Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 Year in Review: Introduction Part II

So, was 2015 a good year, bad year, or something in between? To be honest, I’m still wrapping my head around it. For the first time since 2008, my choice for the best film of the year is not one I make with complete confidence. In every year since by the end of the year I was convinced that Inglorious Basterds, The Social Network, The Tree of Life, The Master, Inside Llewyn Davis and The Grand Budapest Hotel were clearly the best of the year – no matter how much I loved the other films. This year, it’s really a three way toss-up (don’t worry, when I get to my top 10 list, I do rank them – I don’t like ties, which make things as arbitrary as top 10 lists even more so). That’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing – but it’s just the truth. I do look at the sheer number of films I really liked and loved this year though, and have to say that it really was a fairly strong year – stronger than usual actually. That’s the great news.

There was bad news for the film world this year though – as it seemed like one great website after another closed down. My favorite website, The Dissolve, is no more – it only lasted only two glorious years, and was a cinephile’s dream site – full of great writers, who are now scattered across the internet. Grantland also shuttered – bad news for someone like me who thinks that Mark Harris is probably the best out there at writing about the film industry (he’ll land somewhere – when he wants to, I’m sure). And just this week, it was announced that Indiewire was acquired by Penske – but the Blog network, which is the only reason I ever visited Indiewire (especially the Criticwire blog) – was not part of the deal.

It may seem odd that I, a blogger who does this for no money, in my spare time – embodying the idea that “everyone’s a critic” – that has helped put professional movie critics on the endangered species list (no, my blog is not responsible for that – considering how much traffic I receive). But the reality is, we are poorer as a movie culture with fewer great writings dedicating their careers to writing about movies. I really do not read many reviews of movies before I see them – I already know I’m going to go see The Hateful Eight for instance, so why would I want to read about it before I see it? But I read a lot of reviews after I see a movie (mostly, after I write my own review – so that I don’t allow other opinions to seep into my own). This past week, after watching and writing about a difficult film like The Kindergarten Teacher, I went online to read the reviews to help me unpack it. The aforementioned The Hateful Eight has inspired some of the best film writing of the year – for people like me, who loved it, and people who outright hated it (and many in between). We need great critics to help us muddle through these films, and what they all mean – and even to help us understand our own reactions better.

Many of the year’s best films for example are ones that made me somewhat uncomfortable - The Hateful Eight and Anomalisa for example, both of which have questionable gender politics (with The Hateful Eight throwing in questionable racial politics as well). I reacted strongly to both films – and yes, I loved them both. I don’t think either film is misogynistic (and I don’t think The Hateful Eight is racist either) – but I do appreciate hearing the voices on all sides of the issue – even if I completely opposed for instance, it can often help to crystallize my own opinion – and perhaps see the film through different eyes. In a film era that is increasingly dominated by HUGE film franchises, we really need as many people as possible talking about other types of films.

That really is the reason I go overboard with my year-end report – and take my time writing it, and make sure I see everything possible before releasing it. No, I don’t really need to do a top 30 list – but all 30 of the films deserve your attention – and they run the gamut from the year’s highest grossing film, to ones that barely made anything. I do this to hopefully convince just a few people to see just a few different types of films. If not, too bad, I guess.

Film culture will survive of course. It always does, even as it continues to shift from one thing to the next to the next. This blog is my tiny, tiny contribution to it – and my weeklong year-end report is one of my favorite things I do all year. I really do hope you enjoy it – and I do hope to hear from some of you with comments on my top 10 list, or with your own. Because after all, if you don’t like my list, there’s nothing stopping you from making your own.

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