By Leo K. Moncel and Shane McNeil
In this thrilling reversal of year-end-list-glee, Shane McNeil and I sound off on movies we wanted to like, but couldn’t, good stuff that was supposed to happen, but didn’t, and general dickery in the film world. It’s gripetime.
Leo K. Moncel’s Three Biggest Disappointments of 2008
1. Passchendaele (Dir: Paul Gross)
Mud: the real star of WWI.
Paul Gross did a fine job directing. He even pulled off playing (less than?) half his age surprisingly convincingly. The dialogue edged on trite but respected the voice of the times. So why was this my first great disappointment of 2008? Because I was expecting to see a war movie.
Understand, I don’t think I have ever complained that a movie I was watching was not war-y enough. It’s just that this picture was packaged and presented as a war movie and not a prairie romance set against the First World War. But even putting my expectations aside, I found that the prairie romance component of the story (1 hr 20 or so of the 2 hr running time) was not as well executed as the war part. The romance plot sags at times, and the lead female character’s greatest challenge is overcome with a montage sequence.
I suspect Gross was thinking that with a split prairie romance/brutal war flick, he’d have a larger potential audience and thus stand a better chance recovering his (unprecedented in Canuck cinema) 20 million dollar budget, the lion’s share of which went into staging the war. Since he has a good sense of the aesthetics for it, somebody should give Paul Gross 50 million bucks to do a war-only flick. Oh yeah, and tell him to write a climax he really believes while he’s at it.
2. Quantum of Solace (Dir: Marc Forster)
Should’ve been more. It should’ve been more like Casino Royale than Casino Royale was: simple, dark, and grounded in physical reality. Remember the scene in Royale where the two bodyguards are right outside Bond’s hotel room door with assault rifles? That was an incredibly simple set-up, but it was expertly handled, and it was almost as heart-pounding as the stake-outs in No Country for Old Men. Compare that with any action sequence in Quantum, and tell me Quantum didn’t taste stale.
Complicated is not the same as complex, and a movie is not superior because it includes more locations.
3. Synecdoche, New York (Dir: Charlie Kaufman)
George: We watch people reading. Jerry: We watch people <em>reading?</em>
I love Charlie Kaufman. He’s one of my all-time favourite creative people (there’s a list, it only has five names on it.) But this film confirmed what I have suspected for some time – Kaufman’s brilliance lies in his creative freedom, and he functions best with a firm hand to rein in his impulses and give shape to the brilliant material he produces.
Charlie Kaufman as a director is directionless. The sum of my complaint against Synecdoche is that it has nowhere to go after the first 40 minutes. The story runs dry of events to play out, and the cast are left stranded pedaling stationary bicycles – moving but not progressing. Philip Seymour Hoffman is trying his damnedest to make this interesting, but his character is missing the very first thing actors demand – a motivation.
Shane McNeil’s Three Biggest Disappointments of 2008
1. Steve Carrell
OK, Mr. Scott. We get it. You’re on one of the most watched and funniest TV shows on the air right now, and, unlike when you did Little Miss Sunshine (probably your best turn on the big screen), you no longer need the money from the film industry. If that’s the case, please stop inundating us with your terrible role choices.
Seriously, this has gone on too long. The 40 Year Old Virgin did give you some license to cash in but not so much that we should have been made to sit through the horror-show that was Get Smart. Especially after you inflicted Evan Almighty and Dan in Real Life on us last year.
You’re capable of so much better, and we’ve done nothing to deserve this.
2. Where’s Harry?
Harry Potter and the Greedy Studio Execs
We were left without the sixth installment of the Harry Potter series this year, despite all reports having dictated that it was ready to go. The blame for this one goes almost exclusively on the shoulders of Warner Bros. Entertainment Weekly even had to re-jig fall preview issues after the studio wussed on us.
The reasoning behind the move, by all accounts, was to boost its opening box office take by launching it on what’s now the prime release date: the May long weekend. Really? Really, Warner? The millions and millions of our dollars you grossed from The Dark Knight wasn’t enough this year? You had to move something a lot of kids and adults were looking forward to just so you could push The Half Blood Prince’s box office totals from a puny $300-400 million into the $500-million stratosphere? You cut us real deep on this one, and you know what the worst part of it is?
Your strategy is going to work perfectly, and HP6 will be 2009’s top grosser.
3. The TIFF backlash
So, remember when TIFF opened this year, and the papers called it the ‘festival of the elite‘ and wrote all these smear campaigns about how it was irrelevant? The local and national media came out, guns a-blazin’, and railed on the festival for no longer being audience friendly, for being too expensive, and for having a weak crop of films.
The year's best... documentary?!
Let’s dissect this one for a minute, shall we? Yeah, the $40 Visa Screening Room charge kinda blew, but did you really miss anything that special by not going? Burn After Reading, Blindness, and Che all disappointed and bombed upon getting released, anyway. The way I see it, the only people this hurt were the ones who were only going to see Brad Pitt. Let the fest milk them a bit, I think it’s their right.
Most of the films that screened at the Visa Room also got screenings the Ryerson Theatre or some other small one, and the stars often showed up at those, too. I’ll grant that the whole AMC procedure was a pain, but once you got inside, weren’t you glad you weren’t in the Cumberland? I was.
Oh, and as for the crop of weak films? Look at your Oscar predictions and the year-end Top 10’s. Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married, Waltz with Bashir, JCVD, Happy Go-Lucky. What do they all have in common? You know the answer, and so do I.