2008 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2008

The Dark Knight

WALL-E

Gran Torino

Ip Man

Iron Man

The Wrestler

In Bruges

Rachel Getting Married

Waltz with Bashir

Twilight

Let the Right One In

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

2008 Nominees in Review

Milk: B+

Slumdog Millionaire: B- (Won Best Picture)

Frost/Nixon: C+

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: C

The Reader: C-

2008 jumps out to me as one of the weakest fields in modern history, with no great films and a lot of mediocre to merely above average ones. What makes it so much worse is that there were some really obvious alternative choices that would have made for a much better field-The Wrestler, WALL-E and The Dark Knight (even if I think Batman Begins is equally good or better) are all far more inspired nominees than Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader; these above listed films (mainly WALL-E and The Dark Knight) are pretty much the reason why the field expanded the next year. However, that shouldn’t take away from Milk and Slumdog Millionaire (a fair choice for Best Picture given the nominees) being good movies that deserved their spots.

For 2009, the first year with 10 nominees since 1943: James Cameron breaks his own record for highest grossing film of all-time; the highest grossing sports-drama ever; its title is a reference to District 6, an area in Cape Town, South Africa that in 1966 was demolished to make room for a whites-only neighborhood; Rosamund Pike plays a ditz in this film, but in real life ironically did exactly what the main character did: study English at Oxford; Kathryn Bigelow became the first (and currently only) woman to win Best Director for this movie; Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for playing a Nazi “Jew-Hunter”, ironically enough has a Rabbi for a son; the first Best Picture nominee by an African-American director; a Coen brothers film that takes place in their hometown of St. Louis Park, Minnesota and during the period they were growing up; the first 3D animated film to be nominated for Best Picture; and George Clooney was nominated for playing a character named Ryan Bingham-the same year a real person named Ryan Bingham won an Oscar.

2007 Nominees in Review

Other Notable Films from 2007

Into the Wild

The Simpsons Movie

300

Ratatouille

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Away from Her

Hot Fuzz

Eastern Promises

Gone Baby Gone

Persepolis

Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone

Transformers

2007 Nominees in Review

No Country For Old Men: A (Won Best Picture)

There Will Be Blood: B+

Atonement: B

Juno: B-

Michael Clayton: C

2007 is generally considered one of the best fields of the last 20 years and I can see why, especially since most people like Michael Clayton a lot more than I did and many consider There Will Be Blood as one of the best movies of the decade. It really was one of the strongest two-horse races in recent memory, but I feel the Academy made the right choice in picking No Country For Old Men, a movie which is a film about as well-executed as you can find. We also got some other pretty good movies rounding out the field, and I’m happy that I liked Juno more than I expected to considering how grating that type of film can be to be sometimes. All in all, a great year for the Oscars.

For 2008: As of now, the final 5-film Best Picture field! We have: at long last, David Fincher’s first Best Picture nominee; the director admitted that he (regrettably) did vote for the co-subject and essentially villain of the film; the movie was specifically released right before California voted on Proposition 8 which was to re-ban gay marriage in the state (it was unfortunately successful); Kate Winslet joked about doing a Holocaust movie in the series Extras so she could finally win an Oscar-rather famously, this is of course exactly what happened here in real life; and this film joined Schindler’s List as the only movies to win Best Picture, Director and Screenplay at the Oscars, Golden Globes and the BAFTAs.

But first, another Best of the Decade list:

2006 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2006

The Prestige

The Lives of Others

Pan’s Labyrinth

Casino Royale

Dreamgirls

The Last King of Scotland

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Idiocracy

The Wicker Man

Borat

Children of Men

An Inconvenient Truth

2006 Nominees in Review

The Departed: A- (Won Best Picture)

The Queen: B

Letters from Iwo Jima: B-

Babel: C+

Little Miss Sunshine: D+

The Departed was a very worthy Best Picture in an otherwise undistinguished field that included a movie I disliked far more than I expected to, Little Miss Sunshine. I am surprised Dreamgirls, the film that actually had the most nominations (8) of any movie from 2006, was not nominated though, although I guess I shouldn’t be considering it was shut out of nominations from any of the Big Five categories. Children of Men (three nominations including Best Screenplay and Film Editing) would have also been a very welcome nominee to watch for this project.

For 2007: This film made use of every single U.K. WWII military ambulance that still exists; Diablo Cody wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for this movie in the Starbucks section of a local Target store over the course of seven weeks; The only Best Picture nominee to have a Neon Genesis Evangelion reference in it (figures of Unit-02 and one of the MP Evas are on the desk of the main character’s 8 year old son, which either makes him the worst or best father ever for showing the series to him at that age); and these two nominees, both considered some of the best of the decade, were filmed at the same time almost right next to each other-in fact, one of them had to shut down filming for the day when the other’s set created a giant cloud of black smoke testing out pyrotechnics for the movie.

