By Matt Singer | Criticwire September 17, 2012 at 10:00AM
Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: Last week on Criticwire, I wrote a piece imagining how I would respond if someone asked me to pick a movie to represent "the most emblematic example of filmmaking circa the 2010s" to stick in a time capsule for the people of the future. Faced with that same question what movie would YOU pick?
The critics' answers:
"The 2010s are going to be a decade where AWESOME movies get more attention than the best. For that reason, 'Inception' will be the movie that best represents it. It has its problems: it's too long, the dialogue is overloaded with exposition, and the snow sequence is superfluous. But that doesn't matter because it's so AWESOME. Those moments are so intensely felt that they overshadow larger structural problems. 'The Avengers' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' are the AWESOME movies of this year, and I'm sure more will come in the future. But 'Inception' got the ball rolling."
"My pick is, without a doubt, 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' and for a lot of the same reasons Matt picked 'SHAGS' as his: it's a sequel (of a sequel); it puts mindless, sanitized violence ahead of intelligence or a sense of consequences; and it relegates women to an objectified backseat. Besides all that, it's a prime example of Hollywood exploiting and nourishing my generation's sense of nostalgia, in no less than three dimensions."
"'Rise of the Planet of the Apes.' In keeping with the 'reduce, reuse, recycle' ethos of the 2010s, it's a formulaic franchise reboot. In fact, its parable of scientific hubris is near-identical to that of another digital age touchstone, 'Jurassic Park.' But 'Apes' does its ancestors one better by making Caesar more expressive and sympathetic than nominal lead James Franco, who becomes merely a limp appendage to his one-time pet's story. The film projects a post-human cinema where CGI money shots eclipse old-fashioned movie stars -- one echoed by the diagrams that play under its closing credits, tracing an epidemic as it kills off most of the human race. Bleak, maybe, but that's the 21st century for you."
"I’m going with 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,' which is both an excellent submission for a time capsule and has the bonus effect of being a damn good movie. I think Edgar Wright’s choice to maintain the hyperactive style present in Bryan O’Malley’s series of graphic novels makes the movie stand out as a textbook example of modern filmmaking. The ultra-zippy, ADD-like pacing, deliberate tonal shifts, and video-game-inspired visuals all add up to a thrilling, intoxicating experience. Wright’s inspired a good number of young filmmakers, and this film proves his worth as a purely 21st-century director, processing the styles of those who came before him into a younger mentality."
"The answer, without a doubt, is 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.' It's one of the stand out films of the year that I feel represents so much about movies today (as opposed to say... the '40s) and what youths need to make it enjoyable. Also it'll be a film people will look back at and ask how did that not make money, the same way we ask that of 'It's a Wonderful Life.'"
"'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol,' which would hopefully make the people think we were a little smarter than we actually are. The laborious title seems perfect, and the sense that they're setting it up as the continuation of a franchise without the leading man -- it's a reboot and sequel tossed into one, and an example of how the star system is on its last legs, still relying on people like Tom Cruise who are theoretically too old to lead movies like this. The use of IMAX speaks to the way studios are rolling out gimmick after gimmick to get people back in theaters, and the action scenes have elements of all kinds of trends that keep showing up lately-- gadgetry, a little bit of parkour, chases you can't quite follow (like the drive to the broadcast station near the end), and a big villain with no charisma. 'Ghotocol' is better than 95% of the action blockbusters that come out, but it filters in a lot of what's out there in terms of mainstream filmmaking trends, then makes them better."
"Are you a Belieber? Whether or not you're a Belieber, you have to have heard of the Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Bieber. Bieber was discovered in 2008 because of his YouTube videos. From there he has become a social media star, using YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to rise and become a singing and social media star. For that reason, I would choose the 2011 biopic 'Justin Bieber: Never Say Never' to include in a time capsule. The movie was directed by Jon Chu who also directed 'Step Up 3D' and has produced his own dance-oriented online-only series: 'The LXD.' Chu hasn't mastered character development or dialogue, but he does know how to film movement and his 'Step Up 3D' showcased some of the finest dancers of today. He was a good fit for Bieber's story. Bieber's personal life is very much a product of the times. He was raised by a single mother and his maternal grandparents at a time where there is a wider acceptance for out-of-wedlock children. His mother posted videos on YouTube of her son singing covers of R&B songs, showing how black singing stars have become an acceptable influence to the white Canadian community and really, everywhere. His mentor is Usher, and Bieber is also associated with Ludacris. The crossing of cultural and racial lines really shows us how far North American society has come since the 1960s. As Bieber told MTV News at a book signing in November 2010, 'I want to let people know there's a lot of people that are discouraging in life and that will tell you you can't do something, but you just got to remember that the sky's the limit. You're able to do whatever you set your mind to as long as you remember to keep God first and stay grounded. So I think the movie really explains that, and it's really inspiring.' When the time capsule is opened, it'd be fascinating to see how society has changed in terms of race and religion, how 3-D is used in film, if dance is still important, how movies use social media and how the story of a YouTube star played out. I don't know what the future holds for Justin Bieber or how social media will develop in the future, but his true rags-to-riches story is inspirational and shows the power of social media in changing the lives of people in a very positive way. Whether or not you're a Belieber or even believe in God, you have to believe in the power of social media after seeing how it changed the life of this one person in just a few years."
