2008 has come and gone. And like most years we’ve seen some unquestionable highs and some depressing lows. We elected a new president but also bailed out the d-nozzles on Wall Street. We won the most medals in this year’s Beijing Olympics, but China walked away with the most golds (which is a double slap-in-the-face when you look at how much gold is worth now). If the disappointments of 2008 were in the form of an SAT question it would read like this “Michael Phelps is to Plaxico Burress as Barack Obama is to _____.”*
But when you look at the landscape of cinema, there are also several peaks and valleys we can focus on. How (puke-colored) green was our valley in 2008? I offer ten instances in film that did not live up to a certain amount of hype, didn’t get the credit they deserved, or just flat-out disappointed the general public.
What happened to comedy in 2008? Will Ferrell released two lackluster films, Mike Myers and Adam Sandler starred in two uninspiring summer comedies, and Tropic Thunder gave us Robert Downey Jr.’s magnificent performance which basically served as the cinematic equivalent of Febreze, it just momentarily masked the shittiness of the rest of the film. Remember 2005 when Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year-old Virgin came out and it spawned a bunch of “which is funnier” debates between friends. 2007 had both Knocked Up and Superbad which showcased America’s newest sensation Seth Rogen, yet 2008 saw Rogen’s Pineapple Express and Zack and Miri Make A Porno underwhelming audiences. Comedy fell into a backwards universe this year, where bad films made money and the good ones (like Role Models, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, and Burn After Reading) kind of fell by the wayside. This brings me to my next disappointment…
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
I offer FSM as not really a “disappointment” in that it was a bad movie. No. In fact, it’s a fantastic movie and the funniest Apatow production yet to be released. Yet, it didn’t really make a blip in the comedic stratosphere. Not one Golden Globe nod for Forgetting Sarah Marshall which featured a breakout performance for Russell Brand (in America), a rock-solid script written by star and all-around lovable guy Jason Segel, great direction for a comedy (which climaxed with a raucous Dracula musical done with expert puppetry), and unbelievable chemistry between its stars. What more could you ask for in a comedy?
Valkyrie, and by proxy, Tom Cruise’s career
I had high hopes for Cruise. I’ve been a fan on the man’s work for decades and always thought he got a bum-rap as a result of being a superstar. He’s a legitimately great actor, as you would know if you’d seen him in Collateral, Magnolia, Jerry Maguire, and even a great, intense performance in Mission: Impossible 3 (single-handedly the most underrated action film next to Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang to be released this decade). He needed to make a splash this year. He played nice with Matt Lauer on “Today” and did all the right things to seemingly get back on everyone’s good side, but Valkyrie will not be the film the catapults him back to where he was. The thing is, it’s not Cruise’s fault either. He’s excellent in Valkyrie (and anyone who says he’s miscast needs to watch the 15 minutes after the attempt on Hitler’s life–he hits every note perfectly), it was Bryan Singer who butchered the film. On top of it all, Cruise is nominated for a Globe for his cameo in Tropic Thunder. I dunno, I’m confused. Maybe this is the type of year where a guy overacting in a fat suit can get nominated for a major award, or maybe this goes further into clarifying why the Golden Globes are such a joke.
To fully understand how disappointing Speed Racer is, you have to believe that it could’ve been good to begin with. That, in itself, is a difficult task. This was the movie that was supposed to give Emile Hirsch his big blockbuster, but instead he ended up looking like he left his acting skills at the front door. Also, with the resurgence of “Lost” and “Friday Night Lights” as can’t-miss TV shows once again, it was truly disheartening to see Matthew Fox and Scott Porter just look lost (pun perhaps intended).
Lack of Classics
It’s heard to look a movie and tell if it’s going to be a classic upon first viewing. This usually has to be looked through the lens of time. However, I’ll go out on a limb and say there doesn’t seem to be any new classics born this year. Slumdog Millionaire or Curious Case of Benjamin Button may win the best picture awards, but I doubt you’ll see historians modifying the AFI’s 100 Films lists to incorporate either. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I remember leaving the theater after seeing There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men last year (hell, I’d even consider Juno a classic) and thinking those are films we’ll be dissecting and talking about for years. The only film that qualifies this year is The Dark Knight, which will probably NOT be nominated for Best Picture come Oscar announcement day. This will be one of those years that in 8 months most people won’t be able to name 3 of the 5 films that were nominated for Best Picture, and that’s just bogus.
Moving Harry Potter to ’09
They blamed it on the writer’s strike, but I can’t imagine that it made all that much difference. We’ve seen three trailers for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and each one looks better than the previous. They had the director and cast in line since the last installment, Order of the Phoenix, and you can’t tell me that a script for this film hasn’t been done since at least 2005. No. They moved it to 2009 so that they can open it on the same weekend The Dark Knight opened this year, as if that would make any difference whatsoever. This, coupled with the incorrect decision to make the final story into two movies made 2008 a bad year for the Potter series.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Perhaps you saw this coming. Indy IV was not just the most disappointing sequel of the year, but maybe of all-time. Granted, it’s a better film than The Phantom Menace, Spider-Man 3, or Superman 4: Quest for Peace, but hat’s not to say that it isn’t as big of a let-down. The movie was so bad that it inspired a graphic South Park episode which absolutely blazed it. I will never be able to watch Indiana Jones again without seeing those images of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg raping him.
In the long run, maybe it’s a good thing that Indiana Jones was far-and-away the most unexpected and unfortunate movie disaster of the year. It was a pretty straight-forward year, all things told. Other films that looked like they would suck sucked, the ones that looked awful generally didn’t attract audiences (see: The Love Guru and Meet Dave). Look at 2007–S-M 3, Pirates 3, Shrek 3, Fantastic Four 2…Holy balls. By comparison, 2008 looks just fine and dandy.
Besides, there’s still more REAL WORLD disappointments to consider. People are losing their homes, good people are being ousted from jobs, and politics will probably still be as shady in 2009 as they were in 2007 (or any other year), even though a man won the presidency on the platform of “change.” So, smell the roses movie nerds, things could’ve been much worse for us.
* You could answer “John McCain” or “Rod Blagojevich” for this one.
Read More: 2008 Year in Review
What movies, trends or performances disappointed you most in 2008?