Monday, December 27, 2010

The Dismal Movie Scene

One does not have to be a sophisticated deconstructionist to appreciate the subtext in the Introduction that Peter Travers’ wrote for his list of ten best movies on the Rolling Stone Web  site:

Let us praise movies that didn't suck in 2010. Begone, sequels to Twilight and Sex and the City. Begone, chick flicks that bossed us around (what if I don't want to eat, pray, love?). Begone, epics Hollywood made in 3D because they couldn't make them good. This space is for 10 films that earned a place in the year's time capsule.

It seems pretty clear to me that the primary criterion for a film earning “a place in the year’s time capsule” was that it “didn’t suck.”  That says all I want to know about the overall space of candidates.

Of course movies are not my “turf;”  and, as far as my writing is concerned, they never have been.  These days I am so busy going to performances that I really do not have the time to go into a movie house, so I have no problem assuming that any movie I want to see will show up on cable sooner or later.  On the other hand, because I take narrative very seriously, it has not escaped my notice that I have been finding more compelling narratives on cable in the series produced by HBO and Showtime than in the films they have been offering.

There also is that criterion of memorability, which recently guided my effort to review this past year on  When I applied that exercise, I had no trouble identifying a memorable performance for each month of this year.  Indeed, just about every month gave me a struggle in choosing one out of several candidates for the list I compiled.  When it comes to movies, on the other hand, I think that there was exactly one 2010 movie that remains in my memory and held my attention from beginning to end.  That was Alex Gibney’s documentary My Trip to Al-Qaeda, the bulk of which was a document of Lawrence Wright’s one-man stage show of the same name.  Regular readers should probably recognize Wright’s name, since I like to cite his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, for providing one of the most cogent arguments as to why our "war on terror" movement is as wrongheaded today as it was when President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security.  (No, this film did not show up on Travers’ list, even though it is part of Gibney’s consistent track record for making perceptive documentaries.)  So, if the only thing Travers could remember about any film on his list was that it “didn’t suck,” why did he bother making the list in the first place?

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