"I'll cast my vote for the non-cynical equivalent of 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows:' 'The Avengers.' I liked 'The Avengers' a lot, and I wouldn't be ashamed if future civilizations used it to judge us: it's exciting, well-written, well-acted, nice to look at. But for all its strengths, 'The Avengers' still found a way to check off every box on the 'irritating Hollywood excesses' list. It's a big, explosion-filled superhero blockbuster that's a sequel to not one, but four other superhero movies. It had stupid cross-promotional tie-ins with Dr Pepper and 7-11 and Red Baron pizza. It was needlessly released in 3-D. Everything was calibrated for maximum profit, and everything worked -- which means that we'll be getting another movie about every Avenger, and new movies about new Avengers, and eventually an actual sequel to 'The Avengers,' and a spinoff TV show about the government agency in 'The Avengers.' This will go on until the end of time, or until the movies become unprofitable, at which point the series will be rebooted and the process will begin again. That's Hollywood filmmaking in the 2010s."
"I had all kinds of answers go through my head, but in the end, I'm picking something very recent. 'The Avengers,' to me, is fairly representative of what filmmaking is in this day and age. Here's why: 1.) It's based on a pre-existing property, and Hollywood loves pre-existing properties because they come with a built-in audience. 2.) It involves superheroes, and comic book movies have become a massively successful genre. 3.) It's filled with some of the biggest stars currently working. 4.) It utilizes the latest in CGI technology. 5.) It's in 3-D. All of these things are fairly emblematic of modern filmmaking. But because I am an optimist, I'm going to add one more reason to the list: 6.) It strives to be quality entertainment. Not every modern film can make this last claim, of course, yet I think it's essential to choose a movie made in the right spirit. After all, someone's going to open up that time capsule one day. Why make them suffer?"
"The film of the 2010s that I'd put aside in a time capsule for future generations to see what filmmaking and society were going through would be my favorite film of 2011, 'Attack the Block.' A film that not only has great practical effects mixed with digital (as well as amazing 'man in suit' work), but the social issues at play within are part of what makes the best sci-fi relevant for years beyond the present. We have the youth of today, not only from England, but also their internal struggle between good and evil. We start off hating them, which Joe Cornish crafts well, and by the end of the movie, we feel for them and are hurt when one of them is lost to the alien menace. First impressions are valuable, but it shows that this list generation sometimes begin life already behind people given a more proper upbringing. Also, the whole life people live in 'the block', or in the States would be the projects, is something I was familiar with and even though this takes place over an ocean, it still felt real. As realistic a film with a killer alien invasion can be. It's a film I've been pushing since seeing it, and luckily I've converted many to Moses and company. Believe!"
"There are two ways to look at this question. There's the point of view that it should be emblematic of the best filmmakers have had to offer --which probably would be something like 'The Social Network' -- or one can be more realistic and look instead at what film, regardless of quality, sums of the types of movies being made today. In that realm, I think you need to look no further than 'Green Lantern.' It's based on an existing property, is part of the current comic book/superhero rage, stars an actor (Ryan Reynolds) who's being thrown at audiences in just about every genre to see where he sticks, and shamelessly sets itself up for a franchise/sequels without first making sure the movie itself deserves one. The final product is pretty mediocre, which also sums up the movies being made currently rather nicely."
