Wednesday, December 26, 2007

End-of-the-Year List Fatigue

Maybe it's because I'm not actually getting paid to be either a film or music critic at this point in my life, but somehow looking over all the year-end best-of lists on all the usual websites, I'm just starting to care less and less. It's all becoming too much of a ritual. Of course, it doesn't help that the studios now almost uniformily withhold their award-worthy films from release until the very end of the year, so suddenly we're inundated with all these critics saying, "Oh you simply must see this movie you haven't had a chance to see at all yet," and "Oh here's another movie that goes into wide release in a couple of weeks that will simply blow you away." I feel like critics are already walking into the screenings wondering how high a particular prestige picture will place on their "Best of the Year" list, instead of just walking into the screening just wanting to enjoy the damn movie. In a way, I'm glad that I don't have to add to the gigantic pile of year-end lists, and that I don't have to sweat about "how many stars" I'm going to give a movie while I'm actually watching it, and I can just enjoy a movie for what it is and worry about categorizing its quality later. Honestly, I think putting anything you've just experienced two weeks ago on a list is slightly ridiculous. I'm not above list-making, as anyone can tell, but I think good lists need a little more time to properly gestate. Sure, we did our Best of the '80s list, but some time has passed, you know what I'm saying? Some of these lists seem to operate on the questionable principle that the ten best movies of any year are roughly equal to the ten best movies of any other year. But honestly I think the best movie of 2006 would probably be about the 14th best movie of 1976. Yet these lists don't account for upward and downward trends in cinema and music. So no matter how good or bad a year it has been for movies, you're going to get ten films that are being presented to you as flamingly great. I'm starting to trust my own instincts more and saying to myself, "Hey wait a minute, that movie probably isn't going to be as good as the number of film critic awards it has accrued would suggest." Ready for some skepticism? This is probably a laughable exercise but here we go:

No Country For Old Men: The Coen Brothers have excelled in making movies that I've really liked without ever making a movie that I've really loved. I'll see this one anyway but I doubt it's as good at the critics say it is.

Sweeney Todd: Almost the same story here - so many of Tim Burton's movies are enjoyable but none of them would I include among my all-time favorites. So he's got great production design, big whoop. If I creamed myself over production design, then maybe I'd give a shit about Tim Burton, but otherwise forget it. I'm sure this is a competently entertaining movie but I'm not falling over myself to see it.

Atonement: I just read the book and thought it was a flaming pile of exhausted overly-literary pseudo-profundity (perhaps more on this later), so I'm not exactly lining up to bow down to its apparent cinematic greatness. But I could be wrong of course.

There Will Be Blood: Now here's a movie that I'm actually looking forward to seeing. Not all of Paul Thomas Anderson's films have been great, but as far as I'm concerned, they've all at least aspired to greatness.

Seriously, though, are these reviewers asking themselves this question: how good will these movies be in twenty years? Some recent examples (and of course no one will agree on such matters of taste, but it's my opinion so hey): After I saw Memento, I said to myself, "This movie will be just as good in twenty years." After I saw Chicago, I said, "This movie will not be just as good in twenty years." Ebert in particular is going nuts, writing: "It was a time of wonders, an autumn of miracles, one of the best years in recent movie history. One great film after another opened, and movie lovers found there were two or three, sometimes more, must-see films opening on a weekend. I gave up rationing my four-star ratings and went with the flow." Uh, have we been watching the same movies? It's been a while since I've seen anything that totally blew me away but maybe that's just me. I haven't even bothered to read Ebert's list, so at odds do I feel with his enthusiasm.

Then there's the end-of-the-year music lists. I looked at Pitchfork's Top 50 Albums of 2007 list and giggled, because I had only heard of about five albums out of 50, and had actually heard about zero. The worst part was that I felt the desire to listen to about zero as well. Their number one choice, Panda Bear's Person Pitch, was described by Yoggoth thusly: "It's like that song 'Broken Arrow' on Neil Young's Decade, except without all the other, really good, songs on Decade." So I can't exactly call that a recommendation. Much more interesting, and much more successful, in my opinion, was Pitchfork's 20 Worst Albums Covers of 2007 list. Now here's a list that truly captures the spirit of our age.

More list overkill:

Allmusic Editors Pick Their Top Ten of 2007

The Year In Film 2007 - The AV Club

The Top Ten Movies of 2007 - Slate

RT Editor's Best Movie Picks of 2007 - Rotten Tomatoes

The Best of 2007 - All Movie Guide

The Top Ten Films of 2007 - MSNBC


herr zrbo said...

Wait, was Ebert serious? What a joke! There's been virtually no films this year that have looked interesting. Sure I saw Spider Man 3 and a couple other idiot blockbusters, but what films is Ebert talking about? Superbad wasn't nearly as funny as it was made out to be, and Juno looks exactly like Superbad with that one actor playing nearly the exact same character.

He chose 'The Great Debaters'? Wasn't that film made last year with Hillary Swank, I think it was called 'Freedom Writers'? Or wait, I think it actually starred Michelle Pfeiffer and had a Coolio song, or wait, maybe it starred Edward James Olmos??

I knew Ebert was getting old, but I didn't realize he was hitting the crack pipe so hard!

ninquelote said...

I was never much a fan of Ebert, so I'm not surprised at his recent love of everything mediocre. But I think you are missing the point of the 2007 "best of" lists. They are listing the best of whatever in 2007 based on whatever has come out in 2007. This is simply a guide for lazy-uninformed people who need to be told what to watch, listen to, and buy. To place these lists in juxtaposition with movies or music of the past I think is unfair.

