It was the worst of times..... it the worst of times

About half way through reading Joe Queenan's much-commented-upon editorial on the state of this year's film crop (last Friday's Wall Street Journal, here), I started to recognize similarities with any number of my own bitchy tomes about the same issue. Queenan, a humorist, critic and author posits that 2010 might be the worst movie year ever. He's probably right. It likely IS the worst year of cinema.... since last year that is. Like all pop culture, mainstream film oscillates through short spurts of creative fertility followed almost immediately by long periods of tired, cliché-riddled, populist crap. While we're probably in the middle of one of the later spells right now, 2010's list of duds pales in comparison to 2008 (see here) or 2007 (see here), or any other year for that matter. The only certainty is the 2010 film season will be amazing..... compared to next year's slate of even-dumber summer blockbusters.

Mea Culpa: Before any of you comment, I'll readily admit to being endlessly guilty of falling into this same trap. Semi-literate film criticism is a full-on past time for the chronically pissed-off and, quite frankly, it's rare for me to find myself on the other side of the argument.

Ripping the state of present-day cinema is far too easy. It's a little like shooting a deer tied to a tree. There's just no sport in it. While it may be true that this summer's theatrical releases ranked somewhere between cruddy and awful, I'm not sure if the same can't be said for nearly every summer release schedule in recent memory. After a little flurry of film consumption back in the winter, I took a few months off watching movies. In 3 months during the late spring and early summer, I might have watched 5 flicks (and a bit of TV on DVD), but for the most part I temporarily swore off cinema. After this little hiatus, I've watched maybe 20 films since and, in varying degrees, enjoyed most of them (Cop Out notwithstanding). I haven't seen any of the summer theatrical releases, in part because nothing really grabbed my attention, but mostly because humans are at the cinema and they should be avoided where at all possible.

At the risk of stating the obvious... who really cares whether Sex and the City Part 2 or the Last Airbender suck? I mean of course they do. They're almost supposed to be awful. That's why they make them – so people can stay cool in the summer. And for that matter, is a grotesque ode-to-consumerism like Sex and the City, Part Duh any worse than say, the ludicrous orgy of commercial nonsense that were the Winter Olympics? What about the disturbingly-jingoistic World Cup? The best anyone could seem to come up with was - “well, there weren't any commercials” Jesus Christ people... It was one giant commercial. That's why they do it.

Iron Man 2 wasn't very good. Well, neither was Iron Man 1, lest we forget. Shrek 4 wasn't very good either. Really.... and you were expecting based on 2 and 3 exactly what? Grown Ups...ditto. The A-Team....I pity the fool. The list goes on.

So, in a rare effort to champion the recent efforts of Hollywood (but mostly films from elsewhere), I'm going to try and make a case for 2010, the year that couldn't. This should be interesting. I'm going to start with The Losers. I already wrote a little piece about this film but it needs to be said that little B flicks can still hold their own in a sea of 3D extravagance. I liked it. It made me feel like a little boy. I liked Kick-Ass too. I don't know who the demographic was supposed to be, but I somehow fit into it. It was mean and fluffy like no film I can remember. I liked Polanski's Ghost Writer, a film with a laugh-out-loud silly ending, but some genuine chops for most of its running time. I liked Green Zone. I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. I quite liked Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard, but recognize that most won't.

I loved Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, a near-masterpiece just released to DVD (and available from Amazon.com today). I think The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is Herzog's best film since Fitzcarraldo. It's the most fun I had watching a movie this year, maybe ever. The Danish thriller Terribly Happy is just fantastic and will rank up with my best of the year picks. If you can forgo the normal need of plot, pacing, proper editing and credible acting, even Clash of the Titans worked in it's own truly bizarre way. OK, that might have been a stretch. While Shutter Island got panned by everyone, I really liked it too. You, The Living from Norway's Roy Anderssen was also a treat. IP Man was a hoot. Everybody was Kung Fu fightin'. Cop Out sucked.

Of the current theatrical releases, I'm looking forward to Inception, Get Him to the Greek, How to Train Your Dragon, Splice, Salt and Get Low. Later this year I've got my eye on David Fincher's The Social Network, Peter Weir's The Way Back, David O Russell's The Fighter and Aronofsky's The Black Swan. I guarantee you that at least one of them will be great.

On a final note, there's a good reason most summer film-fare is aimed at youngsters, a point regularly  made by adults writing on film these days. That's who goes to the cinema. While there may be a counter if-you-build-it-they-will-come argument, the fact remains that most old people like me would rather watch Matlock and Murder She Wrote reruns on the tube than venture out to the cinema these days. It may be a shame but it's the reality the film industry has to contend with. Toy Story 3 rules the multiplex because it makes money and lots of it. The glory days of Three Days of the Condor are three decades past us and not coming back any time soon.

While Joe Queenan is probably pretty well on the money with his rant about shitty movies, as usual, you just have to dig a little deeper to find the good stuff. It's still there. We just have to stop bitching long enough to seek them out. The glass may be 3/4's empty but it's still 1/4 full.



the coelacanth said...

i was halfway through reading this and all the points you made at the end were rushing through my brain. i thought you were going to take the easy route, but you didn't, good on you. 'tis true, there's a sea of shit out there, but there's also greatness, and it is easier than ever to see it (dvd, online ordering, region free players, torrents, etc...) think of it this way: if it was 30 years ago and you lived in well, anywhere other than a major metropolitan area, there's no way you even knew bluebeard existed, let alone had any hope of seeing it.

history has filtered out the crap for us, and now when i want to see a great political thriller from 35 years ago, i'll grab condor without having to navigate through clouds of forgettable effluvia. every era has its trash, its just that it's so easily accessible today.

anyway, what (i think) i'm trying to say is, i agree with you, and really liked reading this summary of the current state of film/film criticism. i think it is our job as film fans (if not "critics", per se), to focus on the good, and ignore the bad. really, trashing something like satc2 might be fun, but, as you say, is ultimately pointless and a waste of energy. such hatchet job criticism, while it might be good for a cheap chuckle, is exactly the literary equivalent of these sorts of films. good read, scott, and thanks for the links.

Withnail said...

This is a great post.