Yes, it was made (and released in French-speaking territories) back in 2006, but this sharp spoof reinvention of the classic Eurospy franchise was still the best spy movie released in American theaters in 2008. I’ve sung its praises many times already, but director Michel Hazanavicius’s film deserves ample praise for pulling off a tricky mixture of smart satire and slapstick pratfalls. It’s a movie I’ve liked more and more on every viewing. Star Jean Dujardin combines deft comic timing and studious obliviousness with an uncanny resemblance to Sixties-era Sean Connery. He’s aided in that latter category by cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman who ably recreates the technicolor look and feel of spy thrillers of the late Fifties and early Sixties, which OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies lovingly sends up.
Runner-Up: Burn After Reading
It certainly saddens me that neither Quantum of Solace nor Get Smart, the two spy movies I was most looking forward to in 2008 (and 2007, in Get Smart's case!), even came close to being my favorites. However, they were also far from the worst of the year. They were just sub-par entries in ongoing franchises that are sure to rebound from these troughs. I remain as excited as ever for Daniel Craig’s next James Bond movie–and even hopeful for Steve Carell’s Smart follow-up.
Worst Spy Movie: Eagle Eye
Best Spy DVD (Movie): Casino Royale Collector’s Edition
Runner-Up: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold Criterion Edition
Criterion’s new disc of the spy classic based on John Le Carre’s seminal novel, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, is equally satisfying. The stark, black and white picture quality blows the previous Paramount release out of the water... and there’s a whole disc of truly incredible bonus features. All fans of Le Carre are duty-bound to pick this one up, because between his new, lengthy interview and the documentary on him included here, this second disc forms the most informative look at the author’s career yet put to film. And it doesn’t end there. There are also ample contributions on the filmmakers and the star, Richard Burton.
Worst Spy DVD (Movie): Get Smart (2008)
Best Spy DVD (TV): Burn Notice: Season One
Runners-Up: State of Play, Mission: Impossible: The 4th TV Season, Honey West...
Worst Spy DVD (TV): The Wild Wild West: The Complete TV Series
Best James Bond Book: By Royal Command by Charlie Higson
Worst James Bond Book: Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks
Best Bond-Related Book: My Word Is My Bond by Roger Moore
Some years previously, I had attempted to bring Sean and Cubby together at a party at our house in LA, hoping they might settle their differences. I should add that, a couple of weeks prior to the party, there had been a newspaper article in which Sean was quoted as saying that if Cubby Broccolis's brain was on fire, he 'wouldn't piss in his ear to put it out'.As a bonus treat, Moore did a lot of press for his memoir, giving countless interviews that were almost as funny as the book itself. To be honest, I often find actor autobiographies to be dull and tedious. Not so Roger Moore’s! This book belongs on every Bond bookshelf.
At the party, I sat them both down with a drink. I heard Cubby - who was very much a gentleman Don Corleone - say, 'Sean, did you really say if my brains were on fire you wouldn't piss in my ear? I found that very upsetting.'
'Cubby,' replied Sean, 'I'd gladly piss in your ear any time.'
End of conversation!
Overall, 2008 was an interesting year for spy fans. It was a good year–just not in the ways I had expected it to be good. I was disappointed by both Devil May Care and Quantum of Solace, as well as the promising reinvention of Get Smart, but rewarded by many great DVD releases and a pair of terrific spy comedies in the theaters. I feel like the disappointments weighed heavily on this blog, and made it a bit more negative a place than I ever intended it to be. But I think it’s clear from everything I write that I truly love the spy genre–and James Bond–and often love even those things that disappoint me to some degree. Still, my passion for the subject forces me to be honest about my feelings. But that’s why I decided to include "worst of" entries as well as "best-of" ones for 2008: in an effort to put any such negativity behind me. Now I can dwell fully–and positively–on my hopes for 2009 and beyond. I’ll deal with those hopes in my next post. For now, though, I hope everyone has a happy New Year, and I wish only the best for my readers and the genre we all love so dearly in the coming year!