31 August 2009

Tops of the Millennium: Influencers and Typifiers


Hello! It's getting be that time of the decade again, and as the year comes to a close, it's time for some Countdown Lists. Now, I generally dislike List-Making on Film websites, I think it's very subjective, gimmicky and at times, corny and useless. Nevertheless, over the next few months I plan to present a few "Tops of the Millennium" lists, presenting Countdowns of various aspects of the greatest films so far this Millennium.

I'm doing this because really, this kind of thing is so subjective. The "greatest" films of the past decade in terms of Academy Award wins or positive critical reception will be solely absent from the following list, but that doesn't mean we should ignore some of the biggest popular influences of our decade. I got to thinking that some of the most significant films that shaped how tastes and markets worked will not be found on most website's decade-end lists.

So, to begin, I've separated our past ten years into three different sub-eras. At the start, you will find the year span, along with a movie that best typifies that time span and why. Between that, I'm counting down the TOP 10 MOVIES THAT INFLUENCED THE DECADE. Needless to say, I care little to nothing over non-mass pop culture topics, so deal with it. Without further ado...

2000 - 2003...

...is Best Typified by: The Fast and the Furious (2001) - This is a crazy, stupid action movie that to me really feels like every action film made in the early 2000s. From the utter reveling in its own zeitgeist to its with grueling anti-hero stars, everything about this screams fast, edgy and cocky. A perfect crust for the "extreme" skater-ish fad of the late 90s (think XFL, Jackass, X-Games, lots of X's) that spilled over into the early part of this decade.

Influencers:
1. X-Men (2000) - This is the grandaddy of all current superhero movies, which have nearly replaced the entire Action genre by gum. This has also been a huge cash cow, with franchise upon franchise, even ones that do relatively shitty in theaters like "Hulk" (2003) to have sequel upon needless, needless sequel. This all started with "X-Men." (See "Spider-Man" [2002], "Hellboy" [2004], "Ghost Rider" [2007])
2. Moulin Rouge (2001) - The Musical Genre was all but buried and decomposed until this dandy little flick hit the screens. A great musical revival followed, and if last summer or this fall's "Nine" (2009) is any indication, is still very strong. Hell, they even got a Best Picture Winner in there. (See "Chicago" [2003], "Across the Universe" [2007], "Mamma Mia!" [2008])
3. Shrek (2001) - There were a scarce amount of Computer Animated Features before Shrek, but none with the style or wit. Also barely none outside of Disney besides "Antz" (1998). After the green man cometh, there was a huge surplus of celebrity voiced shit from a wide variety of studios, which is of course due in part to some handy technological leaps. The style of pop culture-grabbing, grubby, enormous cash-flow Animation all came from Shrek though. For clarification, think of it as the rise of the Anti-Pixar, heartless animated franchises. (See "Shark Tale" [2004], "Hoodwinked" [2005], "Over the Hedge" [2006])
4. Zoolander (2001) - I despise the term "Frat Pack," I feel it's inaccurate, too broad-ranging, and unoriginal. Unfortunately, there's no better term to call the sort of Comedies that ran amuck in the early part of the decade. They were a different kind of Comedian, providing a transition that helped move away from what I'd call the "trying-to-be-controversial-but-limited-to-PG-13-rated" Adam Sandler-type movie, eventually leading to full-blown Apatow-Level Comedy (See "Old School" [2003], "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" [2004], "Wedding Crashers" [2005])
5. The Bourne Identity (2002) - This movie presented a shift in action films as well as spy protagonists and how we treat our government, perhaps the first reaction to an untrustworthy, scandal-ridden Bush White House. Whereas Bond is always loyal to country as a strict code, immensely exemplified by the best 90s bond ("Goldeneye" [1995]), audiences in the 2000s wanted their spies to be rebellious and hardcore. Compare the Bourne alternative with the loyalist Bond film that came out in 2002 ("Die Another Day" [2002]). Bourne founded its own franchise while "Die Another Day" shut Bond down for four years. On a side note, Bourne also heavily popularized the "shaky cam" style, which ran a muck the Bonds to follow. (See "Casino Royale" [2006], "Body of Lies" [2008], "Quantum of Solace [2008]. Also note Batman's fighting style in "Batman Begins" [2005] and "The Dark Knight" [2008]. It's so Bourne-ish)
6. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) - I have this wonderful little gem on here representing a sometimes-terrible/sometimes-good trend of the 2000s, which I can only categorize as the "completely-unnecessary-sequel-with-a-dude-who-is-way-too-fucking-old-to-play-that-role. T3 with Arnie was the first, but assuredly not the last hero of the 80s to pull his pants up and give his once-awesome character some wooden teeth for another go-round. (See "Rocky Balboa" [2006], "Live Free or Die Hard" [2007], "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Dick" [2008]. On the side, notice the propensity for films like these to avoid numbering. This spills over to some other franchises as well, think "Fast and Furious" [2009], "The Final Destination" [2009]. Honestly, why is it more popular to add or subtract definite articles instead of sequential numerals? Fuck this is stupid.)

