A look back at good times and troubling trends

As 2008 nears an end, it’s clear that this was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, actually, I’m not sure it was the best of times, but it’s always reassuring to start out with a Dickens quote.

A look back on ’08 actually offers proof that there were some good times — but there were also some troubling trends.

  • It was a difficult year for film titles: “Quantum of Solace”; “Synecdoche, New York”; “Nights in Rodanthe”; “Passchendaele”; “Drillbit Taylor”; “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist”; “Zack & Miri Make a Porno”; and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.”

  • It was certainly a tough year for children. In “Australia” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” the youngsters are orphaned, slapped around, threatened with murder and covered in crap. Dakota Fanning got abused in “The Secret Life of Bees” and raped in “Hounddog.” God only knows what happened to the boy in “Doubt.” And don’t even ask about the kids in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” But all these children had an easy time of it compared with the little nippers in “Changeling.”

  • It was a good year for actors over 50. Harrison Ford proved that 65-year-olds can be action heroes, Clint Eastwood kicked the butt of a teenager, Meryl Streep hit a personal best at the box office, and Ben Kingsley made out with Mary-Kate Olsen in “The Wackness.” Frank Langella, Mickey Rourke and Richard Jenkins gave breakthrough performances — at a time when a lot of actors get more mannered and hammy, or are relegated to a few lines as the feisty grandparent.

  • It was a big year for No. 2 pencils, since Heath Ledger’s the Joker found a new (and unforgettable) use for one in “The Dark Knight.”

  • With boffo B.O. for “Sex and the City,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Twilight,” it was a great year for women, but not for “The Women.”

  • The 1970s live on, as “Frost/Nixon” and “Milk” served as vivid reminders of that era, while “Mamma Mia!” confirmed that ’70s group Abba will be with us for the rest of our lives.

  • It was a groovy year for druggies (“Pineapple Express,” “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” “Tropic Thunder,” “The Wackness”) and recovering druggies (“Rachel Getting Married”).

  • It’s a wonderful year for death. The holidays bring not one, not two, but three big Hollywood star vehicles about mortality: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Gran Torino” and “Seven Pounds.”

  • Jon Favreau had a banner year, directing “Iron Man” (which grossed $582 million). On the other hand, he’ll have to put up with endless confusion over the fact that Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter is someone named Jon Favreau.

  • It was a tough year for awards shows. Two words: Golden Globes. Six more words: That ceremony hosted by entertainment reporters. Whatever else you say about it, you gotta admit it was a ceremony to remember. And since this column is about movies, it would be gratuitous to take another swipe at the Emmycast. But feel free.

And good luck to all of us in the new year!

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