2008: A Year of Mediocrity
by Jef Burnham
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After a spot-on year like 2007, we were bound for a slump. So many filmmakers put out great product in 2007 that I suppose they needed a break. Most of those did not release a film in 2008, and those who did saw a significant toning down in their works’ relative greatness. To following up their all-time best, No Country for Old Men, the Coens released a solid, if slightly flawed, comedy in Burn After Reading. And despite Slumdog Millionaire getting a lot of buzz, nominations and awards, I didn’t find it was as tight as Boyle’s 2007 entry, Sunshine (I found Slumdog’s “inventive” timeline to beexceedingly conveniently linear). Woody Allen, of course, was the exception. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, though no masterpiece, is surely better than the disaster that was Cassandra’s Dream.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some great films in 2008. The directorial debuts of playwright Martin McDonagh with In Bruges and indie fave screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, in particular, were stellar achievements. A heap of good to great super hero movies swept up at box offices with Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy-stylings and original storyline for Hellboy II winning the spotlight for me (hordes of snarling Dark Knight fans are plotting my death already).
But some of the most widely acclaimed films turned out to be passing at best. For instance, there was nothing wrong with John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, which pretty much took 4-star ratings across the board, but it was moderately affecting at best. Even the 10 worst films I saw in 2008 were nothing more than mediocre. Past the top three on that list, I didn’t hate any of them, I just didn’t like them. The mention of just about any film from my 10 worst of 2007 still sends me into a rage.
In the hopes that a film would inspire any feelings at all in me, I went to see some that looked absolutely atrocious with the philosophy that hating a movie is better than nothing. Among those experiments, 10,000 B.C. was so vapid it couldn’t possibly offend, and The Ruins, frankly, was not that terrible (though it wasn’t good either).
All that having been said, let me once again praise Synecdoche. It is honestly one of the best films in years, despite being completely overlooked by the Academy. The scope of Synecdoche is almost unparalleled in the medium, and what Kaufman achieved had only once before been so effectively and enigmatically realized in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 Mirror. Tarkovsky’s theory behind Mirror fits perfectly with Synecdoche. Tarkovsky theorized that rather than your typically superficial characterization, “it would be possible to achieve… the portrayal of the hero’s individual personality, and the revelation of his interior world” through use of the logic of dreams and memories. When the Academy so consistently gravitates toward artistically undistinguished melodramas, it is no surprise Synecdoche was snubbed.
Anyway, here they are, my 10 Best and Worst films of 2008:
1. Synecdoche, New York
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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