As the first decade of the 21st century wraps itself up, the members of the Online Film Critics Society weighed in on which movies they felt best captured the feeling of the decade. Click over to the OFCS news blog for all the replies. Here’s mine as a teaser:
It’s coming right at the end of the decade, but I think Up in the Air might best capture what we’ve gone through over the last ten years: All the structures that we built up, with deliberate forethought and presumed cleverness, that keep us separated from one another — everything from financial shell games that pitted the rich against the poor to responses to terrorism that were more about firing up bigotry toward entire groups of people than about dealing with a crime by catching and prosecuting the specific, individual perpetrators — are collapsing around us. But we’re incapable, it seems, of finding another way to live. Very depressing.
What do you think? What movie most embodies the spirit of the 2000s?
As the OFCSers did, interpret “spirit of the 2000s” however you like, but be sure to include a brief explanation of why you chose your film and how it relates to what you see as that spirit. (And feel free to cheat just a little on the dating: If a film from 1999 anticipated what you see as the spirit of the 2000s, that’s fine.)
(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
A load of mindless violence carried out for ill-defined reasons that makes you feel stupider for having sat through it.
JSW: I couldn’t have said it better myself, even if I had seen the movie ;-)
I second Transformers 2, that level of stupidity could not have been embrace by mass audiences on any other decade
the Bourne movies are a good reflection of this decade without being too obvious like V for Vendetta or The Dark Knight
Up in the Air is just for the last couple of years, not the whole decade
Of the movies I’ve seen, my vote goes to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I remember so much fear and anxiety in the aftermath of 9/11; there was talk of a clash of civilizations and World War III; the world seemed to be going to hell (because of either radical Islam or the Bush administration, depending on your politics). The LOTR films, for me, captured all the turbulent emotions and conflicting messages of the time. There was good-versus-evil, but there was also ambiguity and the possibility of corruption. (And people could read different things into it: Sauron was either bin Laden or Bush.) There was the sense of the fate of the world hanging by a thread. There was great despair, but also hope in the face of it. Heck, there were even Two Towers, and the collapse of the Tower of Barad-dur at the end. And there were the great spine-strengthening, spirit-rousing speeches by Gandalf and Sam that seemed to speak directly to our mood at the time. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKO6W2NfUnQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxEkKxSO8Zo )
As others have already hinted, movies missed the boat this decade. 30 years from now, the only “movie” that will really really stand out from this decade is the LOTR trilogy. Other than that, there were good movies and great movies but no other “OMG OMG OMG CLASSIC FOR ALL TIME!” movies. But if I have to pick a “movie”, I pick LOTR. But it embodied the spirit of the 1940s, not the 2000s. ;-)
OTOH, the *piece of entertainment* that most embodies the spirit of the 2000s is easy to pick: the new version of Battlestar Galactica. In content, form, and even in delivery (webisodes! blogs! forums!), it tells the story of what the decade was about.
Sure. It was adapted from a 1940s work, after all. But I think a lot of people in this decade found the story and its themes surprisingly relevant. I remember full-page print ads in the NY Times that had parts of the Gandalf and Sam speeches blazoned at the top; I think the films were consciously marketed as “Relevant to Our Times” and people responded.
I agree about BSG.
I reject the premise that there is a “unique” spirit of the 2000s. Most of the themes that bubble up (corporate malfeasance, economic insecurity, American military adventure, terrorism, distrust of authority) have been reoccurring themes throughout American history (“recent” examples include the S&L crisis, the recessions of the early 80s and 90s, the WTC bombing in the 90s, & the Iran/Contra scandal, to name a few). What’s more, I’m a Canadian, so while I appreciate America’s “special” place in the world, I have some distance. I don’t think that 9/11 is seared into my conscience the same way it is for (some) Americans, and I live in a province where the effects of the economic downturn have been (so far) minor compared to the one we experienced in the early 90s. My guess is all that has really changed is that some of these themes have touched your lives in ways that you are unable to ignore.
To put this in perspective, Front 242’s song “Gripped by Fear” probably has as much resonance to listeners today that it had for me when I heard it 1991 (if you can get past the dated sound of Industrial music), when we in recession and (Canada included) at war with Iraq. It begins by repeating the words “Recession repression regression” and includes the lines “Your tyranny / I was part of/ Is now cracking / On every side / And your own life / Is in danger / Your empire / Is on fire”
All that said, my own preoccupation over the last year, which I worry may also become yours in the near future, has been Peak Oil. And although there are no particularly good movies on the subject, I’ll give the nod to the documentary “A Crude Awakening.”
