Split Decision: Looking back at 2008
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
What movie from 2008 is most worth revisiting in 2018?
One of my favorite films from 2008 was Synecdoche, New York, which I saw twice in the theater when it came out (and would have gone a third time if it had played longer). It's such a dense and underappreciated film. It showcases the brilliance of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman; his passing only makes this melancholic drama extra poignant now. The layers that writer/director Charlie Kaufman creates--with characters playing multiple/different roles as the story shifts back and forth between fiction and reality--demand multiple viewing. The film's gonzo style is matched by its witty script and impressive set design. I thought this film was a masterpiece ahead of its time a decade ago. Was I right?
Twilight. For real. With the current state of Hollywood, it's worth going back and taking a look at Catherine Hardwicke's film. It opened with the highest grossing weekend opening for a female-directed live-action film ever, launched the careers of indie darlings Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, and inspired the resurgence of an entire romance sub-genre. And then ask yourself why this woman was systematically shutout from directing big-budget, or even mid-budget, features. It's a crime. There is an artistry to Hardwicke's Twilight (a style familiar to anyone who has seen her other brilliant film Thirteen) that was all but abandoned in later installments. And I say that as a fan of the franchise. When executives wanted to write off this film as a non-money maker appealing to the least respected movie audience (women, and especially young girls), Hardwicke took the material seriously, and did something with it that tapped into an experience that held meaning for thousands of rabid fans. It might not be your thing, but there’s plenty of room alongside superhero and horror franchises for a couple glittery vampires. Get over it.
Looking back, 2008 was a great year. It's the best summer of comedy in my life (Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, Tropic Thunder), and I'm a hardcore fan of The Ruins (Scott Smith's A Simple Plan remains the best book I've ever read), and if you ever have a few minutes to kill, I'll defend The Happening (while fully admitting that it's kinda bad too). But for my money, the movie from 2008 that pleases me most is Guy Ritchie's ROCKnROLLA.
Before helming a series of mixed quality blockbusters, Guy Ritchie used to make scrappy, stylish ensemble films about London's criminal underground. ROCKnROLLA was his last, and in my opinion, his best. No, it doesn't have the indie sensibilities of Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but that's part of its charm as well. After a doomed marriage to Madonna, and the disastrous one-two box office barf of Swept Away and Revolver, ROCKnROLLA was Ritchie's reminder to the world of crime cinema, that one of its tastemakers hadn't lost his touch as so many feared (it's essentially his Drag Me to Hell in that sense). At this point in his career, Ritchie had more resources to work with and had honed his style to the point of precision. It's scrappy... and shiny!
AND FUNNY! The wit and wordplay never lets up, and is punctuated with fits of wonderful hyper-violence to boot. Tom Hardy, Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba, Marc Strong, Gerry Butts, Thandie Newton, and Ludacris are all at their despicable best, and Toby Kebbell creates what should have been an icon out of Johnny Quid, the homocidal punk rocker. In fact, the credits promise Quid would return in a sequel.
I'm still waiting.
A highlight comes in the form of a hilarious foot chase in which neither cat nor mouse have the endurance to increase or close the distance between them, resulting to an intense, albeit wildly comical jog.
I think that Milk is my favorite from that year. It has a bunch of great performances, and feels uplifting and inspirational in a way that doesn't shy away from the hard realities of the fight for social progress. It came out the year that Obama was elected too, which was absolutely perfect timing. It's the kind of film that makes you realize that progress is a battle of a lifetime, and that Harvey Milk's tragic murder at the hands of a bigot may have ended his life, but nothing will end his legacy.
Speed Racer. It is the ultimate pop-tart ( in this case a neon festival of insanity) and my favorite anime adaptation in that it actually feels like a live-action anime. It was underrated in its time, and still seems to have its detractors, though its fan base is growing. I myself didn't finally see it until a year or two ago when I was absolutely floored by it. It's a fantastic family film full of bravura racing sequences and note-perfect performances for the bizarre tone of the film, as well as a full-on clinic in editing. It's so pop-tarty in its appearance it is nearly disgusting, but it's the kind of disgusting that Halloween candy is - delicious no matter how much you eat at once and no matter how gross that makes you feel. With the Wachowskis shutting down their production offices due to no new projects on the horizon, I'd love for people to re-watch this and realize what we missed out on at the time, as well what we're missing out on in the future by not recognizing their immense talent now, when they most need us to. This is a movie that became an instant favorite for me when I watched it, and I've watched it twice since. I regret not seeing it on the big screen - anyone feel like giving me the opportunity to do so?
