Screen World Volume 60: The Films of 2008 by Barry Monush

Screen World has been published annually since 1949 and remains a vital reference tool for people who work in the movie industry or write about it as well as a great gift for film fans. Volume 60, edited by Barry Monush, covers 2008 and includes listings for every film released in the US that year as well as several special sections covering topics such as top box office films and stars, up-and-coming actors, and the Academy Awards.

But Screen World is no mere compilation of information: each volume also reflects the personal taste of the editor, beginning with the opening dedication (this year it’s to Angela Lansbury) and the editor’s preface in which he sums up the year in film. I like a little fun with my facts and Monush won me over immediately with his preface which begins: “Judging from the robust box office returns, Hollywood did not fail to provide audiences with some of what they were looking for in 2008…” before going on to comment on the state of movie distribution in the US as well as providing a quick summation of most of the major releases for the year.

The heart of each volume of Screen World is the listing of films by US release date for that year. Films are divided into four sections—Domestic A, Domestic B, Foreign A and Foreign B—with the A and B categories referring to the editor’s judgment of each film’s impact or significance. The A films are those which have a major impact and are often distinguished by one or more of the following: wide release, big box office numbers, critical or popular recognition, winning or being nominated for awards, or involvement of major directors, writers or actors. The B films are mainly those which got limited release, often only briefly in a small number of theatres in New York or Los Angeles, and thus had little impact on the US year in film.

Entries for each A film range from half a page to two pages and include the film’s producer, creative team (director, screenwriter, etc.), cast and crew, type of technology (e.g., Dolby, Panavision, Color), MPAA rating, length, US release date, a one-sentence plot summary, and several black and white photos. If the film was nominated for an Academy Award that is noted as is information such as the fact that Steven Soderbergh’s Che (in the Foreign A section, in case you’re interested) was sometimes shown as a single film with an intermission and sometimes as two films with separate admissions. Entries for the B films are similar but shorter, including at most one photograph, and are limited to the distributor, producers and creative team, technical information, length, rating, US release date and an abbreviated listing of the cast and crew.

Because within each section films are arranged by release date browsing through a volume of Screen World is sort of like reliving the year in film, if you live in New York or Los Angeles, anyway. This aspect can be quite useful even if you reside elsewhere because it not only brings you up to date on the films you missed during the year (the photographs are particularly useful for linking actors and roles) but also provides a sense of studio strategy for each film (did the distributor treat it as a summer blockbuster, Oscar bait, or something to be hidden in the doldrums of January?) as well as the competition among new releases in any week. And because American films are screened all over the world and many foreign films are released in the American market, Screen World is also a valuable reference volume for people living and working outside the US.

Sixteen pages of color photos from major films precede the chronological listings, which are great for reminding yourself who played what in which film. An index of titles, names, and organizations is helpful in locating the entry for a particular film since you need to know both the correct section and release date to find it otherwise. It’s also handy for finding all the entries relating to, say, a particular actor or distributor.

A separate section is devoted to the Academy Awards and includes two-page spreads (production and cast and crew information, synopsis and black-and-white photographs) for the Best Picture and Best Animated Feature winners, one page for the Best Feature Documentary, full-page photos for Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Actress and Supporting Actress, and four-to-a-page photos for the nominees in the acting categories. Two other photo sections are also devoted to actors: “Top Box Office Stars of 2008” as chosen by exhibitors and theatre owners (representing in their opinion the stars that drew the largest audiences during the year) and “Promising New Actors” as chosen by the editor. A section for “Top Box Office Films of 2008” lists the 100 top grossing films, from The Dark Knight at #1 with $532,360,000 down to Defiance at #100 with $28,630,000.

Two other reference sections round out Screen World: an alphabetical list of one-line entries (almost 2,500 of them according to the publicity material) for actors by professional name (birth name in parentheses if applicable) with birth date and place and university or actors training school, and an obituary section of film people who died in 2008 with a brief biography for each individual, from historian Forrest J. Ackerman to special effects and makeup artist Stan Winston.

RATING 8 / 10