I’d be a fan of any site that lists top films of the 21st century and includes movies from 2000. (Don’t give in to the pedants, I say.) But They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? has many reasons to commend it. TSPDT offers not just a list, but a list of lists—dozens of the critics and sites that matter (the single exception being this one—must have been an oversight) with their choices for best movies of the decade.
There’s a newly updated list of the 21st Century’s 250 Most Acclaimed Films, with 34 additions this time around. What the TSPDT lists might not possess are the quirky selections you’ll find in many individual lists, but they offer a great view into the changing consensus about top films over time. Among big movers up the list are There Will Be Blood (14 to 7), Pan’s Labyrinth (58 to 21), Elephant (90 to 51), and The Lives of Others (127 to 66). Films slipping down the rankings include Far From Heaven (6 to 14), You Can Count on Me (27 to 53), and The Aviator (64 to 99).
Here’s a look at the latest Top 10:
I look forward to seeing how these picks look at the end of the century (or millennium).
“Where’d all those songs come from?”
Bad Blake has covered a lot of miles in his 57 years, and it shows. One look at the guy and you know he’s hit every bump along the road. He’s got nothing left but a ’78 Suburban taking him from town to town, from bowling alleys to bars, where he plays a few songs from long ago.
Bad Blake is a role that fits Jeff Bridges like an old shirt pulled from the laundry bag. Comfortable, nothing too fancy. It may not have been through the wash, but that don’t seem to matter. Bridges seems as easy-going as any actor working today, without an ounce of vanity. He’s an everyman, a good-looking, roguish type who’s been around. You might find him anywhere. He’s the kind you can kick back, relax, and spend some time with.
Crazy Heart may not be the most ambitious story, but it knows better than to try too hard. There’s not a false moment through the whole thing. Bridges is in every scene, and half the time in close-up, playing a has-been singer-songwriter having a hard time on the road. It’s a soulful performance. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the mother of a four-year-old son, torn between her desire for the older guy, her loneliness, and her hopes not to make the same mistakes she’s made before with men. Colin Farrell is rock solid as a country star.
The film’s worth seeing for the music alone. I tend to tolerate country—it’s hardly my favorite—but if it sounded more like this, I’d be a bigger fan.
I don’t really give a damn about awards (even if sometimes I pretend that I do). But they do have a show coming up in a few weeks and they’ve gotta give one of those litte statues to somebody for best performance by an actor. It’d be real nice if this time—at long last—they gave one to Jeff Bridges.
“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” was a story published in the New Yorker in the late 1940s. Samuel Goldwyn liked it enough he made it into a movie. He bought the rights from a hot young writer and hired the Epstein brothers to adapt it for the big screen. Starring Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward, the film was called My Foolish Heart and came out in 1949. It was not well-received. Worse, the writer of the short story was so disillusioned with the “bastardization” that he swore never to let Hollywood film another of his stories. He kept his word.
That hot young writer was, of course, J.D. Salinger. For the rest of his life, members of that odd bunch called the Glass family, along with a fellow named Holden Caulfield, would be found only on the page, not on the screen, despite repeated efforts by moviemakers to get Salinger to change his mind. Among the inquiring parties, apparently, were Jerry Lewis, Billy Wilder, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, and Leonardo DiCaprio. We’ll see what happens now. Salinger died Wednesday. He was 91.
I had an experience with “Uncle Wiggily” and now that J.D. is no longer around, I suppose I can tell all. After several attempts without success, I finally had my first crossword puzzle accepted at the New York Times. The theme was based on “uncles” and one of the nine famous uncles in the grid was Uncle WIGGILY. There was one problem, however—I had spelled the name WIGGLY. How did I ever pull a boner like that? It wasn’t for lack of checking. I looked everywhere I could and found lots of support for the misspelled version. Even today, the wrong spelling gets four times as many hits as the right one at Google. (This New York Times article from 1976 makes the same error I did.) I didn’t discover the problem until after the puzzle had been submitted and accepted. The proof I discovered when I pulled Salinger’s Nine Stories from my bookshelf to see “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” on the cover.* Wished I had looked there in the first place.
