2008 (awards handed out in 2009) is one of my favorite years in recent memory for motion picture, but that’s just a personal opinion. It saw the loss of a great great talent prematurely and another walked away at his peak because of what he felt was the corruption of Hollywood. It had high spots too, including the ressurection of a one time monster of the cinema. With great movies a even better stories being told there was something for everyone that year.
Taking home the coveted best picture was Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, the heart warming story of a young man’s early life struggles and his desire to have a better life and find the girl he has always loved since he was a young boy. Set in the poverty stricken city of Mumbai, young Jamal is forced to remeber the highs and low’s of his unfortunate childhood while on the Indian version of the game show, Who Want’s To Be A Millionaire. With an ending that manages to be both triumphant and tragic at the same time it moved audiences of all kinds. Truly one of the high points of Danny Boyle’s career who had previously been somewhat of an indie icon. Was it the best picture? Well it had some fierce competition.
As it’s fellow nominees, Slumdog had to compete with the likes of another banner year for Sean Penn with his bio pic Milk and Kate Winslet who finally got her due recognition with a best actress statue for the powerful Holocaust drama, The Reader. Not to mention David Fincher re-teaming with Brad Pitt in an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Finally Ron Howard returned with thunder with the highly dramatic Frost/Nixon.
But what was left of the list may have been just as good or better! We almost saw a superhero movie make the list of nominees with the most successful film of the year, Christopher Nolan’s follow up to his re-boot of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight. No doubt Dark Knight was successful because everyone wanted to catch one last glimpse of the great Heath Ledger who passed away suddenly, shortly after filming. His depiction of The Joker will without question go down as one of the best and most terrifying villain roles and best all around acting performances in the history of cinema. Ledger would win the best supporting actor award posthumously to rousing applause from the audience.
While everyone honored and mourned Ledger that year they without question welcomed back one of the all time bad boys and former great talent and heart throb, Mickey Rourke showed everyone, he still has the talent. He would sadly lose to Sean Penn but The Wrestler is no doubt the feather in the cap of Rourke and will be a film and performance that will transcend time and generation for years to come.It was the moving and raw film from director Darren Arinofsky who made this gem on a show string budget and pulled out acting from it’s three principles not to soon be forgotten. With all due respect to Penn this was and should have been the crescendo to Rourke’s return.
Also left off the list was the incredibley real and well acted, Revolutionary Road. The story of a 1950’s couple struggling to live the life they believe they are expected to and the difficult decisions they are forced to make. This movie was billed as the reunion of DiCaprio and Winslet for the first time since Titanic but it was anything but. The arguing scenes felt so real they could make you almost feel uncomfortable for watching.
That brings us to the religious, controversial Doubt. Based on the play by John Patrick Shanley who rose to fame with his script Moonstruck in 1987. re-written and directed by Shanley powerhouses Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davis who made everyone turn and take notice for the first time. It was a movie that left you questioning how we judge other’s based on the sins of other’s. Hoffman and Streep showdown in memorable fashion that could even leave one jaw open.
So what was the best picture? Slumdog was a fine movie and no doubt worthy of it’s nomination but it may be a cas of outstanding campaigning on behalf of the studios.
With a low budget, no studio faith and almost no one backing it, The Wrestler had nobody but fans and critics to fight for what was one of the most surprising and moving movies of the year. It may have also been the sort of people who judged the movie before seeing that gave it no hope. This was no wrestling movie it was a story of the human spirit and no matter how much it wants to, it doesn’t always triumph.
I have no problem saying I believe The Wrestler was the best picture of the year but anyone could make a case for any of the fine, near perfect films which is why I prefaced this commentary by mentioning what a great year it was for film.