So the other day I was perusing other answers to Dennis’ quiz (my answers here), and came across Veronique’s blog, where she has an interesting list of Least Favorite Preconceptions of the Decade. It’s probably not a comprehensive list or anything, and I have to admit that I haven’t been as immersed in the decade-end naughtie lists as some other folks, but I did have some thoughts…
1.) There Will Be Blood = greatest movie of the decade and Daniel Day-Lewis = greatest performer. Do you ever feel like you just saw a completely move than everyone else?
Yes, yes I have, and in fact, I’ve had the same thought with respect to There Will Be Blood. When exiting the theater after watching the movie, I distinctly remember hearing a guy remark to his lady friend that the movie “was like a 2 hour handjob without the happy ending.” Well that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? It’s a sumptuously photographed movie and Daniel Day Lewis is a force of nature in that movie, but other than that, there’s no real reason to put this movie in the top 10 of the decade. This is perhaps not surprising coming from a guy who didn’t even put it in his top 10 of 2007. At the time, I remember liking it a lot, but I simply can’t get over the fact that for a movie that is ostensibly a character study, it provides no actual insight into the character, leaving you with a feeling of “Why?” when you get to the end.
2. Kate Winslet can do no wrong. Count me one of Winslet’s few detractors — possibly her only one. Choosing highbrow, award-bait material does not a great actress make.
I don’t really have much to say regarding this one, but I will offer up a half-hearted response that good roles for female actresses these days are somewhat few and far between, so I think it’s worth cutting some slack. That said, I can assure you that Kate Winslet is capable of doing wrong…
3. The American public doesn’t go to see Iraq /Afghanistan war movies because they are overwhelmed with war coverage already/don’t care about politics/just want to see context-free car explosions. I’ve read many an article with some version of this thesis, and I don’t buy it. While it is true that movies like Stop-Loss, Home of the Brave, and In the Valley of Elah haven’t been hits, I would point to the films’ quality to explain why they bombed.
On this one, I think I’m going to have to disagree with Veronique. The reasons why the American public doesn’t go see Iraq/Afghanistan war movies are probably more varied than the examples given, but I still don’t think that people will go to see one of these movies until there’s something genuinely compelling to say about the wars in question, and I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon (not the least of which because we’re still mired in the war, and that it’s an unusual war in a lot of ways). I agree that the quality of the films released is probably part of the issue, but on the other hand, quality doesn’t always translate to poor box office performance (see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). I think another part of the puzzle is that most movies with a really strong political viewpoint in general aren’t very good and almost can’t be very good. When an artist takes a really strong political position, they almost always lose the ability to see the world through the eyes of everyone, including people who have varying degrees of beliefs on different issues. I suppose the exception to this sort of thing is when such positions are forwarded through metaphor and symbolism. For instance, you could consider The Dark Knight (one of the most successful movies of the past two years) an Iraq war movie that comments on various current events. Perhaps it’s something about removing the story from it’s immediate context that allows viewers to better internalize the message better (or not, if they’re not inclined to do so). It’s also easier to insert your own political viewpoint on something that is mediated by metaphor and symbolism than it is for something baldly presented as true (which most Iraq war movies are).
The Hurt Locker* is a new and recent exception: a critically-acclaimed Iraq movie actually set in Iraq. And it’s been a hit commercially.
While The Hurt Locker was a low budget film (supposedly around $11 million) and ultimately eeked out a profit, I don’t think this qualifies as a commercial “hit.” It made about $12.5 million domestic (a total of $16 million worldwide), but that’s not exactly lighting the box office on fire. What’s more, its widest release was in 535 theaters – again, hardly a big number. For reference, the aforementioned Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (one of the worst movies of the year) made about $400 million domestic (a total of around $800 million worldwide) and was released in 4,293 theaters. Now, The Hurt Locker is a fine film (and it probably is the best Iraq war movie), but I also don’t think it’s a very commercially viable film either. It has some great action/suspense sequences, but there’s little in the way of a story, and not a whole lot of insight into the whole adrenaline junkie aspect of the story. Add in the fact that we’re in the midst of a global economic depression, and movies like this which don’t even pretend to offer any sort of escapism aren’t going to do so well.
4. Judd Apatow and his merry band of hilarious slacker-imps are the future of Hollywood and romantic comedies made for women are a bunch of treacle and/or slush. I actually think the former opinion has been trumpeted less obnoxiously of late. That’s probably due to the fact that Funny People didn’t do terribly well at the box office. … offshoots like I Love You, Man and Role Models, these movies get praised to the high heavens at the same time the reviewer admits they’re kind of trashy. However, trashy woman-oriented romantic comedies get the short end of the stick. Yes, some of them are unbearable and sure, the formula could use some loosening up. However, there were plenty of ’00s romantic comedies that were both smart and fun to watch
I think the Apatow thing is definitely winding down, but it will still limp on for the next few years until something new comes along. I think part of the reason these movies were so well received was that they really were something new and interesting. The genre of Romantic Comedies was once synonymous with chick-flick, but now it’s not. Ultimately, this is a good thing, and I’m betting this sort of male-oriented romantic comedy will continue to do well. You can see something similar happening with animation, and in particular Pixar. Traditional Disney fare was always a sorta female dominated affair. Lots of princesses and love stories and yada, yada, yada. There were the occasional male-dominated stories, of course, but overall, animation was female dominated. One of the big things Pixar did to establish itself as something new and different was to focus on boys (which is why people complaining about Pixar’s gender problem are kinda missing the point). Back to romantic comedies, I think the reason woman-oriented movies are getting the short end of the stick is that they’ve been dominant for the past 20-30 years. The formula is stale and you end up seeing a lot of bizarre gimmicks. None of which is to say that there can’t be a well executed woman-oriented romantic comedy anymore, and Veronique points to a few good examples. Indeed, one thing I’d like to see more of is a female equivalent of the so called “bromance” movies. There are tons of stories of male bonding and friendships (heck, even the recent Sherlock Holmes movie is mostly notable due to the bromance between Holmes and Watson), but relatively few about female bonding and friendship. Hey, maybe someday we can reach a sort of Hegelian synthesis and produce some romantic comedies that are equally appealing to both sexes.
5. The House Bunnyis a nuanced comedy about gender relations. Well, I do think Anna Faris is funny and comedically gifted. However, out of all the movies from this decade to pick as a great feminist oeuvre, why not Mean Girls?
Mental note: see both these movies.
Well that about wraps this post up for now. In typical Kaedrin fashion, the 2009 movie recap festivities will begin this weekend (yes, a few weeks after the year ended) with the announcement of the nominees for the 4th annual Kaedrin Movie Awards (previous installments: 2006, 2007, and 2008). The top 10 of 2009 will probably come sometime in February, once I’ve had the chance to see a few films that have eluded me (notably A Serious Man, Black Dynamite, and The House of the Devil), mostly because of small releases (this is frustrating for me almost every year, and I live in a relatively movie-friendly city). I haven’t even really considered best of the decade stuff, but perhaps someday…