2004 - 2006...

...is Best Typified by: "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005) - I was watching this the other day, and I knew I had to mention it because it gives me the same feeling "The Fast and the Furious" did. It's such a mid-2000s movie. I mean the completely needless big-budget sequel or "reboot" that generally misses the point was pretty much the norm here (think "Superman Returns" [2006], "The Pink Panther" [2006], etc). Not only that, it has really excessive, shitty CGI that runs rampant, presenting an overall commercialisation and soulless blockbuster that feels like it was made for pure moneymaking and entertainment rather than art. It's like how Woodstock '99 compares to the original. Not nearly as meaningful, original or frankly, even that fun. It's the kind of regurgitation and franchisation that totally typifies the mid-2000s.

Influencers:
7. Batman Begins (2005)
- Whereas "X-Men" got the ball rolling, "Batman Begins" shifted superheros to these dark, tragic figures, adding depth to the relatively bubble-gum world that had been set with things like "Spider-Man" (2002) and "Fantastic Four" (2005). Extending into the general action realm, "Batman Begins" also started a trend of giving this shitty pulp material to gifted directors who started to skew everything "dark." We're still not out of this one. (See "The Incredible Hulk" [2008], "The Dark Knight" [2008], "Watchmen" [2009], "Thor" [2011])
8. Crank (2006) - There was this other weird fad of the super-intense, uber-action flick that started after "Crank" premiered in the mid-2000s. Out of this came a slew of hack movies, really, but with some merit that tried a radically different method of film making that eschewed any semblance or attempt at plot or coherence and instead favoured pure adrenaline and action. Frankly, I really like these kinds of movies. Everyone should. They're made to be liked. If you're full of testosterone, that is. (see "300" [2007], "Shoot 'Em up" [2007], "Smokin' Aces" [2006])
9. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) - As the complete and utter opposite of the non-stop action movie, "Little Miss Sunshine," mostly through its Best Picture Nom and Supporting Actor win for Alan Arkin. I'd call this "kind" of movie the cheeky indie quasi-comedy, which we've seen a shitload of the past few years. I feel like a heavy part of its appeal is to the College Hipster, seeking to quote something pretentious in an effort to feel like they know something about film, but hey, that's just my personal bitterness. And I liked "Juno" (2007). (see "Juno," "Away We Go" [2009], "500 Days of Summer" [2009])

2007-2009...

...is Best Typified by: Spider-Man 3 (2007) - An overcomplicated, over-thought out, overbudgeted extreme extravaganza. The blockbuster of the late 2000s tries desperately to see all sides of every character and issue, pouring in way way way too much thought and effort to make every character sympathetic and as "real" as possible. It makes me think of how much more "real" the purely evil Noah Cross (John Huston) was in "Chinatown" (1974) compared to say, the over-attempts at humanizing devil Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) in "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (2007). And yes, I just willingly compared Davy Jones to John Huston. I don't think it's unreasonable. Maybe.

10. Knocked Up (2007) - Being the later part of the decade here, there hasn't been too much to influence, but needless to say, "Knocked Up" has done its part, in part because it's far easier to get some comedies in production rather than the action franchises. Anyway, as I describe a ton here, "Knocked Up" formulated and popularized the R-Rated, no-name actors, group/buddy comedy that we've been blessed with these past few years. (see "Superbad" [2007], "Role Models" [2008], "The Hangover" [2009])

So there you have it lads. The first of many askew lists chronologuing this wonderful past decade. Over the next couple months I'll be posting more of this same sort of thing, until we get to my official TOP 15 FILMS OF THE MILLENIUM. Stay tuned, eager viewers. Stay tuned.

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