Spent the holidays (Christmas Eve and Christmas) with family, the rest of the time have been mostly rambling around.... doing a lot of e.mail, trying to read stuff online. Mostly it's about the end of the year, and the various lists that are proliferating (various Top Ten polls, etc.), which has caused me to think about this situation of the need for these Top Ten lists.
It's so funny, because i don't think that anyone (now) remembers that the NY Times used to publish a Top Ten list from their critics, and then so did the other daily newspapers. The NY Times lists date back to the 1920s! (Lubitsch was one director whose films frequently were cited in the 1920s, for such silent movies as "Forbidden Paradise" and "The Marriage Circle".) In those days, popular films had a tendency to stick around, so the Top Ten list was a way of alerting people to movies that were worthwhile.
Now, of course, what's the point? Well, one of the points is consensus: it's a way of establishing that there is, in fact, some sort of "critical community". One of the points (for me) is that i always try to list films which other people will either forget about, overlook, or haven't seen. (Who did see Matthew Porterfield's "Hamilton"? When i was at the press screening, there were three people, whom i didn't know, and there was the filmmaker with family and friends! Then when the film opened, Richard Brody wrote a sensitive and discerning blurb in The New Yorker. I also wonder if the film showed in Baltimore, since that's where the film was made: John Waters loved it.) When i went to the press screening of Eugene Green's "Le Pont des Arts", i think there were two people (aside from me), but Olivier Gourmet's mad theatrics as an opera queen (Olivier Gourmet dressed in drag trying to sing an aria has got to be seen to be believed) just had to be seen to be believed, and i still rank it as one of the highlights of the year.
But the problem of release date is really kind of crazy. If i had remembered that "L'Enfant" had been released this year (though i saw it two years ago), would i have included it? The same with "Clean", and that was three years ago. It's hard to say. I don't apologize for including "Army of Shadows" because it really was released here for the first time, and it was also popular (relatively speaking). It was able to run for quite a long time in the cities where it found a release, people actually liked it.
I did like "Pan's Labyrinth", i have to catch up with "Children of Men", and there were movies which i felt were very well-done, even if i had doubts: "Battle in Heaven", "Perfume", "4" as examples.
Yesterday, went to the press screening for the Quay Brothers animated shorts. The first half (the program was divided into two, with a little intermission) was exquisite, and a little sloggy. Their first films seemed slow (Michael Rush, who was at the screening, remarked on this). But after the intermission, with "Street of Crocodiles", things picked up. It's like the editing was more precise, faster and sharper, and the films came into focus and really moved. "Street of Crocodiles" and "In Absentia" were really marvellous. And i'd seen these films before but it was interesting to see them all together.
So why, if all the elements seem to be the same, does one film work ("Street of Crocodiles") and another film not ("Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies")?
One thing i watched was the doc on Showtime, "Life After Tomorrow"... another one of those docs that have been made because of a particular perspective, i.e., Julie Stevens (who'd been in the cast of the Brodaway show "Annie") wanted to find out how the experience affected other women who'd been in the show. It actually turned out to be more interesting than it sounds, because it brings up all sorts of issues, such as: What is success in our society? Once you've had it, but it goes away (in this case, all the girls had to leave the show by the time they were about 13), how do you deal with it? Martha Byrne and Sarah Jessica Parker are two examples of girls whose careers continued. Dara Brown is on MSNBC. Alyssa Milano (who wouldn't participate; she's really very adamant about distancing herself from her childhood career) has also continued acting.
But is there a fetishizing of success at a certain point? There are so many actors who have had some notable success at one point, and then they get stuck. There are some people who don't get stuck, but that's hard.
When people talk about movie stars, most of those people couldn't act or were very limited actors. (Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor.) Because they could only do one thing, that's what people think a movie star is. The other thing is that those theater-trained actors who (once they were movie stars) tried to do different characters (Paul Muni is the big example) were initially revered, but were soon derided when critics tried to assert a cinematic aesthetic. What's interesting is that both Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant (both of whom are now considered the epitome of cinematic acting) took a long time to develop their "persona"; of course, once it was established, they stayed within the boundaries, but it's not like this was immediate. It took time for Cary Grant to become "Cary Grant", it took time for Humphrey Bogart to become "Humphrey Bogart".
The horrifying thing is that so many of the people who write about movies don't seem to have any common sense. They seem to think that people's careers can develop logically. But why would Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt (both of whom were very limited actors) become stars?
There's a question that was raised in "Life After Tomorrow": should children be allowed to participate in "adult" activities, such as a Broadway show? And as more and more "indie" movies use children (cf. "Little Miss Sunshine", "Mysterious Skin"), what's appropriate, and what's not?