Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Anti-Oscars Part 1

Nine times out of ten I don’t agree with the Oscars. Most of the time I roll my eyes and exhale loudly in disgust as I read every critic’s 10 best films of the year list, each and every year getting more and more identical to one another. For years this has irked me to no end and several years ago I decided to start acknowledging the year in cinema in my own special way. I tend to try and do this right before the Oscars and low and behold it’s that time of year again. I tend to get a bit long winded with this so I’ll most likely be breaking this up over several posts. What follows is my thoughts on 2008, the year in film. I’ll talk about the highs, the lows and all sorts of fun stuff in between. Without any further ado or preamble let’s jump in shall we.

There is one thing I never want to hear again. 2008 was not a bad year for film. Every critic I read, every movie buff I talk to has ballyhooed 2008 as a lackluster year in cinema. Excuse me but… WRONG! 2008 wasn’t just a good year for movies; it was a spectacular year for movies. The only thing is that it wasn’t was the banner year for the types of movies that everyone always associates with quality cinema.

Look at this years Best Picture nominees; can you really get excited about any of them? Of course not, they are in every way indicative of the one thing that people seem to be focusing on. 2008 was a pretty lousy year for prestige, Oscar bait movies. The entire year movie fans kept waiting for a THERE WILL BE BLOOD or a NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, heck even a JUNO or an ATONEMENT to be thrown into the mix and much to everyone’s chagrin it never happened.

THE DUTCHESS was supposed to be Keira Knightly’s ticket to Oscar gold, only it sucked. SEVEN POUNDS reteamed the people behind the critically lauded and publicly loved THE PURSUIT OF HAPYNESS and all I’ve heard people do is bitch about a jelly fish. DEFIANCE was entertaining, but nowhere near Oscar worthy. THE SOLOIST looked amazing; too bad we won’t see it until April. W. is an amazing piece of historic filmmaking but something that won’t be recognized for it’s brilliance until decades worth of history prove how astute it is. BLINDNESS, MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, FLASH OF GENIUS, the list goes on an on of movies that everyone thought would be fighting their way into the Oscar race only to have them disappear with very little fanfare because there was something about each and every single one of them that kept them from connecting with, well, pretty much anyone.

Because this year doesn’t have a THERE WILL BE BLOOD, a NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, a THE DEPARTED, an AMERICAN BEAUTY or a RETURN OF THE KING people are bemoaning the fact that it was such a bad year for movies. To those people I would like to say; you’re full of crap.

Where 2008 dropped the ball in the sort of movies we’ve been used to seeing dominate awards shows and the like for nearly the past decade it excelled in realms that I had begun to believe were past the point of assistance. Namely that of genre and dare I say it… blockbuster movies.

Hands down this was probably the single best year for genre film making since 1982, the year that gave us the likes of E.T., BLADE RUNNER, THE WRATH OF KHAN, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ROAD WARRIOR, TRON and THE DARK CRYSTAL. Out of the very best movies I saw all year at least 4 of them were genre pictures and they all had budgets well over $100 million dollars.

If 2008 goes down as the year that Hollywood failed to give us the kind of prestige pictures we’ve come to expect, it may also very well be seen as the year Hollywood pulled their heads out of their collective rectums and realized that just because a movie costs untold of sums of money to make or it deals with superheroes or sci-fi or fantasy doesn’t mean it has to be mindless. It doesn’t mean that these movies, movies that people flock to see in droves can’t be relevant, poignant and brilliant in the EXACT same ways a Paul Thomas Anderson or Sam Mendes film can be. If that isn’t a triumph for the industry and those of us people that follow it so closely then I don’t know what is.

As if I haven’t given enough preamble already I feel the need to confess several things before jumping into the real meat of this thing. 2008 was a very odd, yet very good year for me. I believe I saw the least amount of movies in the theatre this year than I have in at least the past 5 or so. This is in no small part due to the fact that for the first time ever I actually made a movie of my own in 2008. This endeavor sapped my time and my finances in ways that they’ve never been sapped before and as a result I became VERY choosy about what I plopped down my hard earned cash to see. As much as I’ve tried to resist it in the past I found myself catching up with more and more films on DVD than ever before simply because I couldn’t get around to them in the theatre. This along with the new level of insight I gained while making my own movie perhaps skewed my view on certain movies in some unexpected ways.