Whether the puzzle was to be my first or my last I wasn’t sure, but I wrote to Will Shortz, the editor and all-around puzzlemaster at the Times, to explain the problem. He wrote back to say I was nuts to think I’d ever have a crossword puzzle published in his town again. Actually, he could have, but he didn’t. The story in fact has a happy ending. I revised the crossword—including the correctly spelled WIGGILY—and the puzzle, my first in the Times, was published in January 2006. There was to be an even happier ending: Will had revised the puzzle himself, and that version (through some mysterious quirk of fate in which neither Will nor his team of test solvers noticed the duplication) was published nine months later. I don’t know that had ever happened before, but it worked out fine for me. I got paid twice for more or less the same puzzle.
* The Uncle Wiggily character, by the way, was not Salinger’s invention. Uncle Wiggily Longears, the gentleman rabbit of children’s lit, was created by writer Howard Roger Garis in the early 20th century. Salinger just borrowed the name.
Here’s Haiti as you haven’t seen it before—in 360°, full motion, interactive video.
Click the PLAY button within the video screen. CLICK and DRAG your mouse to look up, down and around. PAUSE and EXPLORE at any time by again pressing the play button.
The company behind the 360° view: Immersive Media.
With the Best of the Decade theme running on the front page this week—not my list, but the critics’—I would be remiss if I didn’t post my selections too (though I must admit that part of me resists the whole idea). The movies below are ones that had a deep impact on me at the time and have stayed with me. That is to say, it’s a subjective list. But I think I could objectively argue as well that these movies are very good, at least, and in many cases, great.
All movie lists must have a Top 10. I’m not sure why that has to be, but that was in the contract they made me sign when I opened this site, so I’ll abide. On the other hand, ten is not enough for one whole decade, so I’ve added another couple of lists with more selections. So sue me.
The Top 10
Five Ties for #11
Films That on Another Day Would Make the Top 11
Hollywood studios don’t make movies anymore. They distribute them. That is, they sell movies, they market movies, they release movies—and there are few things that matter as much to the studios as when a movie is released. Take Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. (Please!) DreamWorks, Paramount, Universal, and others, teamed up for the worldwide distribution, and you can bet they had countless meetings before agreeing on a schedule. The U.S. release date was June 24. That makes sense. The beginning of summer, kids are out of school—it’s a good time for popcorn.
A June date for any movie usually means that Academy Award considerations were not part of the calculation. Everybody knows that Oscar-worthy films are released late in the year. But what’s interesting this year is that one of the films getting lots of Oscar buzz was released the same week as the Transformers sequel—The Hurt Locker.
The Hurt Locker was released by Summit Entertainment, a relative newcomer to the distribution business. Did the company not think the movie had Oscar potential? Or did it think that the famously short memories of Academy voters was a Hollywood legend not to be taken seriously?
Ten films will get Best Picture nominations this year. In nine days we’ll know what they are. Of the films likely to be among the chosen, all but a handful were released after Labor Day.
The Hurt Locker—Jun. 26
Julie & Julia—Aug. 7
Inglourious Basterds—Aug. 21
A Serious Man—Oct. 2
An Education—Oct. 16
Where the Wild Things Are—Oct. 16
Fantastic Mr. Fox—Nov. 13
The Blind Side—Nov. 20
A Single Man—Dec. 11
Crazy Heart—Dec. 16
Up in the Air—Dec. 23
Do Oscar voters really have short memories? It’s hard to tell, since studios usually hold their best stuff till late in the fall. It’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In any case, over the past couple of decades, only four films released during the first half of the year won the big prize.