2005 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2005

Batman Begins

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Sin City

A History of Violence

Serenity

V for Vendetta

Diary of a Mad Black Woman

2005 in Review

Brokeback Mountain: B+

Good Night, and Good Luck: B

Munich: B

Capote: B

Crash: C- (Won Best Picture)

I’m going to join the chorus and agree with the majority opinion that Brokeback Mountain should have easily won Best Picture over Crash. Brokeback Mountain, even in today’s environment where mainstream movies and TV shows are willing to seriously deal with LGBT themes, is a well-acted and well-written film with a lot of nuance; Crash isn’t really any of those things (although the acting is perfectly fine), but it won, and it fits perfectly in with the Academy’s shaky track-record historically when it comes to what films about race to honor (i.e. Driving Miss Daisy winning the same year Do the Right Thing wasn’t nominated). Beyond Crash though, this was a really solid year with four good movies that were worthy of their nominations.

For 2006: Seven different languages are spoken/signed in this film; Martin Scorsese didn’t realize he was directing a remake until after he signed on; A foreign-language film that was ineligible for the Best Foreign Language Film category; This film features both Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris, pre-Breaking Bad, and is also set in Albuquerque; and Helen Mirren won both an Oscar (for this movie) and later a Tony for portraying the same person.

2004 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2004

The Incredibles

The Passion of the Christ

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Shaun of the Dead

The Motorcycle Diaries

The Sea Inside

Mean Girls

Fahrenheit 9/11

The Notebook

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Saw

Team America: World Police

Kung Fu Hustle

Hotel Rwanda

Before Sunset

Howl’s Moving Castle

Downfall

2004 Nominees in Review

Sideways: A

Million Dollar Baby: B+ (Won Best Picture)

Ray: B-

The Aviator: C+

Finding Neverland: C

I liked Million Dollar Baby, and it’s one of the better nominees of the last 5 years or so from this project…but Sideways is just terrific. I’m glad it got at least some recognition from the Academy (winning Best Adapted Screenplay), but I would have easily given it Best Picture. The other three nominees (all based on true stories actually), are pretty pedestrian as a group, with The Aviator being the biggest disappointment to me, and another underwhelming film from Scorsese from this period from 2002-2013 where five of his six films got nominated (compared to his career from 1967-2001 where only three of his films got nominated). Still, any year with multiple really strong films is fairly good in my book.

For 2005: Ang Lee’s was called the “pride of Chinese people all over the world” after his Oscar win for this movie…which was banned from being shown in China; This was (oddly enough) the first of two films about Truman Capote researching and writing his novel “In Cold Blood” that were released to acclaim in back-to-back years; Oddly enough, this film had its first screening previous to the first screening of the previous Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby-both of which were written by Paul Haggis; George Clooney was paid $1 each to star, write and produce this movie so that it could maintain a low budget; and Guri Weinberg plays his real-life father, Moshe Weinberg, in the movie, who the first victim of the Munich Olympics massacre.

2003 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2003

Finding Nemo

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Monster

The Station Agent

American Splendor

Kill Bill: Volume 1

The Room

Dogville

Oldboy

A Tale of Two Sisters

The Triplets of Belleville

Old School

Memories of Murder

Fog of War

2003 Nominees in Review

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: B

Lost in Translation: B

Mystic River: B-

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: B- (Won Best Picture)

Seabiscuit: C

A pretty weak year by my estimation, and that’s mainly because I just didn’t like Return of the King anywhere near as much as most people do. Master and Commander or Mystic River probably would have won in a different year, but alas this was the Academy’s turn to reward the Lord of the Rings trilogy all at once after the previous two installments failed to win any Oscars in the major categories. Considering how weak the slate of nominees this year was, I have no problem with RotK winning despite it being my fourth favorite of the year.

For 2004: Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her performance playing a 4-time Oscar winner; This is Dustin Hoffman’s second Peter Pan-related film after playing the title character in Hook; Oddly enough, this is the third straight Warner Brothers movie to win Best Picture that co-starred Morgan Freeman (after Driving Miss Daisy and Unforgiven); Jamie Foxx wore eye prosthetics that actually made him blind throughout the filming; and this film caused a 20% spike in sales of Pinot Noir around the time of its release.

