28 July 2009

War of the Decades: 1989, 1999, 2009

My inspiration for this next article comes in a sort of round-about way. I was reading this article featured on IMDB today proclaiming 1984 to be a great year for movies and in the comments section, as people must argue with this kind of thing, some went for 1939, 1994 etc for a better year. This kind of thing is up for debate all the time around film sites like this. It's really pretty dumb, in my opinion to argue good movie years. Does one singular incredible film make an entire year an awesome movie year? I don't know. No one does. Stop debating it.

Anywho, the whole point is that it got me thinking, this guy clearly loves 1984 (in essence, Terminator, Ghostbusters, Spinal Tap, Bachelor Party, in his opinon), someone else loved 1994 (Forest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank), another said '74 (Chinatown, Godfather II, Blazing Saddles, Texas Chainsaw). Personally, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for 2004 (Spider-Man 2, Hellboy, Anchorman, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle are all personal favourites here. Not to mention Asskaban, my fav Harry Potter, thats just the tip o' the dick).

So, can it be possible that there are a series of good or similar movies that come out once a decade? We'll find out in our first WAR OF THE DECADES!!

For the first go around here, I've chosen the past three years ending in "9." Why? It's a handy twenty or ten year anniversary for most, and also a way to judge our current year. Also, the previous two years were big ones for shifts in cinema which heralded new trends in the following, which I'm curious if 2009 will live up to that hype. So, without further ado, I bring you...1989!


The combined force of "Batman," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Ghostbusters II" and "UHF" made the Summer of 1989 one of the first truly blockbuster seasons. "Batman" in particular ushered in an era of comic book franchise films that we are still suffering through today. Here is an article just dealing with "Batman" that is a must-read supplement to feel the full brunt of my point here. You may notice in that last list that all but two were sequels, and all but one were part of some of the greatest money-making franchises of all time. Add November's "Back to the Future Part II" into the mix, and you have the makings of a year not that unlike our own.

1989 paved the way for that style of movie to continue through the 90s, with the advent of many other franchise movies. Now, granted, there were of course always sequels, and Star Wars made the franchise possible years earlier, but '89 was the first year that had FOUR sequels in its Top Ten Highest Grossing, not including Batman, the first in its series. In comparison, '88 had ONE, '87 had ONE, '86 had TWO, only one of which came out in summer. The only comparable year is 1984, which had a staggering Top 6 movies that were all the first in line for sequels to come. 1989, and Batman in particular made the a big opening weekend a big deal. Some of these effects were not seen for a few years in the early 90s, but certainly by our time now, the opening weekend determines the entire fate of a movie. Of the top opening days of all time, 8 out of 10 came out in the past three years. 10 out of 10 in the past five years. This traces its earliest roots to 1989 and "Batman."

On a lesser scale, a few notable films and stars came out that would influence the next decade. Steven Soderbergh hit the map with "Sex, lies, and videotape," while Keanu Reeves gave his first whoas with "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." In addition, Brad Pitt got his first on screen rolls in "Cutting Class" and "Happy Together." James Cameron's use of CGI in "The Abyss" garnered an Academy Award for Special Effects, which helped legitimize CGI's usage in film, leading to more advanced, breathtaking use in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991) and "Jurassic Park" (1993). All this and Michael Moore directed his first documentary, "Roger & Me."

Needless to say, 1989 changed a lot of what film was in the 80s. Broader, more merchanidisable adventures such as "Batman" and "Back to the Future Part II" paved a way for action films out of swath of Rambos and Commandos that had dominated just a few years earlier. Bruce Willis in "Die Hard" (1988) also helped steer away from the muscled, perfect soldier into a more relatable, everyday hero that the 90s adored.


Most of my views on 1999 can be found here but I'll expand a bit for the purposes of this article. In addition to the flawed, spirituality-seeking protagonist that dominated the 2000s, 1999 ushered in new trends in cinema in different ways.

"The Phantom Menace," "Toy Story 2," and "The Matrix" were the first in a ton of early 2000s franchise trilogies that dominated the box office. "American Pie" reinvigorated the long-dormant Teen Sex Comedy that had come to a head in recent years. "Deep Blue Sea," "Wild Wild West" and "The Mummy" were very much the heralds of the intense, terrible CGI action movies that were everywhere in the early 2000s, while "Blue Streak" was a very 90s action comedy, perhaps the last of its kind.