1990 Dances with Wolves—Nov. 9
1991 The Silence of the Lambs—Feb. 14
1992 Unforgiven—Aug. 7
1993 Schindler’s List—Dec. 15
1994 Forrest Gump—Jul. 6
1995 Braveheart—May 24
1996 The English Patient—Nov. 15
1997 Titanic—Dec. 19
1998 Shakespeare in Love—Dec. 11
1999 American Beauty—Oct. 1
2000 Gladiator—May 5
2001 A Beautiful Mind—Dec. 21
2002 Chicago—Dec. 27
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—Dec. 17
2004 Million Dollar Baby—Dec. 15
2005 Crash—May 6
2006 The Departed—Oct. 6
2007 No Country for Old Men—Nov. 9
2008 Slumdog Millionaire—Nov. 12
The Book Club
By Jaron Lanier
Ten years ago Jaron Lanier published an article in Wired called “One-Half of a Manifesto,” his dissent from the ruling dogma of the digital revolution. Now he’s out with a book, a full-blown manifesto, titled You Are Not a Gadget. Here’s how he begins:
Something started to go wrong with the digital revolution around the turn of the twenty-first century. The World Wide Web was flooded by a torrent of petty designs sometimes called web 2.0. This ideology promotes radical freedom on the surface of the web, but that freedom, ironically, is more for machines than people.
Lanier says that he’s been called a Luddite by friends. That’s understandable—he’s challenging some rather entrenched orthodoxies—but it’s hard to take the charge seriously. Lanier is a computer scientist holding prestigious positions at Microsoft and at Berkeley. He was a pioneer of the computer revolution. He is the father of virtual reality. His critique is not the work of a crank on the outside with a skewed view of the world of technology. He’s been inside that world, leading the way and breaking new ground. He’s a visionary who sees great promise for the future, but he’s concerned about where things are headed.
Lanier writes about technology, but his major concerns are culture and individuality. Culture he sees as becoming more bland and more nostalgic than creative, and individuality as threatened while the culture places increasing value on the crowd rather than the person. Lanier illustrates his case with examples. Among his favorite targets are Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter, each useful its own way but whose value is not cost-free. The standardized nature of what they offer is limiting to the freedom of human expression. Lanier, I have to say, makes a compelling argument.
Lanier discusses the rise of bloggers and the decline of journalism, and he’s (rightly) concerned about what it would be like in a world without newspapers. His defense of the papers, however, seems off-base. It’s true the papers are under assault from forces beyond their control, but they are hardly without blame. Bad journalism is bad journalism, in examples he cites (missing the story in the runup to the Iraq War and the recent economic implosion), and that’s not the fault of technology or bloggers.
Overall, though, I think Lanier is on the right track with much of his criticism. He’s not a pessimist, by any means, and he offers his own vision of an alternative, better future. He covers a lot of territory, and the book will give anyone who reads it lots to think about.
I’ll resist the urge to quote whole chapters, but since this is a site about movies (mostly), I will give you a taste of Lanier’s ideas about a threat to the culture, and how it may affect the future of cinema.
If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless.
The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract. The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.
…we are in a transitional period…
It is my hope that book publishing will continue renumeratively into the digital realm. But that will only happen if digital designs evolve to make it possible. As things stand, books will be vastly devalued as soon as large numbers of people start reading from an electronic device.
The same is true for movies. Right now, there are still plenty of people in the habit of buying movies on disk, and of going out to movie theaters. This is the way culture works these days. You have to deliver it through some kind of proprietary hardware, like a theater or a paper book, in order to charge for it.
This is not a sustainable solution. The younger you are, the more likely you are to grab a movie for free over the net instead of buying a disk. As for theaters, I wish them a long, healthy continued life, but imagine a world in which a superb fifty-dollar projector can be set up anywhere, in the woods or at the beach, and generate as good an experience. That is the world we will live in within a decade. Once file sharing shrinks Hollywood as it is now shrinking the music companies, the option of selling a script for enough money to make a living will be gone.
