The end of the decade is almost among us. I still cannot believe it. I can remember sitting in a theater watching trailers for the first film advertised as coming out in the new millennium (Titan A.E., which I assure you will not be on the following list). The films here may be among the best of the decade. Most are surely not…there are some throwaway blockbusters that many would like to forget. But this is not a list of the best of the decade. That will come when the new decade is upon us; we still have a month to decide what those will be. Most of these films are blockbuster level films that are easily recognizable to everyone. This is a list of the films that defined our culture between 2000 and 2010. I believe that we have lived through this decade long enough to be able to identify the culture of the decade. This list can serve as a sort of time capsule for future generations. If they ever wish to know what was on our public conscious, what we cared about, what we valued, they need just watch these films and look no further.
This decade was marked by many changes in the cultural landscape. That change can be seen just in the films-the rise of digital technology, DVD (which spawned more arm chair critics than will ever be known) and 3-D animation. Several genres were resurrected, several films picked clean to the bones in one last attempt to grab money from a stagnating corpse. We also saw a resurrection of the green movement and the evangelical Christian movement, a presidential administration that was looked upon as a savior after a massive terrorist attack only to lose it due to their callousness toward the important aspects of the citizens. The rise of Web 2.0 technology has made Andy Warhol seem like Nostradamus. In ten years, the world became unrecognizable. Who knows what the next ten years will bring? But throughout it all, we have the perfect documents to go back and remember this carnival ride of a decade.
Also, I thought this would be a good way to celebrate 100 posts. So, without further ado, away we go. The list will be in alphabetical order.
The Bourne Trilogy-What did we do when we, as a society, realized that the typical action film was a headache inducing spectacle with little to no talent on display? We reinvented it, removing all of the of the flashy effects that added nothing and recreated the genre to make it gritty, create likable characters (or at least characters that seem like people and not sentient steroid injections) and make clever parts. I could point out how we changed James Bond to match our times. But Jason Bourne was here first. These are films that actually increased in quality as they went on, and were some of the pioneers of digital video as well as action stars who no longer looked like action stars. It seems like the perfect place to start-a good film that had a far reaching effect on the mainstream film community.
Cloverfield-This is what the world should see to define us-the first post 9/11 horror film (about 8 years too late) and the first true “YouTube” horror film. This is what would be seen if today’s society was attacked by a vicious monster. The news reports would not matter as much. What would matter is the testimony of those who saw the attack. This film reflects that trend so prevalent now-junior reporters who can change the world. A twenty year old blogger forced Dan Rather to retire. Our first indication of the Virginia Tech Massacre in place was on a camera phone. Now the apocalypse comes via a man named Hud. Of course, the film is still perhaps the best “disaster” film ever, a complete inverse of Irwin Allen. But in this case, the film will always be about the technique and never about the plot.
The Dark Knight-This decade was the decade of comic book movies. One of the biggest blockbusters of the year 2000 was the film X-Men. This decade marked a time in which the films tried to transcend their source material. The Spider-man franchise attempted to do so. But The Dark Knight will remain the ultimate conclusion of the genre. This is where the film ceased being about comic books and rather implemented themes of classic Greek tragedies and modern psychology. Considering that the genre is likely to remain a Hollywood staple, this will be looked as the film to replicate. Like Star Wars, it was the most massively shared cultural experiences of the decade, and one that many other people will try to replicate. Also, the viral marketing campaign is likely to set the example for many others to follow. We see fake websites becoming the norm for even trivial releases rather than just what is saved for the biggest and best.
The Forty Year Old Virgin-I have mentioned this film before and I meant every word I said. This is the film that saved comedy from the scatological humor of Adam Sandler and Tom Green. Comedies came full circle back to Billy Wilder and became examinations of life itself. Even if the idea of a man who remains abstinent to the age of forty seems bizarre, there was still something terribly familiar about the whole idea as it is presented in the film. Everyone can recognize Andy Siztler, a man who simply appears to be stuck at a quandary in life where he desires absolutely nothing. He is a talented, smart, and likable man. He is just afraid of his own inadequacies and would rather not challenge himself. Woody Allen would be proud. And that is something that bears remembering. In this decade, comedies became funny again. What Allen had spent his time on (to questionable success) was perfected and became the norm of the latter half of the 2000s.