While I actually agree with Bluejay, even if we have yet to see if the forces of good or evil win out in the end, I might as well put in a plug for “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.” Wait, hear me out. That’s the movie where the Senate hands over democracy into the hands of a Sith and the Jedis end up fighting a battle in which it doesn’t matter if they win or lose, they lose, right?
I don’t know. The one movie that kept haunting me this decade was 2000’s Memento. The basic idea–a man sets out to avenge the brutal murder of a loved one and ends up becoming–er–not quite he intended–has been told before–but for some reason, Memento seemed to tell it in an especially memorable fashion. And the ending–SPOILER for Memento for the very few who haven’t seen it–in which the protagonist is at last confronted with his own capacity for evil and deliberately decides to ignore the consequences of his actions–seemed a far more serious comment on the human condition and the American capacity for rationalizing evil actions than we got in either Donnie Darko or A History of Violence.
However, five years from now, I may think of something else because the truly classic movies usually aren’t the movies that seem like classics at this very instant but the ones that linger on in the memory long after you’ve seen them.
I’m thinking maybe “Brokeback Mountain”. It might be a little too metaphorical, but I’ve read a bunch of commentary that claims we might have traditional, or conventional, notions of masculinity to thank for major foreign policy and financial blunders. And of course the high-profile gains and losses in the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community make the movie that much more relevant. Finaly, the fucked-upedness of the movie’s tragic events coupled with it’s sort of hopeful ending might describe the decade in broad terms. Hopefully.
I’d say Watchmen is a strong candidate, despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them:
1. Watchmen fits the biggest category of ’00s blockbusters – the auteur-driven comic book opus, which opened the decade with Singer’s X-Men and will continue next year with the likes of Branagh’s Thor and Favreau’s second Iron Man.
2. Its heroes are severely morally and ethically compromised, even as they’re trying (they think) to save the day. (The character with the clearest moral compass, Rorschach, is also a psychopath.) That’s not necessarily new, but it’s been in the public consciousness a lot in the ’00s, from Jack Bauer to the new James Bond to Dexter on Showtime. And then there’s real life . . .
3. It’s ultra-violent. That trend goes perhaps all the way back to Braveheart in 1995, but this decade in movies has been absolutely soaked in blood. This is, after all, the decade that saw (pun intended) the birth of “torture porn.”
4. It can’t figure out its own perspective on its subject matter. Is it a satire? Action-adventure? Camp? Gritty drama? Are these characters sympathetic or insane? Isn’t Nite Owl’s ship, like, soooo awesome? Did I just hear “99 Luftbaloons?” It raises a whole lot of meaningful questions, but can’t stay focused long enough to deal with them – and if that isn’t a concise summary of American life in the ’00s, I don’t know what is.
@Paul: you’re talking about Revenge of the Sith, not Attack of the Clones
had Watchmen being an book from this decade I would say that it’s the one that most reflects it’s spirit but it’s not, the same happens with V for Vendetta, both are cold war/thacher era-inspired books
I agree with others about LOTR being the one thing from this decade that will remain present for decades to come about film making quality but this QOTD is not about that
“Idiocracy”. No film captured the nightmare of the GWB era better. It’s as chilling as it is funny in it’s satirical accuracy as anything that’s been put out in the last 10 years.
I’m reminded of the 1994 trailer to Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” where it talks of Stone’s films looking at where it looks “at where we’ve been and where we’re going, and you’ll be SHOCKED at what he sees…” Mike Judge replaces Oliver Stone this decade as a the best filmmaker/societal commentator with this new comedy classic.
Point taken, Jolly. I guess I’m writing from an American/New York-centered perspective (and there’s not even just one of those) and I can’t expect the movies that resonate for me to have the same significance for others elsewhere, as we discussed in another thread.
Still, in our increasingly interconnected world, isn’t it possible for people to have enough in common that a film could hypothetically capture some kind of universal zeitgeist?
Also, I don’t think the “spirit” of any given time has to be unique to that time. I think recurring themes are allowed. ;-)
I’m going with Fight Club. Tyler Durden was lashing out against mass society, materialism, property, capitalism, and almost all technology in his extreme, crazy-ass way.
fight club is not from this decade, it was released on 1999
I’ve never bought into the idea of zeitgeist, which places me at odds with our gracious hostess. David Bordwell comments on this with regards to “The Dark Knight,” a movie I was generally unimpressed by:
I’m not likely to concede to any notion of “universal,” but ymmv…
Watchmen meant something to me when I read it in the 80s, and the Cold War was still part of my reality. For me, the movie was a flat experience, and frankly so is the “graphic novel” now (it was a “mini series” back in the day).
