Hot and Not - The Winners and The Losers from 2008

The Dark Knight aside, 2008 would have to go down as a pretty underwhelming year in the grand scheme of things. A lot of promise, hype and pedigree culminated in an end product that was more often than not, well, kinda crap really. But it wasn’t all bad and there were some clear winners last year with some real breakout performances delivered along with some more established players cementing their status as genuine heavy hitters. 2008 also produced its fair share of monumental, cataclysmic screen bombs that might not necessarily sink careers, but have certainly sunk a few franchises. So here is a brief summary of who made out last year and who will likely spend 2009 wandering the wastelands of career wilderness.

What’s Hot?


brolinJosh Brolin – Following his epic breakout supporting roles in such prestigious vehicles as American Gangster and In The Valley of Elah, capped off with a matured lead in Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men; Josh Brolin scored big in 2008. A quietly understated performance as the conflicted and unstable city councilman in Gus Van Sant’s Milk came hot on the heels of a star making turn in Oliver Stone’s ultimately rather pointless biopic of number 43, where Josh amazingly managed to make Georgie and his daddy issues almost sympathetic. If there is one drawback he is now almost certainly too famous for The Goonies sequel.


jamesmcavoyJames McAvoy – Skillfully avoiding the fate of many a British male export, eternity in period costume drama hell, McAvoy built on his devastating turn in 2007’s Attonement by showcasing another side to his game starring opposite Angelina Jolie’s lips in the gloriously silly assassin saga Wanted. Given the sad fact that the closest thing we have these days to an Arnie or a Sly is Jason fricken Statham, the fact that McAvoy compliments his jaw-dropping good looks with an uncanny ability to actually act could well propel him towards the kind of star status the genre has been badly hurting for.


markstrongMark Strong – Solid character acting combined with a savvy knack for choosing a tasty project have seen this Brit TV bit-parter slowly climb the exposure tree attaching himself to directors the likes of Danny Boyle and George Clooney along the way. Despite some disappointing numbers Strong has done himself no harm at all in 2008, quietly acting both Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe off the screen in Body of Lies alongside a measured performance in Guy Ritchie’s comeback crime caper RocknRolla. Next up are high-profile supporting roles in Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and Ridley Scott’s Nottingham. Watch this space.


katewinsletKate Winslet – Another banner year from little miss reliable, once more showcasing everything we have come to expect from this chameleonic actress: fearless choice of roles (The Reader – a concentration camp guard at Christmas time?), commanding yet layered performances and copious amounts of incidental nudity. Critics were out in force for the perennial Oscar bridesmaid shouting from the rooftops that this surely had to be her year for a statue. It was. Who was her chief competition? Chiefly, that chick in Revolutionary Road.


cloverfieldHandheld Horror – The true test of cultural relevance these days seems to be how quickly South Park chooses to make fun of you. By that measure and the kind of mega buzz the likes of Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and Spanish import [*REC] generated, general consensus seems to be that we’re dealing with a true phenomenon here. Yes, it’s absolutely preposterous (surely if they put the camera away they could run faster?) and more than a little nauseating. But it’s immediate, it’s visceral and given a choice between this and more Saw movies, most of us will gladly take the headache.


What’s Not?


markwahlberganimalsMark Wahlberg – Last year produced the kind of collective critical venom that would make ole Marky long for the heady glory days of The Funky Bunch. It’s long been suspected that Wahlberg does his best work as part of ensemble under a forceful director who knows what he wants and how to get it (see Boogie Nights, The Departed). Give him a movie to carry and the result is often an unmitigated disaster (see The Shooter, Rock Star). 91 minutes of running around looking rather vacant in The Happening followed by some sub-daytime soap brooding in the theoretically un-fuck-up-able role of damaged copper Max Payne left little to dissuade his critics. Then there is that SNL impersonation, which is striking simply for just how uncanny it is; that’s not down to Andy Samberg, Mark. That’s down to you.


shyamalan1M. Night Shyamalan – People dismissed doubts about Signs on the grounds a lot of people actually like it. They dismissed The Village as a mere stumble and then dismissed doubts about Lady in the Water because, well, no one is really sure why with that one. But the man with more lives than a sack full of cats who has been living off the glories of a semi-ingenious twist for almost a decade may now have finally been exposed as the flimflam artist he really is. A massively underwritten, piss-poor global warming allegory where people run screaming from the wind – the wind! – The Happening was the worst kind of unregulated self-indulgence. The fact that he is seeking financing for his next project all the way over in Bollywood shows just how low his studio system stock really is right now.


delgo_posterMarc Adler – Most people probably have no idea at all who Marc Adler is, and there really isn’t much reason why anyone should. Like a lot of people Marc thought he would try his hand at making a film, and like a lot of people it didn’t really work out for him. No big deal, unless like Mark you’re a tech industry entrepreneur who sank seven years and $40 million of your fortune into an animated feature written by you and your buddies. The end product, alien world at war saga Delgo was the kind of clunky, jittering mess that wouldn’t cut it as an intro to a Wii title. Opening to a grand total of $694,782 on 2160 screens (that’s $237 per screen) Delgo has the dubious honor of being the worst performing wide release of all time.


shorts-guruMike Myers – In a year where some of his contemporaries scored big with crowd pleasing comebacks (Ben Stiller – Tropic Thunder, Adam Sandler – Zohan) Myers really shit the bed with his painfully unfunny ethnic comedy The Love Guru. Recycling his so tired its practically sleepwalking shtick from previous films (the zen like philosophy of Wayne Campbell, the innuendo of Austin Powers) and his pathological obsession with midgets, Myers delivered a performance so devoid of comedic sensibility you genuinely wonder how you ever found the man appealing.


indiana-jones-crystal-skull-posterOverly Belated Sequels – and there were a few weren’t there? First Chris Carter rolled out the badly in need of a paycheck Gillian Anderson and the contractually obliged David Duchovney for The X-Files: I Want to Believe. The bigger question was not whether anyone still believed, but more did anyone really give a crap anymore? The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was so bad it not only managed to waste both Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh (which is like falling into the sea and failing to get wet) but it wasn’t even the most anticipated father/son archeological adventure of the summer. No, that honor went to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Terrible Ideas whose chief accomplishment was to add a new phrase to the English language to describe supreme levels of narrative incompetence. No more does one “jump the shark.” Instead one now “nukes the fridge.”


Gee, George, thanks for that.


So there you go. That’s my list. What’s on yours?

Neil Pedley • Associate Editor

Neil is a film school graduate from England now living in New York. In addition to JustPressPlay, Neil writes about for Uinterview.com as well as being a columist and weekly podcast host at IFC.com. His free time is spent acting out scenes from Predator in the woods behind his house, playing all the different parts himself.


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