The Oscars come this Saturday which means that's the close of 2008 in film. I know that we're 7 weeks into the new year, but we're still in 2008 mode. Most of the films in theaters worth watching are 2008 vintage and as the year comes to a close I'm seeing a lot of negativity with respect to this year.
I've been reading comments everywhere from filmbabble.blogspot.com, to the film experience that proclaim 2008 to not be nearly as good as 2007.
I completely disagree. If you look at the history of my blog posts, I barely was blogging towards the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008. This is because 2007 was so bad that it turned me off movies and the only reason that my blog posts have increased as of late is because I've seen the quality of moviemaking go up this year to the point where I have more to write about.
It's hard to compare one year to another, but let me try to construct a well-detailed argument as to why the cinematic output of 2007 was an abomination of man and should be purged from history and why 2008's output was godlike. Here are my reasons:
1. 2007 was the year that sequels lost their artistic credibility:
Just look to May of 2007, the 3 most profitable sequels of all time, Shrek 2 (#3 film all time at the time of its release), Spiderman 2 (#8 film all time), and Pirates of the Carribean 2 (#6 film all time) made way to the three largely incoherent and dissapointing films that screamed out to the audience: "The reason we were created was for easy money" and easy money those films did make. The most memorable sequel of 2008 "Dark Knight" raised the bar for "The Dark Knight"
2. In 2007, Judd Apatow was declared the smartest man in film business by Entertainment Weekly:
Whether Judd Apatow is smart or not, he certainly made America DUMBER (or those who chose to watch his films). Apatow has only been doing what box office analysts have noted for years and what filmmakers hoping to pursue art over commerce have been trying to avoid: that the box office is controlled by adolescent boys and therefore the ideal comedy should have a lot of perverse sexual humor, four-letter words and references to drugs and laziness. Is this really that revolutionary? Apatow caters to the 13-16 year old crowd and somehow adults have latched onto it. Knocked Up was pretty funny, I will admit, but Superbad was rediculously sophomoric and had no innovation whatsoever to it. You could attach a camera to any two underachieving college students at a party school on a Friday night, and get the same level of entertainment as Superbad. In 2008, the force of Apatow was greatly subdued with
Forgetting Sarah Marshall in the Spring and Pineapple Express in the late summer.
3. There were a lot of quality films other than Judd Apatow
Comedies outside of Judd Apatow fell completely by the wayside. Juno was a big word-of-mouth buzzer, I'll admit, and there was Lars and the Real Girl, but a tremendous amount of summer comedies fell flat including Evan Allmighty, Shrek 3, Mr. Woodock, Rush Hour 3, Liscence to Wed, and later Dan in Real Life.
In 2008, we had a number of diverse successes which were all innovative and had something to offer: Tropic Thunder generated buzz through some incredibly creative casting, Pineapple Express dared to cross two opposite genres in the pot film and the action film, popular HBO host took a shot at being Borat (I haven't seen the film, to be fair), Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly teamed up again (which I can't help but love), the Coen Brothers produced their best screwball comedy in Burn After Reading, and Jack Black, Mos Def and Michael Gondry teamed up for a metacinematical wonder in Be Kind Rewind. In addition, two comedies made their way to the best original screenplay final five, In Bruges and Happy-Go-Lucky, not be filling in the quirky dramedy slot, but by being originals. In short, something to love for everyone on the comedy front.
4. Wall-E transcends the animated film genre
Did Pixar's Ratatouille top critics' lists far and wide as the #1 film of the year by critics ranging from Time Magainze to the AV Club to Entertainment Weekly to the LA and Chicago Film Critics Association and it was on many more lists as well. Ratatouille did not transcend the animated film genre like Wall-E did.
5.2007 was an overflow of war films that didn't resonate. 2008 approached current events in a more fitting way
Rendition, Lions for Lambs (which I personally liked), The Kingdom, Redacted, and Charlie Wilson's War (which I liked somewhat) all fizzled out. These films might have been relevant in 2003 when we made the ill-fitted decision to go to war or a couple years down the road when the situation was turning worse. By 2007, it was old news. 2008's big films were surprisingly relevant. Milk came out right after the controvoursey over Proposition 8. I now that was unanticipated, but could you have asked for better luck? How about Slumdog Millionaire and the Obama's rise to power? The Reader and Dick Cheney's attempts to defend his cohorts from war crimes? Frost/Nixon and the growing awareness with each upcoming election cycle that how candidates far in debates affects everything? And all these 4 were nominated for best picutre.
6.Many of the good films were forgotten anyway in 2007
In the Valley of Ellah, Great Debaters, Away from Her, Persopolis, Gone Baby Gone, Once, Atonement, Zodiac, Eastern Promises and especially Assassination of Jess James were all underpromoted, underbuzzed, and not seen by very many people. I'm not sure if there were fewer masterpieces in 2008 but the films that received high levels of buzz all got their due among audiences. Smaller dialogue-heavy films like Happy Go Lucky, In Bruges, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and Burn After Reading all got their recognition in the independent screenplay category or the Golden Globe comedy category and other than the 5 nominees, Wall-E, Iron Man and Dark Knight got tremendous buzz and won many film critics awards. Revolutionary Road become sufficiently high-profile, Doubt got 4 acting noms, and the Wrestler had a very ample fan base.
7. 2007's main awards seasons successes were unusually dark and depressing.
The year's feel good story "Into the Wild" was about a guy who went off to Alaska and died at age 21. Just the read the title of There Will be Blood. Michael Clayton is supposed to be a run-of-the-mill legal thriller but it injects Hitchkock-like murder plots. Sweeny Todd is basically a darkly perverted version of the American musical. Eastern Promises is darker than films of its genre. The Assassination of Jesse James also lets you know how that story is going to end up. And the best picture Oscar, No Country for Old Men, is basically a story that goes nowhere that works more as a study of death.
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