Sadly there are not many movies from the 2000s that made a deep impression on me, and those that did don’t really strike me as capturing some zeitgeist (Donnie Darko may be my favorite).
Neil Gaiman played on the old trope that “the more things change, the more they remain the same” frequently in the excellent “Sandman” series, mostly through the character of “Hob” Gadling.
Jackass: The Movie.
The combination of reality TV and sheer recklessness sums up what we watched and how we lived.
@Jolly: Another great article, thanks. I find myself agreeing with much of it. Maybe I’ll check out his book.
Maybe the most that can be said of any film isn’t that it captures some kind of cultural consensus, but simply–as Bordwell says Patton and The Dark Knight did–that it grabs people and gets them talking and arguing. (An Inconvenient Truth, then? Or, hell, Twilight? ;-)) I also think it’s interesting that he concedes that a (fragmented) “zeitgeist” might be found in popular culture, even if pop culture doesn’t necessarily reflect our daily reality. So maybe the QOTD should really be “What movie most embodies the spirit of movies in the 2000s?” Which is probably still a problematic question.
Well, there are universal problems–global warming, say, or the threat of nuclear war. Might a work that treats these issues seriously (again, An Inconvenient Truth, or The Day After) be considered “universally” significant in that sense?
Love Gaiman’s Sandman series, btw. Although his penchant for metanarratives and telling “stories about stories” is starting to grate on me.
This was an oddly painful decade…
The Aughts had its fair share of great films same as any other decade, but for some reason the sense of craftsmanship that I got from movies made in the Nineties didn’t translate over into this decade. It was as though Craft got replaced by Scale, the more overwhelming the movie the more ‘epic’ Hollywood believed it had achieved… when instead all they achieved was numbness.
Even for the good movies, like LotR, or Dark Knight. Numbness is the best word I can describe after seeing them. Very few movies with wit, or intelligence, or sincerity. Pirates of the Caribbean, the first one, is pretty much the only one I can think of that didn’t cause such numbness (that it was a movie-based-on-a-plastic-ride-owned-by-the-plastic-megacorporation just adds to the irony). The Incredibles was the only other movie I fully *enjoyed*, but it too had a sense of… melancholy. Something lost.
The movie that best embodied the Numb Decade for me is Dark Knight.
Adding: Yes, I know The Day After wasn’t a theatrically-released film and I know when it was made, and I’m not submitting it for consideration as a 2000s movie. :-)
Significant, yes, but one only needs to look at the results of public opinion polls to know that *concern* over AGW is not universal, even if plenty of us think it should be (including myself). I listed “A Crude Awakening” and although stories on the possibility of imminent petroleum production declines (followed by a similar pattern for other fossil fuels in the not too distant future) have been permeating the press recently (the decline of Mexico’s Cantrell field is well known), I don’t believe that this message has gained the same weight as Global Warming. However, oil production declines of 6-8 percent a year could have enormous implications for our way of life, especially if the necessary planning and investments are not made well in advance of the event. As it is, there are questions of whether commercial airlines are viable in their current form with the oil prices prevailing now.
And yes, by the end of Sandman, the whole “story about stories” theme gets tiresome.
I’d leave this alone but I think I agree with mortadella:
I’ll see doa776’s pedantry and raise him a MaryAnn:
And there you have it.
Although the two problems are probably related, as are the solutions. Haven’t seen it, but now I’m interested. Thanks.
@PaulW – “The Aughts”. i fuckin’ love it. i don’t think i’ve ever heard that before.
i think i am leaning toward Fight Club, too. it still feels pretty Now. the reckless insanity fits nicely.
@doa766 and Jolly: You’re both smart people, so I assume you grok the distinction between the book and the movie of Watchmen — so what about the movie in particular (independent of the book) makes it a bad representative of the ’00s? I’m not saying I need to be “right” about my selection, just wondering about your POV, since you both used the book as your primary point of reference. (I have not read it.)
Interesting article about superheroes, genre, and zeitgeist, btw.
Yeah, we “aughta done that” and “we aughta not done that.”
@doa: thanks. It’s easy for my mind to jumble sources. Sometimes I think it’s trying to save time by compression.
@Paul: doa766 might have a faulty memory chip ;-) since you were right the first time. Attack of the Clones is where the Senate grants Palpatine emergency powers and he says something like “I love democracy–I’ll give up my powers after this is over, I swear.” And it’s where we find out that the Republic and the Separatists are both in the hands of the Sith, so really it’s pointless whichever side the Jedi fight for.
So what you initially said was true. From a certain point of view. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)