The Movie Club

Anna Faris, The Dark Knight, and Plastic Surgery
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 5 2009 4:10 PM

The Movie Club

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Dear Colleagues,

Thanks so much for joining me for this, Slate's 11th annual Movie Club, our chance to kvell and kvetch about the films of 2008. Movie Club always turns out to be my favorite workweek of the year. After the mad onslaught of December awards releases (which the Times' David Carr aptly compared to "drinking from a firehose"), it's such a treat to kick back and think about whatever moved us, provoked us, or annoyed us enough to persist in memory, regardless of prestige level, release date, or marketing budget.

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens
Jeannette Catsoulis writes about film for the New York Times, Reverse Shot, and Las Vegas CityLife. Lisa Schwarzbaum is a movie critic at Entertainment Weekly. Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic. Jessica Winter is the film critic and senior editor at O, the Oprah MagazineStephanie Zacharek is a senior writer and film critic for Salon.

When the club convened early last year, there seemed to be a consensus that 2007 had been a bumper-crop year for movies. Everyone's top-10 list looked like a bouncer's clipboard at a velvet-rope club, with extra contenders elbowing their way forward: Would There Will Be Blood beat No Country for Old Men? (At the Oscars, no. In my heart, yes.) And there were so many movies that caused near-universal swoons: Ratatouille, The Lives of Others, Once, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Compiling the list for 2008 was tougher; I'll confess that, while I admired every movie I chose, in a stronger year some of them might have felt like filler. Did any of you find it similarly hard to sift the gems from 2008's dross? I'm not trying to get all end-is-nigh on you here, but didn't this year's field feel a little fallow? Not one of the posh holiday Oscar-seekers made me sit up and say "Wow"—maybe "How did he do that?" (David Fincher in Benjamin Button) or "Damn, she nailed that line reading" (Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road)—but never "wow." My joys came earlier in the year, many of them in surprising places: Is it possible that Anna Faris' itinerant centerfold in The House Bunny was the breakout performance of the year? And after an endless summer of limp, one-laugh-per-half-hour dude comedies (Pineapple Express, Stepbrothers), how big a relief was it to finally crack up at the pumped-up, joke-crammed Tropic Thunder?

Then there were those movies that seemed important at the time but have diminished in retrospect. For me, one of these was The Dark Knight. Somehow, in July, I was able to look past the bombast and, if not adore, at least admire Christopher Nolan's gloomy allegory for … something really significant and topical. Now, all that remains is the image of those impossibly huge office towers (crisply shot by cinematographer Wally Pfister) and the beautiful malice of Heath Ledger's Joker. By the time I bought a Batman-branded bag of Reese's Pieces at a 7-Eleven in August, everything else seemed a distant memory. Lisa, TDK is third on your 10-best list, and Stephanie, you found it the worst superhero movie of the year—talk to me, please. As Joan Armatrading sang, "I am not in love/ But I'm open to persuasion."

And as long as I'm quoting Joan Armatrading, one last thought: For the first time ever, we're running an all-girl Movie Club in 2009. I could spin some zeitgeisty theory about why—something involving Hillary Clinton's or Sarah Palin's candidacies or Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy"—but the truth is that I just wanted to talk movies with you all and to highlight the work of the many great female critics out there. We needn't discuss anything prototypically "feminine"—though the mere question of what that might mean could make for a great conversation. But the truth is, we sit in the movie theater with whatever body we have, and if that body's gender happens to inform our viewing experience somehow, why not talk about it?

So before I pass the baton to Lisa, I'll raise another topic that we've all discussed, freely and hilariously, over drinks but tend to approach gingerly in print: What is the state of plastic surgery on-screen in 2008? And why is this topic so hard to broach without descending (or seeming to descend) into the "what has she had done?" realm of celebrity gossip? Are we entitled to ask what's become of the once expressively mobile faces we come to the movies to see?

Yours,
Dana