Regarding the influence of horror, "The Sixth Sense" started the career of M. Night Shyamalan, for better or worse. "The Blair Witch Project" was the first of many movies to rely on viral marketing and hype that has been used both with success ("Cloverfield" 2008) and sheer failure ("Snakes on a Plane" 2006) in the past decade.


So, what's to come from 2009? Here are my predictions:

I think 2009 will always be remembered as a weird year at the box office. In the first winter/spring season the greatest successes were "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," "Taken," and "Fast and Furious." Are these really the movies we should think back on fondly when we think of this year? Damn I hope not.

The biggest studio influencers of 2009 will be "Watchmen" and "The Hangover," as two sides of the same coin. "Watchmen" proved the deathnell of the R-Rating for mainstream action movies. I don't consider it an exact commercial or critical failure, but it surely underperformed, especially (and ironically) in the fanboy community, basically because it stuck too closely to its source material. Before this becomes a review of Watchmen, let me get on a tangent here: I've been debating with multiple people the past few days about "Harry Potter and the Ass-Blood Prince" Book vs. Movie. I contend, usually to no avail, that they are two different mediums, impossible to compare, and that they both are great successes in their own mediums, because the film version did some things different that work better on film, the book did great things you can only do in written word. "Watchmen" will go down as studios giving a director great leeway to do his own thing trying to stay very close to source material and utterly failing. The R-Rating for anything outside of "Crank 2"-type movies will be dead for a while.

Likewise, the late 2000s, culminating in 2009 will see the ultimate rise of the R-Rated comedy. This has been boiling for a while, ever since "Wedding Crashers" (2005) and "Knocked Up" (2007), but "The Hangover" is currently the #4 Domestic Grossing movie of 2009 (It's also #1 R-Rated, followed by "Watchmen," which has almost half its gross). It's notable for doing this well and being a Non-Apatow movie, it's been a while since the funniest and most commercially successful movie of the year could stake that claim (since I dunno...2003 maybe?! "Old School" with Todd Phillips again haha). These movies, both for their success and failure with influence the next decade.

Other than that, the only major film that will always stick out to me at least, in 2009 was "Observe and Report." I've read a ton of reviews, and even the group I saw it with ranged from absolute love to a near-walk-out. I think if it ever finds a good cult audience its brand of pseudo-comedy, pseudo-intense thriller/psychological piece can be refined and made into some great films in the next few years.

So, without further ado, here's my predictions here for films that we will talk about when I have the Ten Year Anniversary of this post in 2019:

1. Wolverine/Star Trek; Terminator/Transformers -- the shift between good and bad and deliciously bad blockbusters.

2. Moon/District 9 -- Intriguing SciFi on tiny budgets, if District 9 does well, either among audiences or critics, there should be more small films like it to come, also giving Neill Blomkamp a career.

3. Inglourious Basterds -- This will either be Tarantino's return to form or his next shithole. Could influence where his career goes in the next decade.

4. Where the Wild Things Are/Fantastic Mr. Fox/A Christmas Carol --
New directions in animation, both CGI, stop-motion, and motion-capture. One major opinion I have is that the 2000s will always be known as the decade of really shitty CGI ("The Mummy Returns" [2001], "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" [2003], "Van Helsing" [2004]) while I'm hoping the 2010s will be known as the decade of really awesome CGI, or at least well-used CGI (in the vein of "Iron Man" [2008], "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" [2008], "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" [2009]).

5. Avatar -- incredible hype, apparently just blew away crowd at Comic Con, I have seen nothing major from it. Either way, Sam Worthington here and in good performance in "Terminator" may just establish him as the go-to action star of the next ten years.

6. Sherlock Holmes -- I'm going to say it here: The next ten years will be forever known as the DOWNEY DECADE. Starting in 2008, he has amassed lauded performances in "Iron Man," "Tropic Thunder," and "The Soloist," and coming up he's got Holmes, "Iron Man 2" and what's sure to be a shitload of Avengers movies. He's the man, career couldn't be going better right now. As long as he avoids cokes and hookers, I'm pumped for the DOWNEY DECADE.

So, that's that. Each year a tremendous influence on the following decade, as to which movie year comes out the best, I think I'm going to tend to side with 1999, but who knows what the last five months of 2009 will bring...Looking back there, I listed off quite a bit of highly anticipated films coming out. Who knows.

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