2002 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2002

Spider-Man

About Schmidt

Catch Me If You Can

Talk to Her

Adaptation

Bowling for Columbine

Far from Heaven

Hero

Infernal Affairs

City of God

2002 in Review

The Pianist: A-

Chicago (Won Best Picture): B+

The Hours: B-

Gangs of New York: B-

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: B-

Another very solid year, although a slight step down from last year in my opinion. I have no problem with Chicago winning Best Picture-even if I thought The Pianist was better, Chicago was the more consistent film a

nd it executed its concept about as well as could be done. It’s still one of my favorite musicals ever. The second installment of the LotR trilogy was still good, but for obvious reasons felt less focused and was less interesting to me than its predecessor, The Hours was uneven but had its moments, and Gangs of New York was a disappointing effort from one of the great directors, but was redeemed by an exceptional performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

For 2003: A winner of 11 Academy Awards and the longest Best Picture winner since The Godfather: Part II; Soffia Coppola didn’t know if Bill Murray would actually show up to do the movie, as they only had a verbal agreement with the famously eccentric star-he finally did show up on the day of filming, and it ended up being his favorite film that he ever made; one of only a handful of modern movies with an entirely male credited cast; one of only five films to win both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor; and War Admiral in this film was actually “played” by one of his descendents, a horse named Verboom.

But first: I’ve been through 75 years of Academy Award Ceremonies and will now go through my Best of the first 75 years of Oscar. For this, I’m not adhering strictly to my letter grades or old rankings, and will be going more based off what I’m feeling at this moment now.

2001 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2001

Mulholland Dr.

Shrek

Monsters Inc.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Amelie

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone

Donnie Darko

Ghost World

Spirited Away

Monster’s Ball

Freddie Got Fingered

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

2001 Nominees in Review

The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring: A-

In the Bedroom: B+

Moulin Rouge!: B

Gosford Park: B

A Beautiful Mind: B- (Won Best Picture)

One of the best fields ever in my opinion, even if the least interesting movie won Best Picture. A Beautiful Mind is competently made and Crowe gives a strong performance, but everything else about it was unremarkable, especially in comparison to the groundbreaking effects and scope of Fellowship of the Ring, the bold risks in style for Moulin Rouge!, the intelligence of Gosford Park or the real feeling of human drama of In the Bedroom.

For 2002: John C Reilly joins Claudette Colbert, Charles Laughton and Adolphe Menjou as actors to appear in three Best Picture nominees in the same year (and the only one in the five nominee era). Also: a movie based on the longest-running American musical in Broadway history; the first of many team-ups between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio; Nicole Kidman won Best Actress despite being in the film for only 28 minutes, the fewest of the three main female actresses in it: the first direct sequel to be nominated for Best Picture when the original did not win (as was the case with The Godfather Parts II and III, and The Bells of St. Mary’s); and Adrien Brody became the youngest person to win Best Actor at age 29.

2000 in Review

One Notable (Short) Film from 2000

I have a huge soft spot for animation and once again, I will be discussing an animated film-the difference is this time, it’s from a solo animator, and one of the most unique voices in filmmaking of his generation. Today, we look at Don Hertzfeldt’s breakout animated short, Rejected.

Rejected came about as a germ of an idea Hertzfeldt had after the success of his previous short, Billy’s Balloon (a movie shown in competition at Cannes and winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance about balloons gaining sentience and deciding to attack children)-he was offered work doing commercials. Hertzfeldt, being the violently anti-corporate man that he is, turned them down but jokingly in the back of his mind thought about accepting the jobs only to create the worst cartoons possible and see if they would make it to air. This led to Rejected, a 10-minute animated short about an animator making commercials for companies that keep getting rejected for being too surreal and eventually leads to the animator’s full-on mental breakdown.

It became one of the most popular and oft-bootlegged cartoons during the early days of the internet because it was endlessly quotable, surreal and extremely violent. Amazingly enough, it was nominated for an Academy Award despite it’s style and content. Rejected is still very enjoyable and entertaining, but it feels like the closing chapter on the first part of Hertzfeldt’s career (and couples well with Billy’s Balloon in tone and content), although Lily and Jim, his excellent 1997 short about a blind date that goes wrong, sticks out as something of a preview for his later work.

So how do you follow up an extremely popular violent and goofy animated short? With a completely different direction-a series of abstract looks at subjects like humanity, mental illness and life itself. The culmination of which was his most recent short, the thought provoking but still humorous World of Tomorrow, which was also nominated for an Academy Award (with many were sad that it didn’t win). Hertzfeldt is an uncompromising iconoclast in all the best ways and his work is well worth seeking out, no matter where your tastes lie.