I also feel it only fair to acknowledge that for the first time in my life I was actually allowed to vote for one of the awards ceremonies, namely the Independent Spirit Awards. While making my own movie I joined an organization called Film Independent and in doing so I was allowed to vote for the ISA’s which meant I got screeners of movies for the first time in my life.

What you are about to see isn’t a normal list by any stretch of the imagination. There I believe are at least 20 films discussed in the following pages and posts. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out how to weigh something like THE WRESTLER against say, DOOMSDAY. I was equally entertained by both and as such I felt both worthy of being mentioned. For the most part only the last 6 or so films that I will talk about are in any sort of order, namely number 6 to number 1. Other than that I’ve decided to just jot down a few lines about the movies that struck me this year. The ones that entertained me enlightened me and thrilled me. The ones that are already part of my DVD collection or will be shortly. Mind you there are still many more movies from 2008 that I have yet to see but at this point these are the movies that made it a banner year for cinema, the ones that won’t get mentioned by most but will be applauded by me. Let’s have at thee shall we.

CLOVERFIELD: Ten minutes into this movie I was kicking myself. This is one of those movies with such a brilliant premise that as a writer the entire time I kept asking myself, “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?” From top to bottom this movie was a great thrill ride. I don’t care if some of the characters are a bit shallow or look like they stepped out of a department store catalog. I don’t think the movie was quite what anyone expected but mark my words J.J. Abrams and Co. made a monster movie for the ages.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON: I know this movie left a sour taste in some people’s mouths and while I don’t think it’s worthy of a Best Picture this movie is truly remarkable and beautiful. The special effects and make-up in this movie are second to none and display the potential modern technology holds for story tellers. The thing that really struck me about this movie is how it’s sort of the dark, morbid step-brother of FORREST GUMP. This is a beautiful movie about life, death and everything in between but at the end of the day it’s a fairly dour and sobering message that David Fincher delivers. Would you expect any less from him?

SLUMDOG MILLIONARE: I’m really trying to not allow the fact that this film is going to win the Best Picture Oscar when it doesn’t really deserve it to sour my opinion of the movie. Danny Boyle made a vibrant, vivacious, kinetic, crowd pleasing love story that also serves to offer a glimpse into a world many of us are completely oblivious too. At the end of the day I can’t help but feel that this movie is nothing more than a feel good movie but in Danny Boyle’s hands it’s so adeptly handled even if you realize that’s the case, you don’t fully care.

STREET KINGS: This is a movie that pretty much slipped under everyone’s radar. A gritty, smart, very well put together cop film that in a lot of ways plays like a modern L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, of course the fact that the movie was written by that book’s author, James Elroy may have a lot to do with that. None the less this movie flat out thrilled the crap out of me. Everyone turns in great performances, even Keanu Reeves who adapts to Ellroy’s tough guy dialogue with great aplomb. This movie isn’t fancy and it won’t win any awards but it will get repeat spins in my DVD player and stands as one of the true underrated gems of the year.

THE BANK JOB: As a writer I can tell you, you can’t make this kind of stuff up. Based on the true story of a group of two-bit thugs that broke into some VERY sensitive safety deposit boxes this is a heist movie unlike any other. The heist portion of the film is for the most part very rout and standard, there’s no cool Danny Ocean type manipulations or brilliant cons. No, this movie goes from entertaining to flat out unbelievably fascinating and gripping the moment the heist is done. I don’t want to give away anything but this is one of the most unique and interesting heist films I’ve seen in a long, long time. The fact that it’s all based on actual events makes it even more so. Another way under seen and under appreciated film from 2008 whose fan base will only grow as the word of mouth about it spreads.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

2008 was probably the year I saw the least amount of films in theaters too, but that was mainly due to the fact that I've nearly reached my peak with going to the theater when the film will be out for cheaper on DVD in 4 months.

Yay! The Bank Job! I thought I was the only one who saw that one, I brought it up with my friends and no one knows what the hell I was talking about. Good caper film and very much felt like a product of the era it takes place in.