An Inconvenient Truth-This is the film that restarted the Green revolution in the U.S. Whether or not you agree with the film, the impact that it has had on the nation is undeniable. Plus, it represents the absolute pinnacle of the documentary filmmaker. Documentaries were mainstream films that did blockbuster business, and they were cited as being important and life changing, the way they were always meant to be. Of course, this is one of only a handful of documentaries that has had this effect. But what a door it has opened for the future. Currently, we have seen a documentary gross over 200 million dollars and another one about penguins outgross a film by Michael Bay. So An Inconvenient Truth has had an enormous impact on our society. Well, at least in terms of film making and the genre.
Lord of the Rings-Here it is, the most notable trilogy to come out of this decade. I now know what it would have felt like to go see The Godfather for the first time in 1972. Not that this shares any themes with The Godfather. But it certainly does share enough about its development cycle-a personal project based upon a beloved book that would go on to become a world wide success while still retaining the director’s vision and absolutely refusing to compromise. And who can measure the impact on popular culture this film had? Now, everyone makes reference to the Eye of Sauron and to Gandalf. Shakespearean actor Ian McKellen will always been known as Gandalf (the same way Alec Guiness will always be known as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Never mind the fact that he used to be a David Lean protege). The effect has been pronounced, to the point where characters have been parodied and situations referenced in every conceivable outlet and entertainment medium imaginable. Its reputation will only grow in the next decade. And we can all say that we where there when it debuted.
Monsters Inc-If I had to pick one studio that represented the decade as a whole, I would pick Pixar. Pixar has been the studio that defined quality and pushed the envelope of animation. Of all the masterpieces Pixar has crafted, why have I picked Monsters Inc? The answer is simple; because it set the trend. Before this, Pixar had two great films in the same franchise (The Toy Story movies) and one mediocre film (A Bug’s Life). Monsters Inc allowed us to see what Pixar could and gave us a tease to what Pixar would continue to do throughout the decade. I do not feel guilty in calling every one of Pixar’s films masterpieces, the way Disney should by calling every one of their own films masterpieces. Besides, who cannot name all of the Pixar films? Who cannot quote the Dory scenes from Finding Nemo? Well, we have this film to thank. And one studio that showed us that animation need not cater just to the young demographic. They could be a part of the public conscious of every individual.
Moulin Rogue-In the same way that films were remade, genres were rediscovered. One notable genre is the musical. This was all but dead the day MTV premiered. It would take not the traditional Gene Kelly approach to revive it, but one that reflected our sensibilities-flashy and edited toward the demographic that suffers from ADD. Actually that last statement is a bit to harsh. What Moulin Rogue actually does is show the world our dependence on our iPods. Yes, now it is possible to have our very own soundtrack to our very own existence. We listen to songs while walking, we listen to songs at the gym, and we listen to songs in our most intimate moments (for a friend of mine, this always ended up being Yo Yo Ma). Moulin Rogue reflects that. It took pop songs that had no place in the setting and did its best to make it fit. Well, that is certainly a part of what we do every day. Do we really need to listen to “The Final Countdown” to inspire us to run an extra five minutes on the treadmill? No, but we do it anyway. Did a musical set in the early 20th century need a soundtrack featuring Fatboy Slim and David Bowie? No, but Moulin Rogue did so anyway. We have become a generation and a society dependent on music. Every other musical released took note of it’s approach and made the musical a flashy affair but one that could still happen in reality (or at least in the mind’s of the characters a la Chicago). In that way, Moulin Rouge is more important than anyone cares to admit.
Pan’s Labyrinth-What else was revived this decade? Foreign films. I have met many people who seem to possess a phobia of ever “reading” a movie. To me, this says that some people would rather not admit that foreign languages exist. Alright, fine, but the rest of us will have fun. Pan’s Labyrinth is different in that it marked a return of a filmmaker making a Hollywood blockbuster to make a personal film in his native country. Isn’t that usually what a disgraced director does? Paul Verhoeven, I am glancing in your direction. Not Guillmero del Toro. This was the film he wanted to make and is the most artistically successful film he has ever made. But what does that say about society? Well, it says that our constant use of the internet has made the world a far smaller place where we can learn much more easily about cultures and their history. We learned more about the Spanish Civil War in this film than ever in our public schools. More importantly though, films that had been denied to us in the previous decade were popular again, allowing people to see the world beyond the multiplex.