You were right, Gary. Synecdoche, New York is, by my metric, a perfect movie. I'm also glad some of us are down for Speed Racer, probably the best crazy big budget dream project a filmmaker(s) have produced after earning enough at the box office to make whatever they wanted. There is a world where the Wachowski sisters followed their final Matrix entry with a perfectly fine sci-fi action series, but I'm glad we live in the one where they cashed in all the cred they'd built up to train a chimp to hold a wrench.
My answer is The Ruins, a great horror movie that's been mostly forgotten since the Saturday after it came out in 2008. Scott Smith wrote the adaptation of his novel A Simple Plan in 1998 and it took him ten years to both write and adapt a second book (sadly, he hasn't made a book or movie since). It was also directed by a fashion photographer making his debut feature. So I get why it had zero momentum on arrival and why, in the ensuing years, neither of those two has been prolific enough to inspire anybody to dig through their older work for reassessment. But The Ruins is great.
Four US college students and their new European friend travel through South America and get more than they bargained for when they stray from the beaten path and explore an ancient jungle ruin! Spoiler alert, the plants covering the ruins are at least somewhat sentient and try to murder everybody. Locals who know how evil the plants are find out the college kids have entered the ruin and surround it to make sure the college kids don't accidentally usher the killer plants into the outside world. There are Syfy Channel Original Movies with better premises.
And yet the terror ratchets up so quickly and the actors (Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker from an arc or two of every great prestige-y TV show, Shawn Ashmore from Animorphs) do such a good job playing like they're at the end of their wits that for 90 minutes, you are legitimately terrified of these plants. A plot hole will pop up (If some locals know the ruins are bad news, why not do a better job quarantining the place?), but something crazy happens every five minutes or so, ensuring you never get too long to think about it.
Halfway into penning a treatise on the refreshingly artful whimsy of Miyazaki's Ponyo, I was suddenly overjoyed to recall that Shion Sono's Love Exposure (Ai No Mukidashi) was a 2008 release and is in dire need of revisiting! A 4 hr breathless spastic sprint, LOVE EXPOSURE is as hilarious as it is jarring, complex as it is adventurous, incisive as it is aesthetic, utterly overflowing with itself, thus it is constantly enjoyable and feels like a film half its length (just watch when the title sequence occurs....wait for it.....) . I love the imbd synopsis "A bizarre love triangle forms between a young Catholic upskirt photographer, a misandric girl and a manipulative cultist" because it is all that CAN be said. The rest is a kinetic, culture splaying melee with depth, humor and carnage as only Sono (Suicide Club) can manifest in his maddening methods. I saw it once at the Japan Cuts Film Festival in NYC and yet I feel like I have been watching ceaselessly in my mind ever since.
Wall-E. I was a senior in high school when I saw an afternoon screener after school. I wept the second Hello Dolly's! "Put on Your Sunday Shoes" started playing and didn't stop for the rest of the movie. The (literal) wasteland Wall-E is tasked with cleaning is so beautifully animated and detailed, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with emotion. Wall-E and EVE are so human and the movie takes loners and weirdos and displaced commonplace objects and makes them beautiful and special and omg I'm crying again.
I wasn’t going to even consider The Dark Knight until I remembered Garrett’s piece from the summer, which perfectly contextualizes Nolan’s Bat-crime-opera for our current climate. And the first Cloverfield remains a fascinating artifact.
But I want to go with Summer Hours. After falling under Olivier Assayas’ spell with Clouds of Sils Maria, then Personal Shopper and Non-Fiction, I figured it was overdue for me to go further back in his filmography.
Summer Hours also works in the explorative sense of those films, where themes, ideas, and story twist around and back in on each other several times over the course of the film. In this film, Assayas ponders the meaning of art in our lives, the value of museums, and our responsibility (or lack thereof) of keeping the past alive around us. Over generations, families morph their identities, or fracturing into new ideas. Things that once held personal meaning no longer do, and traditions are lost. In this film, growing economies in China and the passivity in passing along history accelerate this process. Assayas is better than any other filmmaker working today at matching philosophy with personal character-driven stories in a way that never feels pedantic or preachy (it probably helps that they are in French), and Summer Hours stands alongside his newer work as a great entry point.