Well, it's just about halftime for the year that is 2008. Six months just about down, around six months to go. What do you think have been the highlights and perhaps the lowlights of the year thus far? Which film is the best you have seen, or what collection of films from this year have kept you going in spite of the fairly bleak (for quality cinema) time of the year late winter/spring usually is, and indeed the normally "dumb" movies of summertime? Was there an arthouse adventure that was like an oasis despite not featuring much hype? What film took you by surprise? Which is a film you will defend to others who don't understand its appeal, or find it grievously flawed? What's been overrated? So, again, what were the best of the best? What were among the worst of the worst?
Guess I've got to go first.
My favorite films of the year thus far, in a somewhat elastic order: The Fall, OSS 117: Cairo--Nest of Spies, In Bruges, The Band's Visit, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Orphanage, Priceless, My Brother is an Only Child, Roman de Gare, My Blueberry Nights, Iron Man and Snow Angels. The order may not be right, but it's sort of what I'm feeling right now. The issue of whether a few of these are actually 2007 or 2008 films is to be left ignored right now: I saw them all in 2008 and unless I'm wrong none of them were released in America before January 1. (Am I wrong? I have a feeling I am about The Orphanage. The Band's Visit I think is '08.) I've begun to cave as far as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days goes, as I believe it was released theatrically, though on an incredibly limited basis, before New Year's.
My least favorite, in a somewhat elastic order: The Happening (I swear I went in with objective eyes; I'd like to see Shyamalan bounce out of this slump just about as much as anybody), Funny Games and Cloverfield (best score in a bad film this year).
Most underrated: The Fall. I understand where the critics of it are coming from, as well as the many people I know who wanted to like it more but found it cold or uninvolving. I could say it just struck me and that's that, but beyond such a simple perspective, it really was a startling look at the potency of art (in this case a fairytale enlivened by the imagination of a girl and the cinematic adventure of Tarsem capturing puissant imagery on behalf of said imagination) as a whole and how it's used, and why it truly matters.
Most overrated: The Visitor. A lot of good little pieces that don't truly result in a great deal to chew on, and it feels at least partly suffocated by the director's crushingly heavy hand.
Three films that with a good deal of intelligent tinkering could have potentially been truly great: Married Life, Snow Angels and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Two films that were neither good nor great, bad nor awful but rather lukewarm-bland and rather forgettable: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Incredible Hulk.
One film I wished I liked better: Speed Racer. Ought to give this another spin on DVD.
One film that captured the pure fun of old-fashioned cinema, even if not perfectly: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. As a screwball romantic comedy, it could have used more screwball and an even more confident screenplay but it was a noble effort from top to bottom nevertheless.
Overall, this has been a rather strong year thus far. Here's the controversial part of this post:
Thus far, I would contend that 2008 has been at least somewhat stronger than 2007 was at this juncture. '07 had Zodiac, yes, and that counts for a great deal. Breach was a better film than its release date would indicate, or at least it featured a performance that would have been right at home anywhere between Labor Day and New Year's Eve with Chris Cooper. I found The Host disjointed and marginally bloated, though it was a fun genre experiment. A Mighty Heart made me wish it was about the Pakistani cop in charge of its investigation (which it often was) rather than the helpless, mostly immobile wife. 1408 was a decent chiller but nothing to write home about (the ending was sufficiently ambiguous that I've always thought that I perhaps ought to take another look at it, however). The Grindhouse experience was undeniably a highlight of the first half of 2007, and Death Proof is still quite terrific. The Hoax featured strong turns by Richard Gere and Alfred Molina but it wasn't as accomplished as it thought it was. Fractured was pure potboiler diversion but who can resist Anthony Hopkins playing a psycho killer? Waitress and You Kill Me--the first a fairly guilt-free romantic-comedy, the second a comedic base hit for director John Dahl--were both better than most anything else I saw for quite a while.
Then again, I possibly missed a few highlights from the first half of '07. Anyone have any input on that? One I know I missed was Knocked Up, which I finally watched on DVD in December.
But most importantly, what do you think of this first half of 2008? Is is disappointing, as many have suggested? Or, do you just perhaps think like I that it's been somewhat surprisingly good considering everything? Last year I didn't see any summer blockbusters aside from Ratatouille and The Bourne Ultimatum. This year I've seen Iron Man, Speed Racer, Prince Caspian, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kung Fu Panda, The Incredible Hulk, The Happening (if you want to count it among the big summer movie fare) and will see WALL-E and The Dark Knight (update: got my tickets for 1:30 PM July 18--IMAX, yippee). I didn't just become soft in twelve months' time; there have been some reason, whether great or small, to see these films this year, so even in the dumbed-down months of summer, '08 still feels stronger than '07 did.
Of course, maybe the fall of '08 will completely drop the ball. It was the season of autumn last year that was primarily responsible for making 2007 feel like a possibly great year for American film (history will have the final word on that, I suppose).
But for now, we have to be content with only seeing the first half of the year. I've been going to movies a lot more in the late winter/early spring and especially now summer than I was last year. (Last July I only saw two films--La Vie En Rose and Once, for instance.) All and all, '08 feels muscular, and if the names Nolan, Allen, Coen, Ed Harris, Spike Lee, Eastwood, Forster, Luhrmann and many others mean anything to you, odds are you're looking forward to at least a couple of films between the two holidays involving fireworks.