Passion of the Christ-I am not putting this on the because I consider it a good film. It is more of a spectacle that offers us no insight into the life of Jesus or the role he would have had to uphold throughout the rest of eternity. Rather, I am putting this on the list for two reasons. The first is as a commentary on the continued presence of independent film in the decade. This really took off in the 1990s, but stayed around to the point where, much like music, it is impossible to truly determine what is an “indie” film (which feature Hollywood stars and unattainable budgets) and what is not. And Passion of the Christ is the highest grossing independent film of all time, showing a passion project (no pun intended) that would have taken a David O Selznick to make in the past. But there is something far deeper and more obvious that Passion shows-America’s return to religion. The Bush era put Christianity back into the mainstream society quicker than a church bake sale adds pounds to housewives’ thighs. Oftentimes, this was completely misdirected, with evangelical Protestants taking whatever information they could find and applying it to society very poorly. Passion is the ultimate pinnacle of this trend. It was based on something ancient, something wise, something….dare I say, something beautiful and then taken and used to try and influence the modern political landscape. It is definitely a commentary on this bizarre decade.
Saw-This decade offered another rebirth of modern horror. I am not referring to the charming horror films of the late 1990s which seemed to be more like Zucker parodies. Saw represented a rebirth of actual horror films that seemed to expose our deepest fears and our growing violence in the modern world. This film created the “torture porn” genre, meant to excite us (hopefully not in “that” way) by showing us just how violent films can be. It also had a much more grimy, dirty look, like a dumpster that desperately needs to be cleaned. This had not been seen in horror before, except maybe the exploitation films of the 1970s. Saw works to the same effect. Saw gave us a horror franchise that we could identify with. It is one that will probably lend itself to a Scream style parody in 2016 or so. But still, that just shows how much it was on the public conscious to begin with. Without Saw, we would not have Eli Roth’s career and, really, would have had to tread through horror remakes. Saw has had a bigger impact than anyone cares to admit and probably will ever care to admit.
Sin City-This is not a film to include because it is the height of what cinema can offer. Yes, it is brilliant in doing what it sets out to do. It is also over the top and not that bright-you can tell it started as a comic book. What is important is the visual aesthetic. This is the most unique looking movie of decade. When Rodriguez was introduced to digital cinema, he was ecstatic. “This is the future” he proclaimed “you don’t build sets. You make them out of thin air.” And Rodirguez created a world out of thin air. This is the first film that used digital film to create a realistic world that at the same time could never possibly exist. Everything else is merely trying to imitate it. Sin City is already looked upon as the caveat of cool, the yardstick that all other films are measured if they want to be imitated by the youth culture. Yes, it is still a hold over from the Pulp Fiction fad (and doesn’t borrow nearly enough from Goddard to be as interesting to cinephiles) but there is still something about this film. It transcends its gimmick and creates a new world.
The Star Wars Prequels-This decade depended mightily on remakes and on sequels. It used to be that imagination was the best way to make it in Hollywood. Now, it is who can make the most money the fastest. This leads to the Star Wars prequels. Even if the first one was released in 1999, we had two more to see where that living white beard of a man was taking his franchise that still managed to make more money than many nations do. The result was a watered down retread of what used to be the creme de la creme of all lucrative properties. What does this mean? It means we as a society have definitely become more permissive so long as we have vague feelings toward it. I chose the Star Wars prequels simply because I could not think of a remake that would have done the job the Star Wars prequels did. This shows not only our tolerance, but the youth generation’s love of 1980s fads and the curious attraction to pop stars so thoroughly constructed they may as well have been built out of Legos. This is still something that will be revisited in the future, but more of a “hey, how dumb were they? They released Star Wars prequels.” Then they will go back to watching Empire Strikes Back. Sometimes though, people have to accept that bad that came with the good about the times they live in.
There now. We have a complete retrospective on the major blockbusters of the decade that have helped shape our culture. I will do a “best films of the decade” in January.