Thursday, December 03, 2009

Movies of the Decade: Pt. 1

Before I give my list, some reasoning, and honorable mentions,I have a bone to pick: It's about the competition to withhold the best movies of the year until the end of the year, when they are all released in a rush that makes it impossible to follow, let alone view them all.

Take a look at this report of the awards of the National Board of Review for 2009's best. These are very much the thinking persons' Oscars, and there is a high level of predictability from these awards to the Academy Awards--as long as some blockbuster doesn't come along and blow away all critical reason.

Anyway, of 14 major awards in standard Oscar categories, 11 went to eight different movies not yet released (though three, including Best Film, were for "Up in the Air", being released tomorrow). The exceptions were Woody Harrelson for best supporting actor ("The Messenger"), best documentary ("The Cove"), and best foreign film ("A Prophet"--actually I'm just assuming that one is already out, somewhere anyway). Further to my point, "The Messenger" was just released, the other two categories are specifically non-Hollywood ones, and "The Fantastic Mr. Fox", which made the mistake of releasing before Thanksgiving, received a special award for its creator, Wes Anderson, but nothing else.

The rest of the year, and all the movies released through it, are simply chopped liver from the point of view of consideration for awards. This is partly a commentary on those movies, partly either the short memory spans or preference for the new of the voters, but mostly a critical failing of the pros in the industry who hold back their good stuff for the end of the year.

If I were a voter in the Academy, I'd give preference in any award category to movies released before Thanksgiving (to counter the others' bias) and would withhold voting for anything given a fake opening after Christmas so as to qualify for awards. I guess that's one good reason why I'm not.

So, I guess I can't consider any 2009 movies for Best Of, because the year's best haven't come out yet. Actually, yes.

The Decade in Movies

The last decade ended with some movies that threatened to turn narrative structure on its head, and sequential storytelling inside out. For the most part, this trend wasn't continued. Though there were exceptions, such as "Memento", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", and some time-travel movies, these were ones that were basically about tangled narrative structure, rather than ones using it as a tool of storytelling.

The big theme for this decade was technique, and how it has opened up the range of stories beyond all limits. The combination of serious resources behind animation and improvements in combining computer graphics with live-action filming are making just about anything possible. This winter's release "Avatar" should be another case in point.

I take issue with those who argue that TV has now replaced the movies as the chief artistic driver of the day. There are a handful of series on TV with good writing and acting, but they are overwhelmed by the quantity of unrealistic cops-and-robber dreck, staged "reality" time-filler, and amateur hour performance shows. But if you're talking about real thrills and chills, or social or emotional impact, movies are still where it's at.

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