Two weeks after the 2008 election, years of outrage felt as distant as last week’s hangover. This slop house liberal-bashing comedy didn’t last even that long in theaters, but it’s the perfect relic of eight years of red-state/blue-state bile. Also rans: Postal and Religulous.
Frost/Nixon and W.
“Are evil presidents evil people?” asks this double feature of period pieces of past and soon-to-be-past presidents. In short: Not really. They’re human. Both argue that if we can’t have a leader who manages not to make colossal screw-ups, Americans are best making do with a confession and forgiveness. Note to Bush: Fess up sooner than Nixon did.
Fly Me To The Moon
No one saw this unmemorable cartoon about three insects who sneak on Apollo 11, but this first-ever all-animated 3D flick is the harbinger of the future: months after its release, Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks committed to shooting all of their new kiddie spectacles in 3D.
Fate —or luck—saw that this slender, hopeful tribute to gay activism came out just weeks after Proposition 8 narrowly passed. Buying a ticket felt like a better way to show your support than getting into fistfights with Mormons on the evening news. (Though both have their appeal.)
The Dark Knight
Hope was on everyone’s lips, except for our superheroes’. They’ve gotten moodier every year with Christopher Nolan’s Batman helming their therapy sessions in the rubber black turtleneck and beret. Happy endings belong in a different zeitgeist, except for the guileless love being showered upon Danny Boyle’s idiotic Slumdog Millionaire, which considers itself brave for spoonfeeding us a cheery ending. Also ran: Hancock.
Maybe in 2009, optimism will resurface from the cave it’s hid in all decade (next to Bin Laden’s, perhaps?). But until then, we’re finding beauty in garbage and despair. WALL*E even made a cockroach gorgeous. Sure, it had to leap ahead centuries to figure out how to fix the world, but dust-storms aside, maybe all we really need to be happy is one friend and Barbra Streisand.
Don’t wait for the future to watch this bleak, squirmy comedy starring John C. Reilly and Sean William Scott as two assistant grocery store managers who battle each other for a raise. Released months before the economic collapse, it captures the cutthroat tension and small-soul killing choices desperate people make to pay their mortgage. Hilarious, hopeless, and riveting.
Be Kind Rewind
Flat screens? Blu-ray? HD? In home 3D? Michel Gondry’s bizarre curio romps around like an ’80s hack comedy while mourning what it feared was the death of social film-going. Even when you rent a VHS tape, you have to leave home and talk to someone. The silver lining is that in recent months, ticket sales are up and Blu-ray has stuck its head in the sand.
Telegenic hotties getting slaughtered by the thousands churned less stomachs than the shaky, verite camera work that demarked this silly thriller as, like, totally real dude. The apotheosis of YouTube artistry, Cloverfield best represents 2008’s obsession with looking authentic over being watchable, or even good.
Synecdoche, New York
The best film of the year, I’d like Charlie Kaufman’s masterpiece to be shorthand for 2008 just as The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind earmarked 1939. Kaufman’s obsession with failure will make us look like a nation of neurotic geniuses. There’s worse things to be, I suppose. Like Munchkins.