The Sadness Of Loss Marked The Film Year In
Omar P.L. Moore/The
December 23, 2008
The year on the big screen in 2008 will be most memorable not for many of the
more than 575 films released in North America -- it was hardly a year of good
quality for silver screen celluloid -- it will be remembered in a somber way for
the number of people in the film industry who passed away. There were very
few dry eyes for Hollywood for much of the year that was 2008.
Heath Ledger succumbed to an overdose of sleeping pills in
January, at just 28 years of age, and less than seven months later would jar
movie audiences with a tower portrayal of menace as The Joker in the spectacular
"The Dark Knight", which
made over $527 million in the U.S. and Canada. By year's end Mr. Ledger
had posthumously garnered acting nominations for the performance but you
couldn't help feel the pall that had been cast by the gone-too-soon shock of his
One of the last great American acting titans, Paul Newman, said goodbye in
September, and his loss was like that of Katharine Hepburn a few years back.
Charlton Heston, he of "Ten Commandments", "Ben Hur" and "Bowling For Columbine"
fame, exited, as did Cyd Charisse. Stan Winston, the special effects
master for countless films including "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", passed.
Comedian and actor George Carlin also left us for the blue yonder in June, as
did fellow comedian and actor
Bernie Mac in August, with
actor-musician Isaac Hayes departing barely 24 hours after Mr. Mac did.
The latter two appeared together in
"Soul Men", a film that
had an eerie refrain for Mr. Mac's character.
Literary legends like Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote the visionary book that would
be the vital template for Stanley Kubrick's film "2001: A Space Odyssey") and
Michael Crichton (who wrote novels including "Disclosure" and "Rising Sun" that
would be adapted to the big screen) bid farewell, as did Bettie Page, the 1950's
pin-up star whose life was made into the 2006 film "The Notorious Bettie Page".
(A documentary film by Mark Mori on Ms. Page will be released next fall.)
In a tragic set of circumstances, Oscar winner
lost three members of her family including her mother and younger brother.
Anthony Minghella, director of films like "The English Patient" and "The
Talented Mr. Ripley" and a prolific producer, died, as did
Sydney Pollack, who
produced, directed and acted in many films including his own films such as
Oscar-winning "Tootsie" and "The Firm", with appearances in "Eyes Wide Shut" and
last year's Oscar winning film
"Michael Clayton", among
There were actors as diverse as Richard Widmark, Brad Renfro, Roy Scheider
("Jaws"), Van Johnson, Suzanne Pleshette, Harvey Korman ("Blazing Saddles"),
Estelle Reiner (Rob Reiner's mother, who so memorably said the words "I'll have
what she's having" after Meg Ryan's orgasmic ecstasy in Mr. Reiner's "When Harry
Met Sally"), Ivan Dixon, the legendary
Eartha Kitt, playwright
Harold Pinter, "To Kill A Mockingbird" film director Robert Mulligan and many
more, including actor/voiceover legend Don LaFontaine who also exited stage
left. Voiceovers in trailers will not be the same without his.
Every year millions of people known to many or to a relative few in the world
die, including a few in the filmmaking business. It is a tragedy all the
way around, and it seemed that in 2008, the losses were just a little more
stunning and saddening.
Hollywood films were at a loss as well due to the writers' strike that crippled
a significant chunk of film (and television) production in 2008 and stopped the
65th Annual Golden Globes dead in its tracks, with the Awards being hosted by
six television entertainment anchors/reporters and all the awards being handed
out in just about an hour in a no-frills way.
was at a loss as well -- or at least audiences were mystified by two of his
poorest films, which just happened to come from Sony Pictures within the space
of just over five months in 2008 --
and the dreadful
There were other woeful films from Sony, which for the second year in a row has
the worst film of the year ("88
Minutes", followed by
and "You Don't Mess With The Zohan".) Other studios have to share in the
misery with the following turkeys:
"The Love Guru"
"What Happens In Vegas"
"Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins"
"The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor"
(both Universal). Warner Brothers managed to stay off the list of bad
On the plus side,
"Slumdog Millionaire" was
simply the best film of 2008. In a year dominated by superhero flicks,
"The Dark Knight" stood head and shoulders above the rest, but
"The Incredible Hulk" was not nearly as bad as it could have
been -- say, like Ang Lee's atrocious "Hulk" of 2003. "Iron Man" was an
impressive film, breaking new ground for a charismatic American superhero
content with the simpler things, say cheeseburgers. Robert Downey, Jr.,
who had the best year he's ever had in film as Tony Stark/Iron Man and it was a
great performance, and he also tried on the dreaded blackface and wowed critics
in the process as a method actor going deep, deep method in
"Tropic Thunder", the same
film in which Tom Cruise had the most hilarious cameo of the year as a movie
producer. Mr. Cruise also played a real-life German Resistance army leader
in a plot to assassinate Hitler in
while celebrating 27 years in the film industry as an actor. For the
second year running
Josh Brolin was an actor
to watch playing two despised figures in American history, as the 43rd president
of the U.S. in Oliver Stone's
"W." and as 1978 San
Francisco Board of Supervisors assassin Dan White in Gus Van Sant's
"Milk", for which he is as likely as Sean Penn to receive an
Oscar nomination in January. Jeffrey Wright was an
October-November-December man, as he starred in the following films in each of
those months respectively: "W.", "Quantum Of Solace" and "Cadillac Records".
