From our discussion of the year in film, I must detour for a moment to examine the serious matter of titular ink.
The titles of most of the movies released this year had absolutely no punctuation, so adding even a tiny period, as Oliver Stone did, said something, don't you think? When he called his movie W. he said, hey (or perhaps look), this isn't M or Z or V or any such film. It's W., quaint as can be. In a title so short, even a period claims a good 8-10% of the title's ink, and that's not counting the serifs. The serifs matter. The period matters. This title smiles.
Looking back at the films of 2008, I can see that a punctational vision like Stone's was in short supply. Happy-Go-Lucky is sporting hyphens, sure, and Mamma Mia! is jacked up with an exclamation point, but think of how many more titles could be improved dramatically with a few well-placed marks.
But we must respect the ability of such a mark to alter a film's thrust, sometimes irrevocably. An errant drip of ink can turn I've Loved You So Long into a Dear John letter (I've Loved You; So Long), create an equivalence that did not exist before (Beverly Hills: Chihuahua), change a title into a Craigslist ad for a vacation rental (Lakeview, Terrace), turn an innocuous teen romp into a Hair ripoff (High: School Musical), or transform a phrase into a sequence of events (Sex, Drive).
Some punctuated titles do not smile, notably those containing the abysmal possessive apostrophe, which adds not ideas but context. It wasn't just A Nightmare Before Christmas; it was Tim Burton's. He held it in his fists, and no one could yank it from them. It wasn't just Dracula but Bram Stoker's (even though we learned from subsequent court proceedings that it was actually Francis Ford Coppola's). 2008 brought us not just crap but Tyler Perry's crap. Not just a diary of some dead but George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead, which additionally confuses the issue of who wrote the diary and the status of Mr. Romero, living or dead. Again, we can learn from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, whose apostrophe carries almost no undue baggage because "infinite" steals its thunder. Thus you can counterbalance a claim of ownership with something that cannot be contained. QED.
The past year gave us several more examples of punctuation's inability to corral the words that follow it:
Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains
Bigger Stronger Faster*: *The Side Effects of Being American
To the best of my knowledge, asterisk-colon-asterisk is unprecedented in the history of cinema, so points are awarded for creativity and originality, but, cripes, filmmakers, please recognize the limits of dots and stars and marquee lettering kits.
I do appreciate the attempt of the Stranded people to make use of an apostrophe to contract, somewhat, their unwieldy title. Such economy can provide fantastic results, although it's seldom done well. Much like Alexander Fleming and penicillin, I originally discovered the power of this technique quite by accident when I wrote the words "Sky Cap'n and the World of Tomorrow" into my notes, and I'm now firmly convinced that the latest thriller from M. Night Shyamalan would have garnered stronger reviews if it had been titled The Happ'ning. Or better still, The Happ'nin'. (The man who once used the working title M. Night Shyamalan's The Village is unlikely to heed my advice, I know.)
Sadly, I imagine the wave of the future is Guy Ritchie's punctuation-free shorthand. As blog posts shrink and listicles drive the online economy, his RockNRolla not only replaces "er" with "a" (as does Jessica Yu's film Ping Pong Playa) and "and" with "N" but also radically drops the dots, squiggles, and spaces entirely and goes instead with the naming strategy of the computer age: mid-word capitals. The screenplay and its title page were no doubt typed recklessly into a ThinkPad or MacBook, printed on a LaserJet, and sent via FedEx to a ProductionWeenie who managed to secure distribution with a venerable studio that still clings to its quaint form of shorthand: Warner Bros.