I’m not through examining the oughts or the naughts or whatever the last decade is called—either personally, or on here. Then again, has there been a decade in which movies have existed ever reached a point where it’s no longer worth examining? Time changes and so do we and our perceptions. Lists and assessments are interesting, but at best they offer a snapshot in time. A list such as the one Justin Souther and I made last week is—even by our own subjective standards—by nature imperfect. Some of those films we’ve known for ten years. They’ve stood some kind of test of time. Others are newer acquaintances. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus has only been a known quantity for a few weeks. Who can say how these films will seem in ten years?
I’m not making a case against lists.They’re fun and they’re useful for discussion. For that matter, even the snapshot in time aspect has its purposes. In fact, this week’s column was going to be something of a list—albeit not in list form. Unfortunately, time and a few other factors intervened and that will have to wait. In its place, I’d like to pose a question—or at least ask for some prognostication from readers—as concerns where we’re headed cinematically speaking now. So break out your Tarot decks, brew up those tea leaves, don your turban and polish up the the crystal ball and weigh in on what the future holds.
I think most of us can agree—no matter how much money it’s made—that Avatar probably isn’t going to change the face of movies. It will impact the way certain types of movies are made, but as far as it becoming the standard of movies or its technology being assimilated into everything we see? I’m at least skeptical. It’s early days yet, but I have seen little sign of it entering pop culture consciousness. There was a Coca-Cola tie-in before the film came out, but it’s got a long way to go before it gets the iconic value of, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) where the earthrise set to Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” was turned into hawking frozen breakfast entrees and the “star ride” sequence was remonkeyed to become to lead in for ABC’s Movie of the Week.
The previous decade was a pretty broad mix. For every breakthrough or landmark or even daring film, there was a pretty good run of mediocrity and worse. While we might celebrate the accomplishments of the decade and the rise—and partial fall—of independent film, let’s be honest. This was also the decade of the rise of the lame PG-13 horror film, the PG-13 remakes of R rated horror films, the invention of the term “reboot” (a remake that attempts to jump-start a limping franchise)—and that’s not even factoring in the antics of the Wayans Brothers and, worse yet, Messrs. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Even much that was often prized about the decade had its downside. The much vaunted indie films may have started out as a reaction to the formula films of the mainstream, but far too many of them quickly fell prey to their own indie formula.
We also saw movie studios trying to retain 20th century marketing models in a world that had no place for those models most of the time. The process of platform releasing—opening a film in a few markets and slowly widening it—can sometimes still work, but it doesn’t work as well as it did thanks to the immediacy of information and communication. It will work with smaller movies, but audiences who saw promos and talk shows devoted to Dreamgirls (2006) and Across the Universe (2007) on Thursday wanted to see those films on Friday—not four to six weeks later. At the same time, we saw small studios kill many of their own limited interest titles by attempting saturation bookings into markets that couldn’t support more than one screen.
I say none of this to speak ill of a decade that I actually have a lot of praise for. I merely want to point out that it wasn’t all skittles and beer. The lowest common denominator is still with us—and if it wasn’t Michael Bay and Robert Zemeckis would doubtless go out and find it. And a lot of this will still be the case in this decade. These things require no psychic powers or the ability to read entrails.
But what are we looking forward to? We know some things already, of course, and I rattled off some the titles coming during the first few months of 2010 a couple weeks ago. Those things are more in the nature of coming attractions—as, for that matter, is anything we know is coming down the pike. What I’m after here is more nebulous. What do you expect to see more of? Less of? Whose work do you think will “define” this new decade? What filmmaker or filmmakers are you watching most closely? What—apart from Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture remake of Yellow Submarine (1968)—are you most dreading?
OK, this is all pretty much going to be nothing but guess work. At this point in 2000, I would never have guessed that Baz Luhrmann would make a film that, for me, would best signify the decade. I would have, on the other hand, predicted that Bill Condon would make more than two movies over the ten year span. I would never have thought Leonardo DiCaprio would become a solid actor. There were all manner of filmmakers and actors I hadn’t heard of yet, or who had not registered on my radar as worth consideration. Of course, that’s what keeps the whole business of going to the movies lively and interesting.
Without trying to put too fine a line on anything, I expect to see more of the same in some areas. We haven’t seen the last of effects-driven movies, even if I’d like to think so. And though it sometimes seems like it, the comic book movie (by which I mean the superhero kind) isn’t dead, though I fully expect it to have to evolve or die off. The “important” (or pompous) comic book movie was dealt a pretty serious blow by Watchmen (2009).
The unexciting box office returns and enthusiasm for most musicals that followed Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Chicago (2002) suggests another genre that is going to need a shot in the arm, especially after the dismal performance of Nine (2009). Until that happens, I’d expect to see more quasi-musicals like John Carney’s Once (2006) than full-scale extravaganzas. (Yes, I know Julie Taymor has talked about another Beatles-based film as a follow-up to Across the Universe , but much as I’d like to see that, I’ll believe it when it’s fully in production and not before.)
Despite a few worthy attempts in the last decade—Open Range (2003), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Appaloosa (2008), come to mind, and in their way, The Proposition (2006) and Australia (2008) qualify—no one was really able to crack the market for westerns in the last decade. Doubtless, someone will take a whack at it in this one—and maybe if the mood is right (that can play an even more significant part than quality), that will change.
As for filmmakers I’m expecting to mark this decade, that’s a mixed bag. I fully anticipate worthy films from Danny Boyle, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, Julie Taymor, the Coens, Michel Gondry, Richard Curtis, Quentin Tarantino—and quite possibly Neil Jordan, Mike Nichols and Stephen Frears. But as much as I’m looking forward to their films, I’m perhaps more interested in seeing just where some of the newer voices with slighter credentials will take us. Rian Johnson probably stands at the top of that list for me. Brick (2005) and The Brothers Bloom (2009) are pretty darn remarkable works to start off with. And what about Martin McDonagh? His In Bruges (2008) suggests some wonderful things could follow. John Cameron Mitchell certainly made a mark with two films last decade—Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) and Shortbus (2006)—so his upcoming Rabbit Hole is high on my list of actual upcoming titles.
I’m sure I’m overlooking more than a couple possibilities—and I’m sure (and hoping) other people will fill in the blanks—but the thing is that none of this factors in filmmakers we’ve yet to hear from, whose names we don’t even know. Therein lies perhaps the most tantalizing prospect of all. We shall see.