Films that made 2008 - and some for 2009

Emma Lee Pierce Brosnan singing Abba? Russell Brand starring in a Disney film? Indiana Jones coming out of retirement? Grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy EMMA LEE’s review of 2008 at the movies – and a sneak preview of the films coming our way in 2009.

Emma Lee

Mamma Mia! What a great year 2008 was for dungaree manufacturers, the Greek tourist board and Abba. Who would have thought that the unashamedly cheesy big screen adaptation of the unashamedly cheesy musical would overtake the mighty Titanic as the highest grossing movie ever to be released in the UK?

But the credit crunch and prospect of Pierce Brosnan's singing proved to be an irresistible combination. What better way to lift our spirits than two hours of pure escapism?

Mamma Mia's plot is paper thin - bride-to-be Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to find her dad. It could be one of three men - Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth) or Bill (Stellan Skarsgard). Chaos - and much off-key warbling - ensues when she summons them to the Greek island where she and her mother, the denim dungaree-loving Donna (Meryl Streep) have been living.

Check your cynicism in at the door, and it's the perfect antidote to the doom and gloom in the headlines.

And how refreshing to see Meryl (who's been nominated for a Golden Globe) and her co-stars Julie Walters and Christine Baranski - all women of a certain age - stealing the spotlight and upstaging the young upstarts.

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It was also the perfect antidote to all the testosterone-fuelled Oscar-nominated bloke films which were showing at the start of the year, such as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Predictably, both did sweep to glory at the Oscars. The annual glitzy pat-on-the-back fest had been under threat because of the writers' strike. But it was all right on the night. The Coen brothers won the best director and picture statuettes for No Country for Old Men. And Daniel Day-Lewis won best actor for his portrayal of the menacing Daniel “I drink your milkshake” Plainview in There Will Be Blood.

However, as always, there were a few surprises, with the lesser known Marion Cotillard picking up the best actress Oscar for her turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose.

At the beginning of the year, Hollywood was rocked by the untimely death of one its rising stars, Heath Ledger. The Australian actor, who had received an Oscar nomination for his role in Brokeback Mountain, was killed by an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, aged just 28. Said to be reaching the peak of his career, one of his last roles was as the Joker in the latest Batman film, the Dark Knight, and he's widely tipped to be awarded a posthumous Oscar. Starring Christian Bale as an altogether darker and more troubled caped crusader, it was another of the year's highest grossing films.

As was the first instalment of Disney's High School Musical to hit the big screen, the all-singing all-dancing Senior Year, which smashed the pre-release ticket sale record. While Troy and Gabriella went off to college as the credits rolled, we get the feeling that it won't be our last visit to East High.

The latest Pixar animation, WALL-E, enchanted audiences young and old during the summer holidays. It's the story of the eponymous last robot on earth who's left with the unenviable task of cleaning up the mess that humankind has left behind. It's surprisingly moving for a cartoon.

We'd been holding out for a hero - and in 2008 two of them made a welcome return. Indiana Jones came out of retirement for a new adventure - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, while the blond Bond Daniel Craig was on brooding good form in the Quantum of Solace.

Boxing Day turned out to be one of the biggest film release days of the year, with Baz Luhrmann's long-awaited epic Australia (starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman) and Disney's big holiday family movie Bedtime Stories (starring Adam Sandler and Russell Brand - yes, you did read that right) going head to head.

And Norfolk lit up the big screen twice. Holkham Hall and Cley marshes provided the setting for the Duchess. Keira Knightley came of age playing the tragic socialite Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire in UEA graduate Saul Dibb's gripping costume drama.

The magnificent Palladian house also starred, alongside Norwich Cathedral, Elm Hill, Elveden Hall and Peckover House in Wisbech in Dean Spanley.

A shaggy dog story set in Edwardian England, it explores the often fractious relationship between father and son, with solid performances from Peter O'Toole, Sam Neil, Jeremy Northam and Bryan Brown.