In terms of film, I think it is easier to extract it from its year of release and make an educated guess as to whether it will stand up against past films as one of the greats.

That said, like 'Memento', I think there were some noteworthy films this year that one might want to watch in the coming years to see if they can stand the test of time.

Micheal Clayton - Amazing.
The TV Set - Hilarious and dry.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead/Charlie Wilson's War - Anything with Philip Seymour-Hoffman in it. I haven't seen 'Devil' yet, but I'm sure it'll be at least entertaining.

I'm sure there are one or two more, but I can't think of any off the top of my head.

And, herr, awesome critique of 'The Great Debaters'.

Little Earl said...

Quick defense of Ebert: He says what he honestly thinks, he pitches his writing toward a large popular audience without dumbing it down, and his writing is almost completely free of crappy pseudo-intellectual film theory lameness.

However, either he's getting older (or more confident in assuming that all his readers are in the same post surgery "wow I love every middlebrow oscar wannabe movie" state as he is), or I'm forming more and more of my own opinions on cinema and I'm simply disagreeing with him more than I used to. But at least I would WANT to argue with Ebert, unlike other critics who aren't even coming from the same ideological position as he and I are.

I just wish these year-end lists were a little less like a shouting match and a little more like a casual conversation - or maybe I'm just mad that I can't shout as loud as someone like Ebert can. So hey, let's shout some more:

I just saw Juno, and it was really good, if not exactly in tune with my current cinematic mood. More on Juno some other time.

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead looks good, and I'm a fan of the director (Sidney Lumet) so I'm going to try to catch it, on DVD at least. I also want to see Persepolis, an animated movie about a girl making her way out of Iran, because at least it looks visually interesting.

Yoggoth saw Charlie Wilson's War, said it was enjoyable but not amazing. You really liked it Ninquelote?

And be careful ripping on Superbad, Zrbo, I think Ninquelote is a big fan.

ninquelote said...

I also saw Juno yesterday and thought it was great. I don't usually listen to critics at all, and this movie was no exception. I went and saw it because I thought the way they were approaching the idea was fun and interesting, and in this case I was right. It's this year's 'Napoleon Dynamite'.

I didn't think there was anything wrong with 'Charlie Wilson's War' (except maybe Julia Robert's acting). I'm not going to change my mind because Yoggoth thought it was enjoyable but not amazing. I do think that Seymour-Hoffman is one of the best American actors in at least the last decade. Although I enjoyed 'Dog Day Afternoon' and 'Serpico', I don't know much about Sidney Lumet, but I think 'Devil' will be a good movie.

I think you guys are expecting too much from films. If you were the age you are now in the '70's, I don't think you would have thought of all those movies as great pieces of cinema.

PS - 'Superbad' was great, 'Knocked Up' was severely overrated.

Little Earl said...

"I think you guys are expecting too much from films. If you were the age you are now in the '70's, I don't think you would have thought of all those movies as great pieces of cinema."

I disagree and I'll tell you why. I actually think the rough period between 1997-2001 was a really good stretch for movies, and that the subsequent years haven't been quite as impressive. For example, looking at my DVD collection, I have a grand total of eleven movies from 1997-2001, and only two movies from 2002 to the present. That's right, I actually feel that eleven movies from 1997-2001 were as good as any movies in the history of cinema, including the '70s. I would say the same about only three or four movies from 2002 to now. And yet, apparently, every website agrees that 2007 was "the best year for movies in a really long time." Oh please, Give me 2001 any day.

ninquelote said...

You are impossible to have a conversation with, LE.

k'd said...

This comment has been removed because it linked to malicious content. Learn more.

herr zrbo said...

I'm not saying Superbad was terrible, but there was so much hype about it and I felt it just didn't live up to it. It had some funny moments but a year from now I doubt I'll remember it at all. I really disliked the two cops and their whole plotline, they had waaay to much screentime. Anyways.

I generally like Ebert too, I just think if he thinks this was some 'great year of film' he must be off his rocker.

Little Earl said...

Well he's not the only one who thinks so, as the AV Club, Rotten Tomatoes, the All Movie Guide, and MSNBC critics all seem to feel the same way. Hell, they may be right, as far as I know; I've barely seen any of these movies (A.O. Scott in the New York Times, for example, picked all these Romanian films and oscure documentaries for his top ten, so who am I to say he's wrong?). I'm just skeptical, that's all. I will say one thing: there certainly has been a great variety of cinema in the past few years, which is possibly what these critics are responding to. Nevertheless, I feel like I've handed over a lot of hard-earned dough for a lot of 3 1/2 star movies. I mean, Michael Clayton couldn't have been any better than it was, and I wasn't disappointed or anything like that. And yet, it didn't really change my life in the way I want a great film to do, you know what I'm sayin' people? Same with Juno. Yeah, maybe I'm expecting too much. Or maybe film critics are just too easy to please these days.

And K'd, don't tell me any more about The Golden Compass, I'm reading the book right now.

yoggoth said...

I highly recommend the book version of The Golden Compass. I haven't seen the movie yet but I'd like to.

Charlie Wilson's War was a good 3-star movie. If it was 20 minutes longer and had a bit of nuance to the story it would have added a lot of credibility to the storyline and pushed it into the 3 1/2 star category. I know it wasn't trying to be historically accurate but the cartoonish view of foreign relations distracted me a bit. Without Seymour-Hoffman the movie wouldn't be worth watching. He's obviously the best actor working since Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti decided to stop trying. Who would have thought that George Clooney would eventually seem more credible than those guys?