A funny thing happened on the way to this post. I was going to blog on some politically correct themes in this morning's New York Times, but I looked on my favorite facebook page, where acolytes of Strauss and Howe meet, and was challenged to name my 10 best films of the decade now coming to an end. After checking some lists, I did so. Then I stared at my own list for a while, and decided to a quick comparable list for the previous decade, the 2000s. Here are the results, with some comments.
My 10 best films of the current decade, in no particular order:
The Social Network
The Big Short
The Death of Stalin
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
I believe I have already seen six of these more than once and there isn't any of them that I wouldn't enjoy watching once again.
This list, I suppose, tells you as much about me as it does about the movies on it. Eight of them are, in one way or another, historical, either because they deal with actual events (The Social Network, The Big Short, the documentary Inside Job,The Death of Stalin) or because they were excellent portrayals of earlier eras (The Artist, Roma, Green Book, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.) Three of them--The Social Network, Green Book, and Inside Job--won academy awards, showing to me that the academy can get it right. Other films that I initially flagged while making the list were Manchester By the Sea, Twelve Years a Slave, Spotlight, Argo, Midnight in Paris, Steve Jobs, Moneyball, Birdman, Lincoln, The Florida Project, What Maisie Saw, Love and Other Drugs, The Ghost Writer, Can You Ever Forgive Me, and The Company you Keep. Seven of those are also historical in one way or another. Of the non-historic ones on my lists, most tend to be rather emotional adult dramas, though children are also very much involved. They don't include any superhero movies, obviously, or cartoons, even though I've enjoyed some of the latter. Like Martin Scorsese, I have an idea of what a serious movie is.
Meanwhile, on the small screen, this has also been the decade of Breaking Bad (in part), Homeland, The Americans, Billions, and (here in the US) A French Village, five long-running tv series that each probably meant to me than any of those movies.
As I looked at my list, however, I didn't think it stood up that well to earlier decades, and I decided to test that proposition out with a little more tweaking of my memory and additional research. It took only a few minutes to come up with this list for the 2000s (also in no particular order):
Good Night and Good Luck
After the Wedding
The Lives of Others
Lost in Translation
In the Bedroom
Man on Wire
A lot of film fans have never seen After the Wedding, a Danish drama that lost the best foreign film Oscar to The Lives of Others in 2007. It's amazing. A recent American remake was apparently disastrous and sank like a stone at the box office. This time I have picked six films with an historical theme including one documentary (Man on Wire, about the Frenchman who walked a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers in the early 1970s.) What disturbs me is that I think this is a much stronger list, whose films consistently engage the viewer more intensely from start to finish. Other films that I decided not to include were Little Miss Sunshine, The Departed, Up in the Air, Before Sunset, and De-Lovely.
Now let me see what I can do, off the top of my head, for the 1990s.
A League of Their Own
Good Will Hunting
Sleepless in Seattle
Leaving Las Vegas
That list seems to be better than either of the others. This was also the decade in which The Sopranos debuted.
Hollywood writers have become extraordinarily adept at writing 10-episode season plots, that is, stories that would make a good long novel. The first seasons of The Sopranos and Homeland were as brilliantly plotted as any comparable works of literature, and the cumulative impact of the first three seasons of Breaking Bad was even greater. Billions has also been extraordinary. "Adult drama," however, has become unfashionable in Hollywood, and it shows. I think we are seeing the impact on film of the decline of serious literature. I hope there will be a good many comments on this relatively unusual post.