Postscript: I’ll just add an update with some of my thoughts. I tend to be skeptical when I hear forecasts of doom and gloom in the movie business. The end of Hollywood has been predicted before, e.g., with the advent of television, then VCRs. Hollywood tends to adapt. The movie business survives. It will continue on now. I don’t know how the digital revolution will ultimately affect the movie business, but it will have an effect. The new technologies provide cheap tools to anyone who wants to make a movie, which ought to have some impact on movies that are made. So far, you wouldn’t know it by what’s playing at theaters. YouTube is democratic, but it doesn’t compare with established moviemaking (and mashups, as Lanier argues, is not what the revolution was supposed to be all about), and it doesn’t have a sustainable economic model. My concern about movies is not that the they’ll go out of business, but about the kind of movies that get made, and especially, the kind of movies that don’t. All is not well in Tinseltown (or wherever movies are made these days), but that’s a subject for another day.
Jean Simmons died today in Santa Monica, after a battle with lung cancer. She was 80. She was a great star of the postwar era, known for her beauty and talent, often playing roles of quiet strength and dignity. Simmons started in British movies, then went on to have a notable Hollywood career. She gained notice for her performances in Great Expectations (1946) and Black Narcissus (1947), then played Ophelia to Olivier’s Hamlet in 1948, earning one of her two Oscar nominations. Among her many films are The Actress (1953), Elmer Gantry (1960), and Spartacus (1960).
Simmons was Sergeant Sarah Brown, the sister who ran a mission (and object of a wager), in the film adaptation of Guys and Dolls. “He will not be a gambler for one thing,” she says. Ah, what does she know?
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Jean Simmons, Marlon Brando
“Mine I’ll leave to chance and chemistry—”
The right is angry about Avatar. No, it isn’t stilted dialog or cartoonish characters that has them all upset. It’s the politics of the film. Nile Gardiner says Avatar is “the most expensive piece of anti-American propaganda ever made” and “one of the most left-wing films in the history of modern American cinema.” “Think of Avatar as Death Wish 5 for leftists,” says John Nolte. “A simplistic, revisionist revenge fantasy where if you freakin’ hate the bad guys (America), you’re able to forgive the by-the-numbers predictability of it all and still get off watching them get what they got coming.”
The L.A. Times has the rebuttal: “Filmmaker James Cameron’s science-fiction epic…has been widely derided as anti-American, liberal propaganda. That’s funny, we thought it was just formulaic — if incredibly artful — escapist fantasy.”
I doubt the Times is going to persuade Gardiner and Nolte. You can argue over who’s right or wrong, but the conservatives have more to worry about if they’re right. What does it say then that the movie is so damn popular?
China Film Group is unexpectedly yanking the James Cameron-directed blockbuster “Avatar” from 1,628 2-D screens this week in favor of a biography of the ancient philosopher Confucius starring Chow-Yun Fat.
… the move was made at the urging of propaganda officials who are concerned that “Avatar” is taking too much market share from Chinese films and drawing unwanted attention to the sensitive issue of forced evictions.
This one is a real problem.
I realize there’s a story behind the title of the movie formerly known as Push. I get why the people behind the movie formerly known as Push didn’t want to keep the name Push, though I am still a bit perplexed why the people behind the movie decided to call the movie Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. That is an unusual title, to say the least, and I think the people behind the movie now known as Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire should have considered the implications before calling it that. For one thing, there are the poor theater owners, who have precious little space on their marquees to begin with and most likely would rather not pay the help overtime to spell out eight words when even a six-word title such as The Movie Formerly Known as “Push” would do. Another consideration is the poor viewers of the endless awards shows who now have to endure an even lengthier broadcast because Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire takes so long for the presenters to read. There may be many of us late for work the next day. Perhaps we should just be glad they haven’t called the movie Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire and Not at All Associated with the Gollum Character from the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.