Editors: Bill Gibron and Cynthia Fuchs
Slump. That’s the word that’s been bandied about for the last few months when discussing the state of Hollywood. All the pundits and blog-based critics want to talk about is the so-called dip in box office receipts, while those in the ‘legitimate’ media can’t decide if such a popularity plunge actually exists. Without a Passion of the Christ to send sales into the sacrosanct stratosphere, or another Lord of the Rings/Spider-man sequel to spur excessive interest, the bottom line became the creative benchmark for all 2005 moviemaking. And as Dreamworks finally died and went to Paramount heaven, and Miramax’s mighty Weinstein’s took their battered ball of influence and went home, all anyone could talk about was… the slump.
Still when looking over the 20 titles included as part of PopMatters‘ 2005 Year End Best Of list, it’s hard to argue for any lull in creativity or cinematic artistry, that is. Just looking over the names included, and the varying subjects and strategies employed by these remarkable movies, and five years into the new millennium the filmic art form is looking pretty good. When an old stalwart like Stephen Spielberg can deliver not one but two exceptional motion pictures, when Robert Rodriguez can test the limits of computer enhanced moviemaking while Peter Jackson again shows the rest of the world how to update the once mighty blockbuster, when old macabre master George Romero can share the critical stage with fright fan turned filmmaker Rob Zombie, you know the medium is in magnificent shape.
It was also a year for little movies, family dramas about growing up, getting close, and drifting apart. Politics rose to the forefront, as gender issues, racism and flawed governmental polices were placed under the mainstream microscope of the camera lens. George Clooney finally arrived as a director of amazing vision and daring, while Asian auteurs Stephen Chow, Chan-wook Park and Wong Kar-Wai showed that even the most oddball and idiosyncratic of international fare can find a grateful and growing Western audience. The graphic novel thrived as a legitimate filmic foundation (or inspiration) while the biopic and the thriller got a bold new breath of life. In all, it was a banner year for both the populist and the purist, the individual who wanted their popcorn and their tightly managed money’s worth, and the geek who groans over anything that is not brilliantly unusual, stunningly original or just plain ‘difficult’.
So what about this slump? Some blame TV for the drop in movie going and it’s not hard to see why. Revisiting the shows that made the PopMatters Best of TV 2005 indicates an equally impressive showing with a dozen or more series strong in creative, intellectual and artistic merit taking the fore. Several sophomore shows like Lost and House have truly captured the public’s imagination in ways rarely seen by modern standards. Their complicated, character driven stories show that writing not celebrity engaged viewers. Even old reliables like The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park are still as fresh and original as ever, finding new ways to keep their comedy alive and vital. True, no amount of ballyhoo can save a marked series (just ask Arrested Development) but with UPN and the WB finally delivering quality goods at least from a ratings recognition standpoint and cable creating more diverse and unique programming every day, there may actually be something to the boob tube’s supposed effect on the overall box office take.
Just don’t blame DVD. Sure, the shrinking time between a theatrical run and a Best Buy release is getting smaller and smaller, but many of the discs on the PopMatters Best of 2005 aren’t exactly current cinematic fodder. Indeed, of the 20 titles listed, only a half dozen or so saw a 2004-2005 theatrical release. If anything, the digital domain has become an amazing archive of sorts, a way of preserving our past majesty in a way that provides context and subtext to those titles no longer a part of current pop culture. Many of the movies listed are timeless gems, but a few are nonconformist entries desperately seeking an interested audience. Criterion continued it’s industry leading work, while studios like MGM and Warners gave them a real run for their completist money. Between the remarkable documentaries and dreaded ‘double-dip’ releases, there was very little that DVD did, at least from a critical standpoint, to stop the cinematic experience from reigning supreme. Now if only the Cineplex set could stop supplying the public with crappy product that they’d rather wait and rent than simply queue up and suffer through.
Perhaps it’s best then to let the bean counters worry about the so-called slump. Let them micromanage the movies down to a bottom line and a financial statement. After all, their conclusions are only paper, reams of pointless pulp that never really stand the test of time. But many, if not all the Best-of entries from 2005 can be considered true classics and a few are even in the process of changing their medium in ways we can’t even begin to recognize. So let them denigrate DVD and the ever shrinking “release window” even if the format has found an important, elemental way to keep itself from going the way of VHS and Laserdisc. Let them lament piracy and the abundance of foreign bootlegs while television scribes create the stories and people that audiences really want to see. Let them turn the mystical magic lantern show with its ability to sweep us away into heretofore unknown worlds of visual and emotional wonder into a multi-digit number in black (or red) ink in a conglomerates ledger. It was a banner year for all the entertainment mediums. The quicker they recognize this, the sooner this slump will be history.