David Denby, film critic at The New Yorker, just released his list of the top-ten films of 2009. Because I am an American, and thus am genetically predisposed to find top-ten lists interesting, I noticed it.
Actually, it’s well worth looking at. Denby is a skilled critic. I like that he, with all TNY commentators, is stingy with his praise. I like stinginess. There’s not enough of it these days. With stingy people, you know when you’ve done well. With non-stingy people, you never know whether you’ve done well or poorly, because you can’t tell from their response. It’s been fun to have the legendary Don Carson for (an amazing) class this semester, because when your argument is strong, you know it; correspondingly, when it is weak–well, let’s just say you have no trouble figuring out where you stand. I love that.
Anyway, here’s the list. A couple of selections from it, none of which I necessarily endorse or encourage you to watch:
- “The Hurt Locker”: Kathryn Bigelow understands that an action movie has to be coherent in space—you have to know where the American soldiers are in relation to the bombs that they’re trying to defuse. Hair-raising. With a great performance by Jeremy Renner.
- “The White Ribbon”: The dread-master Michael Haneke’s portrait of a guilty Northern German town just before the First World War. The long takes and crisp black-and-white cinematography produce an aura of vague but sinister stillness. You come out of it feeling bruised and contented at the same time.
Can I close with a comment of my own? I haven’t seen many of the films Denby cites, but I thought that this was a terrible year for the cinema. My wife and I have a desperately hard time finding good films to watch (I can’t recall any good ones I saw that were made this year, honestly). The whole year stunk, in my opinion. Is it just me, or has filmmaking slid down the tube really fast in a really short period of time?
The long-form tv series actually far outperforms movies in many cases, in my opinion. Two hours is already a tough amount of time in which to establish a plausible narrative, engrossing, well-rounded characters, and meaningful tension. Much better to have five or six seasons in which to develop characters, plot lines, action, irony, and the like.
Anyway, that’s all from me. I am pessimistic about the cinema, but optimistic about long-form series.