03 March 2009

Measuring a Year

The awards season has come and gone for yet another year, and this time, I thought about them in a slightly different way. Each calendar year, I pick a different time period of film history to seriously study and for 2009 I've chosen the American New Cinema movement of the late 1960's and most of the 1970's. I'm trying to reach beyond the obvious and readily accessible films of the era. Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Taxi Driver, The Godfather, The Exorcist and all the big names that are easily found with a Netflix or Wikipedia search are obviously part of this movement and I have watched all of these films at least three times each. However, every time period, every era has so much more to offer. This is where the awards season has changed its meaning to me just a bit.

In researching the era for the past two months, and watching four films I don't think I would have ever found otherwise, I'm convinced that some of the great films of all time are being forgotten. The awards have their place and are a handy way to give the public a quick five to six film list of what it considered the best of the year, however, as a film geek, I find it hard to whittle down my yearly list to just the usual format of the top ten list. There are so many more than ten great films in any/every calendar year that any such list is going to leave out several very important works. I realize that of the 600+ films put out by American studios in 2008, most are easily forgettable, in a strict film geek sense, but there is an argument that films like Never Back Down and Stomp the Yard are just as telling about our current culture as the best we have to offer from this year.

This is why the awards season takes on new meaning to me these days. I'm beginning to like the idea of a film time capsule for each year. It's not just about the great films (in the traditional sense of the term) that came out, but the massively successful films that aim for the lowest common denominator, like Speed Racer as well as the easy to ignore midrange film that came and went in two to three weeks and made a modest profit, like Step Up 2: The Streets. I guess the goal of the awards season is to create a benchmark of what "quality films" were produced in any given year, but that is so subjective that even professional critics can't agree on what this means. Try a Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes search for the five films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and you'll see that they are not the best reviewed films of the year. Why not try for a film time capsule instead?

Now, I'm mainly looking back at and watching films from 1967 to 1971 this month, so I've got the benefit of over 40 years of hindsight to apply to these films and see what holds up and what doesn't. Comedy's with lots of social in jokes (The Boatniks) hold up about as well as I'm sure Date Movie will in 40 years. However, smaller films like Scarecrow and The Panic in Needle Park hold up remarkable well. So the question becomes, what is the Scarecrow of 2008?

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