Other Notable Films from 2000

In the Mood for Love

Cast Away

X-Men

Almost Famous

American Psycho

Battle Royale

Best in Show

Battlefield Earth and Dungeons & Dragons

Memento

Requiem for a Dream

High Fidelity

Snatch

Amores Perro

2000 in Review

Traffic: B

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: B

Gladiator: C+ (Won Best Picture)

Erin Brockovich: C+

Chocolat: C

2000 was one of the worst years for nominees in ages, the first since 1988 to not have a movie rated above a B by my standards (and I would take Working Girl over either Traffic or Crouching Tiger without hesitation). Gladiator really is a redux of Braveheart, an above average movie that made big money and had an epic enough feel that it somehow won Best Picture; at least it didn’t rob anything especially memorable for the award. It was also a year where movies like Almost Famous, Requiem for a Dream, even Cast Away were better BP options among those that received nominations in other categories. At least 2001 looks much better in comparison, so I’m looking forward to that.

For 2001: Russell Crowe continues to dominate the Oscars, starring in his third straight BP nominee and second straight winner; Downton Abbey was originally conceived as a spin-off of this movie; it made $43 million despite never entering the Top 10 at the box office; this movie made so much money for New Zealand that they created a Minister position to take advantage of all the economic opportunities the film series provided them; and the first live-action musical to get a BP nomination in 22 years.

1999 in Review

One Notable Film from 1999

One thing I’ve always enjoyed is documentaries that explore unique subcultures in-depth, the ones that have their own interesting little worlds but are often either unknown or overlooked by the public at large. One of the best examples of this kind of movie is the film I’m talking about today-Barry Blaustein’s inside look at the world of professional wrestling, Beyond the Mat.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been a wrestling fan, as a wonderfully unique combination of athleticism and theater that you can’t really compare to anything else. In one way, Beyond the Mat serves a wonderful time capsule of the biggest boom period in the history of American wrestling: the Attitude Era from 1998-2001. For pretty much the only time in the history of the company, an outsider actually got backstage access to document things going on the road and it really captures the flavor of the wrestling business and its carny roots (in the U.S. anyway) that never went away. Beyond just the glamour of being at the top of the wrestling business in the WWF and Mick Foley’s story (which has a lot of darkness to it as well), it also documents both the ups and downs-from Koko B. Ware scraping by at indie shows, to the renegade and sometimes downright scary ECW, to Terry Funk’s inability to finally hang up the boots even though his wife desperately wants him to retire, and finally to Jake Roberts and his issues with drug addiction and his estranged daughter. I think it does a better job giving a fair assessment of the industry as it was (most of which is still accurate) and gives a glimpse into the lives of the crazy stuntmen and entertainers we call professional wrestlers than any other film, except for maybe Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, a film heavily inspired by Beyond the Mat (with Randy the Ram basically being a combination of Jake Roberts and Terry Funk).

Other Notables from 1999

The Matrix

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Toy Story 2

All About My Mother

Boys Don’t Cry

Magnolia

American Pie

Being John Malkovich

Audition

The Boondock Saints

Election

Eyes Wide Shut

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Fight Club

The Iron Giant

Office Space

Three Kings

1999 in Review

The Insider: A-

The Sixth Sense: B

American Beauty: B- (Won Best Picture)

The Green Mile: B-

The Cider House Rules: C

1999 is one of the strongest years in terms of IMDB ratings (4 of the five being rated at 7.9 or above), but for me it was just a really good year instead of a great one because I didn’t like American Beauty or The Green Mile as much as most people. It was also an odd year, in that it was the last where only two of the five nominees actually won any awards (American Beauty and The Cider House Rules). Instead of American Beauty, I would have given Best Picture to The Insider, a film that has aged infinitely better; the only major group that agreed with me without the benefit of hindsight was the L.A. Film Critics Association, who’s voting in general looks sterling compared to the Oscars: in the 90s alone, they gave Best Picture to Goodfellas over Dances with Wolves, Pulp Fiction over Forrest Gump, Leaving Las Vegas over Braveheart, Secrets & Lies over The English Patient, L.A. Confidential over Titanic, Saving Private Ryan over Shakespeare in Love and The Insider over American Beauty. I think they deserve a round of applause and a lot of respect.

Well, the 90s have come and gone, with the most significant development Oscar wise being the rise of Miramax as a powerhouse indie studio-they had a Best Picture nominee every year from 1993-2004, which not coincidentally was the last year the Weinsteins were at Miramax. This was due in part not only to the studio’s highbrow leanings, but also to Harvey Weinstein revolutionizing Oscar campaigning. On the whole, the 90s was definitely a better decade than the 80s as far as nominees go. I’m not sure what the 2000s have in store exactly, although there are some clear highlights including a trilogy I have somehow avoided seeing before.

For 2000: Miramax’s Oscar campaigning prowess get another unexceptional Lasse Hallstrom film nominated for Best Picture; the high grossing foreign language film in U.S. history and the one nominated for the most Oscars; Steven Soderbergh becomes the most recent director to have multiple Best Picture nominees in the same year; and the only Best Picture winner that Roger Ebert and his co-host (at this point, Richard Roeper) both gave a thumbs down to.