Monday, December 27, 2010

2010: The Year In Movies

Cinema, unlike almost any other art form known to man, is immediate in its story telling. We see and hear (and in John Waters' case, smell) movies in a communal way completely dissimilar from any other epoch in humanity's short time on this island Earth. Sitting in a theater and watching a film is an experience that can never be replicated by home video, and as long as there are stories to be told, there will be asses in seats. The perfect marriage of brows high and low, cinema is the medium of our age.

In addition to all of these reasons, I love cinema because of how it reflects the human condition. Every year  we are regaled with more and more stories about homo sapiens' capacity for altruistic good while at the same time we also bear witness to how man does violence to his fellow man.

In a similar vein, every year we are given some really spectacular films: modern classics. Buuuuuutttt...we are also presented with a bunch of crap. The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Ten was no different. What shall follow here is a brief roundup, nay, a summarization of the year that we had in film. This is all of course based almost entirely on what I in my limited economic and scheduling means was able to see and also somewhat on hearsay, because, hey, why not?

I suppose the best way to introduce 2010 is to remind everybody that Avatar happened. The much ballyhooed ├╝bersuccess from the King of the World: James I of the House of Cameron. While it made more money than God (and God has a lot of money) and was hailed by many as a game changer, it remained lost on many as to how a bunch of blue yiffers re-enacting Fern Gulley/Princess Mononoke was actually going to change movies as we knew them, but Avatar's special effects and spectacle set the tone for the end of the old decade and the beginning of the new. The question really became less "Will 3D catch on?" and more "When 3D catches on, will it be worth it?".

I suspect the answer to be a resounding no. The months following Avatar's domination of the box office and it's near-win at the Oscars (themselves an overblown masturbation session due in no small part to the expansion of Best Picture nominees to ten films in a stab at populism) became a frantic scramble for studios to cash in on the latest cineplex fad. Tentpole releases were "upconverted" through a somewhat expensive post-production process into 3D in the hopes that a presentation in three dimensions would deliver bigger profits (through the ensuing price gouging) to the studios.

As far as the author knows, no upconverted 3D film has made any strides in cinematic quality. Some (such as the lauded How To Train Your Dragon) seemed to make no impact on an already good movie, while other, lesser films (*ahem* Clash of the Titans) were actually harmed by the dim lighting required for 3D motion pictures. And let's not even get started with The Last Airbender.

By the way, I should remind you all that Jonah Hex exists and I saw it.

As long as we're on the subject, I'd like to briefly discuss a recent film that has yet to be reviewed by myself or any of my comrades here at Charge Shot!!! because it is quite relevant to the topic of 3D upconversion vs. movies shot in 3D. That film is Tron: Legacy. It had attracted my enthusiasm quite a bit  because it was the first "good" movie to be released in theaters that was shot in 3D instead of being upconverted (Resident Evil: Afterlife doesn't count I suppose, though that movie is awesome in a really stupid, twelve-year-old boy kind of way). While Tron: Legacy has plenty to applaud (cool sci-fi/mythological concepts, Daft Punk soundtrack, Michael Sheen as Ziggy Stardust) and much to condemn (too much explanation of sci-fi/mythological concepts, plot holes, the aforementioned Sheen is just the Merovigian which makes you remember just how much like the Matrix sequels this movie is), one thing that struck me about the movie was how little the 3D mattered.

The scenes in the Real World are shot in 2D, while those in The Grid (inside the computer) were shot in 3D; clearly borrowing a concept from The Wizard of Oz's revoltionary use of color. In all honesty, I completely stopped noticing a difference in my enjoyment of the film between the two film types. "Good" 3D has gotten to a point where it's not even exciting anymore (probably because James Cameron spent a fuckton of money developing his Avatar camera system from the ground up and it shows in how goddamned beautiful his movie is). I believe Tron: Legacy (48 Congos, btw) can be taken as the real standard for the 3D of the future: we're not going to notice a difference except in our wallets as we spend an extra five or some bucks to see the same quality of meh motion pictures with another dimension.

After the seemingly endless tide of remakes, reboots, "re-imaginings" that the first three quarters of the year brought down on us, the beginnings of Oscar Season have brought some really quality films to the theaters. The Social Network, Black Swan, True Grit, The Kids Are All Right, Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, The King's Speech, and more all seem to be cruising towards nominations of some kind at the Oscars in a few month. I can't even begin to start describing how good these films are but it seems like we cinephiles and film snobs have been rewarded for our months of suffering with a successful crop: our sacrifice to the movie gods was not in vain.

Maybe things aren't so bad after all? Maybe film quality over time ebbs and flows? Maybe the fact that film formats are bring discussed in the open among laymen is a good thing? Maybe the refitting of multiplexes will keep people from retreating to their HD TVs and Redbox? Maybe for every Grown Ups there's an Inception?