Of course, 2008 served up a few turkeys too. Here are our celluloid crimes of the year.

t Sex and the City: How could we forget the year's biggest let down? It had the clothes. It's just a shame that it didn't have the plot. Or the snappy dialogue. While we loved the TV series, and women - and a few reluctant other halves - flocked to the cinema to see it, we can't help feeling that Carrie and co should have been left living happily ever after in 2004.

t 27 Dresses: It was a pretty bad year for the rom-com. But 27 Dresses was the one that made us cringe the most. There was no com and pretty little rom. But there was plenty of product placement for an American chain of coffee shops. The leads, Katherine Heigl and James Franco, who are normally quite reliable, were let down by a crushingly predictable plot.

t Star Wars - the Clone Wars: Could the Star Wars franchise possibly be milked any more? Oh yes. Even die-hard Star Wars fans who managed to forgive the Phantom Menace found this substandard animation hard to digest.

t Any comedy film advertised with a poster featuring red writing on a white background: At some point thefilm studios seem to have got together and decided that all comedy film posters must feature red writing on a white background - that red writing is somehow shorthand for hilarity. Recent examples include Four Christmases and My Best Friend's Girl (see also historical examples such as the Wedding Crashers and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry). But the message is generally the same - steer clear, laughter-free waste of two hours approaching.

WATCH OUT FOR...

Some of the films that EDP2 is looking forward to seeing in 2009 - perhaps to help cure the post-Christmas blues:

t Slumdog Millionaire: Actually, we've already had a sneak preview of this film, the latest from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle. Skins alum Dev Patel (he played the unlucky-in-love Anwar) is a revelation in this exhilarating, brutal, inventive and ultimately heartwarming tale about a young man from the Mumbai slums who wins big on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

t The Lovely Bones: The long-awaited big screen adaptation of Alice Sebold's haunting novel of the same name is slated for release in March, with Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson at the helm and a cast including Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, and Lowestoft's rising star Reece Ritchie.

t Frost/Nixon: Ron Howard directs this gripping retelling of the post-Watergate interviews between David Frost (Michael Sheen) and Richard Nixon (Frank Langhella). It's out in January and is tipped for Oscar glory.

t Star Trek: Captain Kirk, Spock et al are back on board the Starship Enterprise as JJ “Lost” Abrams brings Star Trek back to the big screen. The cast includes Simon Pegg. Release date TBC.

t Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: You know the drill. The boy wizard and his pals return to the multiplex just in time for the school holidays and magic up heaps of cash. Ker-ching.

t Cadillac Records: Beyonce Knowles takes centre stage in this biopic of the singer Etta James.

t The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Terry Gilliam films are always a curiosity (see: Brazil, Time Bandits). But this is even more of one - it's the film Heath Ledger was in the middle of filming before his untimely death last January. The remainder of his role is being played by Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law.

t Sherlock Holmes: Cor blimey strike a light guvnor. Our favourite sleuth is given the Guy Ritchie treatment, with reformed bad boy Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law heading the cast. It's out in November - but faces competition from a rival Sherlock Holmes adaptation starring comedy powerhouses Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen.

t Bruno: Speaking of which, we're looking forward to seeing Borat creator Baron Cohen causing more mischief on the big screen. This time there's chaos on the catwalks courtesy of his camp alter-ego Bruno.

t Nottingham: Will Russell Crowe be donning green tights for Ridley Scott's retelling of the Robin Hood story? Has Bryan Adams been recruited to do the theme tune?

t He's Just Not That Into You: This is a strange one - a film of a self-help book. Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson and Drew Barrymore negotiate the tricky world of dating in this rom-com based on the best-selling book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.t Bride Wars: Here at EDP2 we just can't resist a girly rom-com. So we're sad to say we're really looking forward to Bride Wars. Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson star as gal pals who have a big bust-up when they realise they're due to get hitched on the same day. Cue lots of hissy fits. It's out January.