It's nearly fall! That magical time of year when the air gets crisper, the leaves change color, and Hollywood conspires with the pharmaceutical industry to win Oscars and sell craploads of Paxil. Last year gave us awards-quality glumfests like There Will Be Blood, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, and In the Valley of Elah. It also gave us a severe case of clinical depression. Will we survive 2008? Or will this year's crop of movies be even more dour than last year's? After the jump, we break it down weekend by weekend.
2008: Bangkok Dangerous, Ping Pong Playa
2007: 3:10 to Yuma, The Brothers Solomon, Shoot 'Em Up
Studios program this first week in September as if it's still August, and this year is no exception. It's depressing that most of these movies exist, but 2008 and 2007 seem mostly the same. Toss-up.
2008: Burn After Reading, Righteous Kill, Towelhead, Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys, The Women
2007: Across the Universe, The Brave One, Eastern Promises, In the Valley of Elah
Tyler Perry's movie should be uplifting, Burn After Reading should be laugh-filled, and Righteous Kill should be laughable. It's true that Towelhead's tale of a young girl's sexual abuse and The Women's portrait of Meg Ryan's New Old Face will be somewhat glum, but nothing can compare to 2007's one-two gut-punch of Eastern Promises and In the Valley of Elah. Edge: 2007.
2008: The Duchess, Ghost Town, Lakeview Terrace
2007: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Jane Austen Book Club, Into the Wild
We're not sure what will be more tragic in 2008: Keira Knightley's rape in The Duchess, Neil LaBute's misanthropy in Lakeview Terrace, or Ricky Gervais's gritting his teeth through mainstream comedy Ghost Town. Edge: 2008.
2008: Blindness, Choke, Eagle Eye, Miracle at St. Anna
2007: The Darjeeling Limited, The Game Plan, The Kingdom, Lust, Caution
What does it say that a movie called Choke might be the most cheerful of 2008's entries? Edge: 2008.
2008: Beverly Hills Chihuahua, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, What Just Happened
2007: Lake of Fire, The Heartbreak Kid, Michael Clayton
2008's slate looks downright cheerful, but we have a hunch that Beverly Hills Chihuahua is going to inspire a number of murder-suicides. Edge: 2008.
2008: Body of Lies, Happy-Go-Lucky, RocknRolla
2007: Control, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Lars and the Real Girl, We Own the Night
2007's We Own the Night was about the most downbeat thriller ever, but Body of Lies looks just as serious. And we don't think anything in 2007's slate can compete with the delight sure to come from Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, described by its own director as "an anti-miserablist film." Good enough for us! Edge: 2007.
2008: Flash of Genius, The Secret Life of Bees, Sex Drive, W.
2007: Gone Baby Gone, Rendition, Reservation Road, Things We Lost in the Fire
2008 had no chance, even before the unintentional comedy of W. was scheduled for this date, since the equivalent weekend in 2007 has been certified by the American Psychiatric Association as the most depressing movie weekend in history. Seriously: The only cheerful movie to come out on this weekend last year was called Wristcutters: A Love Story. Edge: 2007.
2008: Changeling, High School Musical 3, Saw V, Synecdoche, New York
2007: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Dan in Real Life, Saw IV
Clint Eastwood's babynapping drama Changeling looks gloomier than anything on this weekend's 2007 list, and that includes not only Before the Devil but also Saw IV. Edge: 2008.
2008: The Haunting of Molly Hartley, Zach and Miri Make a Porno
2007: American Gangster, Bee Movie
Nothing particularly depressing this weekend, especially in 2008, when it conflicts with Halloween, making the release calendar a Hollywood graveyard. Toss-up.
2008: Madagascar 2, Quantum of Solace
2007: Fred Claus, Lions for Lambs, No Country for Old Men
We're gonna flip this coin. Call it. What are you calling it for? Your life. Edge: 2007.
2008: Australia, The Road
2007: Beowulf, Margot at the Wedding, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, Redacted, Southland Tales
2008 scores a clear victory, with the help of the bleakest movie ever made, a movie so horrifying it could only be shot in Pittsburgh: The Road, the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel which posits that after the apocalypse, things get even worse. Edge: 2008.
2008: The Soloist, Twilight
2007: Enchanted, I'm Not There, The Mist, Starting Out in the Evening
Such was the exuberance of Enchanted that it made the entire weekend sunny for all America — especially because no one went to see any of those other movies. That 2008's big-budget entry on this date is a vampire romance suggests 2008 might be a little darker. Edge: 2008.
2008: Bolt, Four Christmases, Milk
2007: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Savages
Despite the downer power of 2008's Milk, the biopic of beloved yet assassinated San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, the combined quadriplegia/dysfunction of Diving Bell and Savages takes the crown. Edge: 2007.
2007: Atonement, The Golden Compass, Grace Is Gone, Juno
Frost/Nixon won't be depressing, although it might be boring. Atonement and The Golden Compass, alas, were both. Edge: 2007.
2008: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Defiance, Doubt, Seven Pounds
2007: Alvin and the Chipmunks, I Am Legend, The Kite Runner
Wow! Keanu Reeves warning of environmental catastrophe? Daniel Craig as a World War II Jew? Philip Seymour Hoffman as a priest who may have abused a child? Will Smith as a suicidal IRS agent? What a smorgasbord of morose delights! Edge: 2008.
2008: The Tale of Desperaux, Yes Man
2007: Charlie Wilson's War, Sweeney Todd, Walk Hard
Christmas approaches on this, often the most chipper movie weekend of Oscar season. So this year's animated mouse tale Desperaux and Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man can't compete with the meat pies and hollow eyes of last year's Sweeney Todd. Edge: 2007.
2008: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Marley & Me, Revolutionary Road, The Spirit, Valkyrie
2007: The Bucket List, The Great Debaters, The Orphanage, Persepolis, There Will Be Blood
With the score 7-7 on our Vulture Depression Face-off, it all comes down to this final crowded holiday weekend. One sappy heart-warmer? Check (Marley, Bucket). One overlong, thrilling but grim maybe-masterpiece? Check (Benjamin Button, Blood). But 2007 never had Revolutionary Road, a movie based on a novel that makes Mad Men's view of the fifties look like Ozzie & Harriet. 2007 never had The Spirit, the movie that looks so bad it might kill the superhero genre dead. And it never had Nazi Tom Cruise failing to kill Hitler. Edge: 2008.
Final tally: 2008: 8, 2007: 7. It's been nice knowin' ya!
Earlier: Apatocalypse Now: Five Movies to Get You Through the Coming Judd Apatow Drought
Are We Approaching a Nicolas Cage Tipping Point?
The August Movie: A Theory of Awfulness
The August Movie: A History