in history.

We also got an incredible film from Disney/Pixar, after their previous ho-hum releases like “Cars.” “Wall-E” was a standout of the summer, and is possibly the best Pixar film yet.

Our comic-book films such as “Iron Man,” “The Dark Knight,” “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army,” “The Incredible Hulk” and even “Punisher: War Zone” all delivered to their audiences, and even added more depth to the world of comic-book cinema (look out “Watchmen!”).

“Mama Mia!” and “Sex and the City” performed very well at the box office, and were even well-made and solid films.

The year’s failures, “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” “Speed Racer,” and “Disaster Movie,” will most likely be forgotten if not already. Where this year succeeded, its failures were also big.

Looking toward the future, at 2009, I think we already have some promising movies ready to come out soon. A new voyage and cast for “Star Trek,” a resurrection of “G.I. Joe,” “Watchmen,” the year’s most promising superhero film, also “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (and possibly “Magneto” as well), the “Transformers” sequel, “Terminator 4,” and who knows what else?

Some of these films mentioned in this article are reviewed in “Hollywood Blockbusters,” a movie newsletter read by people nationwide. To subscribe for free, email hollywoodblockbusters-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Thank you for reading!

*Quoted from “Access Hollywood”
**Quoted from the Chicago Sun-Times
+Quoted from Rolling Stone

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