Honorable mentions to
"The Bank Job",
"Recount" (made for HBO),
"Body Of War", "Free For All!", "Gonzo", "Chicago 10", "Taxi To The Dark Side",
"Young@Heart", "Snow Angels", "Cadillac
Records" and "Choke".
The film year was one of comebacks, with
returning to the big screen in the Indiana Jones franchise for the first time in
27 years in
"Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The
Crystal Skull", and Harrison Ford donning the fedora hat after
19 years between Indy films. Four years after the television series ended
for good, the female foursome hit the big screen for the movie version of
"Sex And The City", which
featured a close up of a penis. (Anything to pack them in at the box
office.) The film didn't work so well, but the ladies (and some men) kept
Traci Lords finally made
fun of the Traci Lords of 20-plus years ago in
"Zack And Miri Make A
Porno", while the
"Sisterhood Of The
Traveling Pants" returned after three years away, although not
as triumphantly film-wise as in the past. Vanessa Del Rio and Jennifer
Coolidge made cameo appearances in "Soul Men".
returned, but in animated form, directed by Dave Filoni. It had been 13
years since both
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino
shared a scene together in a film ("Heat") and Jon Avnet put them together in
almost every minute of
but it proved to be overkill, as did the film itself. Mr. Avnet directed
two poor films starring Mr. Pacino, the other being the worst of all films
released this year "88 Minutes".) Mickey Rourke however, had the biggest
return to film with his superb work in
for which he will certainly be Oscar-nominated. There was no
Viola Davis' command of
the big screen in John Patrick Shanley's film, for she outshone Meryl Streep in
one memorable scene, which is extraordinarily hard to do. Ms. Davis will
definitely receive an Oscar nomination for the supporting role.
New York directors Woody Allen kept directing ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") as
Spike Lee ("Miracle
At St. Anna"), with Martin Scorsese chronicling one of his
first loves The Rolling Stones in
"Shine A Light".
Steven Soderbergh directed the four-hour and 17 minute epic "Che", while David
Fincher fumbled on
"Benjamin Button", a nightmare exercise
in screenwriting (Eric Roth) and cliches echoing "Forrest Gump". Brad Pitt
didn't fare badly in the film, but he did better in the Coen Brothers'
"Burn After Reading", in which he starred alongside Tilda
Swinton, with whom he reunited in "Benjamin Button". Mark Ruffalo put his
hands where his eyes couldn't see in
while Woody Harrelson was blind in "Seven Pounds". There were blinding,
eye-popping dresses in "27
Dresses", which reminds me that "Rachel Getting Married" got Anne Hathaway a
hatful of award nominations. (Ms. Hathaway, who dumped her indicted
boyfriend earlier this year, will be wearing more dresses on the big screen in
"Bride Wars" early in
It seemed that Samuel L. Jackson played evil in three out of every four films
this year: a cop gone ballistic ("Lakeview
Terrace"), as a jumper ("Jumper")
and as an Octopus ("The
Spirit"). At least he had a soul in "Soul Men".
Don Cheadle played a traitor (or was he?) in "Traitor", while Malcolm Lee
"Roscoe Jenkins" and "Soul Men" (a film
mentioned at least three other times here). In terms of fun during a
political election year in 2008, several actors got to skewer politicians and
news personalities, with "Baby Mama"'s comedic actors Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
impersonating Alaska governor Sarah Palin and soon-to-be former Senator Hillary
Rodham Clinton on NBC television's "Saturday Night Live". Ms. Poehler
became a mother offscreen, giving birth in November. Ben Affleck spoofed
Keith Olbermann and delivered laughs aplenty. Speaking of NBC,
Tim Russert wasn't a movie star but he
interviewed a few of them as well as appeared as the political newsman and
questioner that he was in several films over the years. He passed
unexpectedly in June.
It is hard to know who in Hollywood had a bigger year than
Kate Winslet and
Clint Eastwood. Ms. Winslet was
outstanding in two films, the excellent
and "Revolutionary Road", either of which she will definitely win an Oscar,
while Mr. Eastwood directed two very good films (especially
"Gran Torino") and will
surely win either a best actor Oscar ("Gran Torino") or a third directing Oscar
Twenty-three films as of the date of this piece crossed the $100 million mark at
the U.S.-Canada box office, including
"Quantum Of Solace",
the first direct sequel to a James Bond film. "Twilight" also moved past
the mark, even as critics generally panned the film -- and a sequel is on the
way in late 2009.
And as this year closes, the lack of dry eyes for departed filmmakers, producers
and performers in Hollywood extended to the films themselves, with "Seven
Pounds", "Benjamin Button", "The Reader",
"Marley & Me", "Gran Torino" and "The Wrestler".
Overall, when Robert De Niro's Max Cady whispered in "Cape Fear" in 1991 that
"you're gonna learn about loss", he may have unsentimentally been referring to
Above photos of just a few of the departed in
2008 (from top left): Bernie Mac, Paul Newman, Heath Ledger. (Center of
page): Cyd Charisse, Sydney Pollack, Isaac Hayes.
Related: The Ten Best
Films of 2008
Copyright The Popcorn Reel. PopcornReel.com. 2008. All Rights