In the interest of re-checking the obvious, I was inspired by that Alan Moore quote, wherein he touched upon this blog’s great theme - the infantalization of our culture (with the superhero film era as Exhibit C of supporting evidence) to take a quick peek and see, was it really ever not so. After 15 minutes of research, you be the judge.
I’ve looked at the Top 5 films of every year ending with a 3 going back 90 years including 2013 to date. I’m sure there’s a case to be made that this year’s crop are in fact as sophisticated any decades winners and the fact that these are the top grossing films compared to years past says nothing about the general state of our culture. You go ahead and make it. I’ll let the lists speak for themselves.
1923 The Covered Wagon, The Ten Commandments, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Safety Last, Daddy
1933 Queen Christina, I’m No Angel, King Kong, 42nd Street, She Done Him Wrong
1943 For Whom the Bell Tolls, This is the Army, The Song of Bernadette, Hitler’s Children, Star Spangled Rhythm
1953 Peter Pan, The Robe, From Here to Eternity, House of Wax, Shane
1963 Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Tom Jones, Irma la Douce
1973 The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffitti, Papillion, The Way We Were
1983 Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places, War Games
1993 Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fugitive, Schindler’s List, The Firm
2003 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Finding Nemo, Matrix Reloaded, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Bruce Almighty
2013: Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Hunger Games 2: Catching FIre,Man of Steel, Monsters University
You can go ahead and quibble with the implications of this list (even though I didn’t say a word, just laid out the facts) because the internet is a place for quibblers and nitpickers, myself included.
You can say - and I wouldn’t disagree - that Despicable Me 2 is as good a movie as The Robe, How the West Was Won. or any number of these supposed Golden Age films. You can say, we’re in the golden age of animation which is just a different genre - a case made by many I have great respect for. You can point out that amidst the heavy handed dramas and the urbane comedies, there are plenty of action movies sprinkled about. To that I’d respond: yes, there have always been some action and kids movies at the tops of the list. But that wasn’t all of the list.
Rather than laying out the differences any further, I’ll just put it to you: if you can say we, as a culture, are what we watch. And I would say all in all, if you look at the top films of a year, that’s about as good a temperature taking of the ethos of the day as you’ll find - so looking at those lists, if you had to make a choice: which audience would you want watching your house while you’re out of town, babysitting your kids, educating your kids, remembering to feed your pets,managing your assets, choosing your government, cooking the food you put in your mouth - which audience would you choose?
Addendum: One can see pretty clearly where the thing goes off the rails and its no coincidence I’m sure that the bottom starts to fall out in maturity the exact moment the baby boom grows up and takes control of our culture.
For those who would say the audience of 2013, I suppose that’s a defensible choice on some level and I say, good luck finding your place un-burned to the ground when you come back from vacation.
"I hate superheroes. I think they’re abominations. They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to 13, it’s nothing to do with them. It’s an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year old men, usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. This is a significant rump of the superhero-addicted, mainstream-addicted audience. I don’t think the superhero stands for anything good. I think it’s a rather alarming sign if we’ve got audiences of adults going to see the Avengers movie and delighting in concepts and characters meant to entertain the 12-year-old boys of the 1950s."
I’ve seen a lot of lists out there ranking the Coen Brothers films and have been struck by the fact that they are all wrong. Start with the fact that their two Oscar winners - Fargo and No Country - are at or near the top of most lists - the list apparently being written just to be one more voice confirming the conventional wisdom consensus. Those two are, of course, their two worst films. The Coen Brothers are great dark comic filmmakers. But when they go into dark without the comedy and just get portentous and meaningful, the great void at the heart of their nihilistic vision swallows the story leaving it as nothing but posturing sophmoric nastiness. Also, we should all see now with a couple years behind us, what is indisputably their finest film and one of the best films of the decade.
Here then is the correct ranking. You are welcome to disagree so long as you understand your disagreement only makes clear your own foolishness. If you can’t accept that, then you are not allowed to disagree.
1. A Serious Man
2. O Brother Where Art Thou
3. The Big Lebowski
4. Raising Arizona
5. The Hudsucker Proxy
6. True Grit
7. Barton Fink
8. Miller’s Crossing
9. Blood Simple
10. The Lady Killers
11. Intolerable Cruelty
12. Burn After Reading
14. No Country for Old Men
Unseen (By me or anybody): The Man Who Wasnt There
From a British perspective does coming to Hollywood have a different meaning?
I was talking to the writers about this, who are American themselves, and I was saying it’s a long journey. It feels like it’s a long journey to have gone from a small town in the Southwest of England to living in the base of the Hollywood Hills. And they were saying, well, I think it’s probably true if you come from the middle of Idaho and you got on the bus and you went there. Wherever you are in the world, wherever you are even in the States, there is an allure — a sheen to Hollywood and Los Angeles — that we’re being sold constantly. It’s exploited, not even necessarily by the movies, but by all of the paraphernalia that surrounds it, and I think it probably also started even in the ’50s seeing those kind of tabloid magazines they use to have in the ’50s. Here’s Rock Hudson by his pool in the Hollywood Hills. It’s just that fantasy of the sunlight and just that sense of Shangri-La quality to it that almost nowhere else possesses. And yet, of course, when you go there it’s far from a Shangri-La. It’s kind of an ugly place with no real hub, it’s a very lowly city and you sort of sense the Shangri-La’s are behind these big gates … inside these gated homes that the star tours bus will drive you past, but you’ll never penetrate.
Have you gotten a glimpse of the actual Shangri-Las since you’ve been here?
I’ve sometimes gone behind the gates and I’ve seen inside and I’ve seen beautiful homes. I’ve had conversations with glamorous people, some who are lovely and some who are a—holes. This is something I try to talk about it my stand-up. In the end it kind of underlines the series, the old sort of cliché that you see on mugs and tee shirts: “Happiness Is a Journey, Not a Destination.” Trite as that is, I think there is a lot of truth in it. I remember when “The Office” was a success, I sort of thought, well, everything I have been trying for all of these years to prove yourself to the World, we sort of did it. But it’s not like someone opened the door, and went the rest of your real life is through this door come through; it’s happiness and it’s bliss. You get the opportunity to experience those things and some of those people are happy and some are not, but in the end you can go into a bigger house with a beautiful view and it’s owned by a superstar, but that doesn’t affect you. Who knows what their life’s like. You leave the big house with the superstar and you go back to wherever you’re living. So, you get the opportunity to date beautiful women, but when that beautiful woman dumps you, now you were dumped by an even more beautiful woman than when you were nobody. It doesn’t fundamentally change you, it gives you opportunity, opens things up to you, but it doesn’t make life easier to manage.