"I can't bring myself to pick a terrible, depressing piece o' crap for this imagined time capsule, as emblematic as that might be. I think we too easily forget that quality mainstream films -- films that will mean something to people years from now (and not just to the film snobs) -- still get made and widely seen; it's just that they're seen more on DVD and VOD, long after the media has moved on. These are the films we should time capsule, no? A few recent films that say something about our values here and now: 'Compliance,' 'The Social Network,' 'Margaret,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Margin Call,' 'Take Shelter,' 'Precious' (it has its qualities), 'Rampart,' 'Beginners,' even 'Attack the Block.' But in the end, I have to go with 'Moneyball,' a movie that says more about the present and future of modern American life than any other. On a micro level, 'Moneyball' is about the recent reshaping of baseball via modern MBA-style principles. In a nutshell, the Oakland A's began using highly sophisticated stats and analytics to pick players, and they began winning games by hiring players who tended to get walked all the time (ie. players who had all the right stuff in the aggregate, but separately were a bunch of cautious and/or limited talents.) The filmmakers would have us believe this is a triumph for the underdogs, and for rational thought, and maybe it is. But when read another way, it's a horrible development, and it has horrible connotations far beyond the world of sports. On a macro level, 'Moneyball' illustrates what's been happening to American industries of all kinds: the business people have begun figuring out how to depend less on human skill and talent and more on low-risk, economically-sound formulas. And as a result, they're sucking the soul out of our working lives, removing personal agency and responsibility. (It's no coincidence that 'Moneyball' barely even looks at the players themselves -- the fascination of the game has been shifted to the off-field management decisions, not the on-field play.) Think about Hollywood itself: since the 1980s, low-risk, economically-sound formulas have increasingly been the order of the day, and consequently the movies themselves have become much more profitable, but much less interesting. You can see the parallels everywhere, probably in your own workplace. Director Bennett Miller and writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin may not have intended any of these broader implications, but they're there."
"'The Avengers' represents a new landmark in Hollywood corporate synergy and business acumen, and will undoubtedly be the model which all the major studios will adapt and rework for many years to come in an attempt to cultivate as close to a box office sure thing as possible. This film also acts as the perfect example of that happy union of audience satisfaction and studio financial fulfillment -- two worlds which will struggle to find the same equality in future."
"I foolishly spent a half hour trying to use the criteria of 'Filmmaking circa the 2010s' as you did with 'SHAGS:' hashtagable anagrams. Let me just say, between 'Master and Commander' ('MACTFSOTW'), 'Twilight' ('TBD P1') and 'The Last Airbender' ('TLA') I couldn't find something that met your previous criteria. But then I looked a little further and noticed that the Siblings Wachowski inadvertently set the tone for action and genre films not with their sequels to 'The Matrix' but their other great contribution: 'Speed Racer.' Where in 'The Matrix' ('TM,' 'TMR Squared') they took inspiration from anime and cyberpunk, 'Speed Racer' gave them a candy-colored world to draw inspiration from with a cast of semi-notables while spewing forth the CGI revolution. They out-Bay Michael Bay alone with the Elephant Car chase and let's not forget the idea of pulling a TV actor into the world of film for brief moments of catchphrase ('More like a NUN-ja' -- John Goodman). And if you don't think so, look no further than what films rely on these days -- eye-popping visuals, color palates and nonsensical action. I think we can bastardize the phrase further by borrowing the literal meaning of Yaoi -- 'No climax, no punchline, no meaning' -- to go from being about beautiful boys doing, er, each other to the aught's take on mainstream filmmaking."
"I'd have to go with 'Paranormal Activity.' Not that the found-footage aesthetic was exactly new -- 'The Blair Witch Project' pioneered it nearly a decade earlier. But the first 'Paramormal Activity' in 2007 was so cheap to make and became such a huge hit through word-of-mouth, it inspired a whole bunch of other faux-found-footage movies -- 'Catfish,' 'Chronicle,' 'The Last Exorcism,' etc. -- and now we're already up to a fourth movie in the franchise, coming out this fall. Also, I feel like the first couple 'Paranormal Activity' movies were really the first to benefit from the free and instantaneous worldwide reach of Twitter, and now movies get promoted that way all the time."
"I'm going to go with a film I truly loathe, which is 'Cyrus' by the Duplass Brothers. 'Cyrus' was of course the first of the filmmaking duo's to be produced by a Hollywood studio and the first to use large star names that one could throw on the marquee. And while others find their filmmaking style enthralling, I don't know if I can think of anyone who less understands the meaning of the image, a common problem that seems to be at the foreground of today's cinema (consider Nolan's films, which are much more interested in editing). Those all important zoom shots (which I know Richard Brody thinks are essential and enthralling) show their disinterest in contemplating the image instead of capturing the image -- they feel like the filmmaker thought something important might have happened, and the only way to capture that is to force a filmmaking touch onto it, as opposed to carefully framing compositions, using lighting, or what have you (not even to say the moment even is worth highlighting). The Duplass Brothers seem interested in this idea of 'the real' that many filmmakers today think they can accomplish now with digital photography (amusing since at least film actually captured and stored light, thus actually taking something from the physical world), but as their filmmaking seems to suggest, their work is less concerned with filmmaking as an art and more of an impulse, which is where much of contemporary cinema seems to be heading."
"It's tempting to follow Mr. Singer's cynical lead and go with 'The Expendables 2' -- after all, so much of (mainstream) cinema seems reheated, recycled and, well, expendable. But there are too many daring filmmakers out there to not single out something more formally dazzling like 'The Arbor,' Clio Barnard's experimental documentary about the life and legacy of British playwright Andrea Dunbar. Barnard has actors lip-sync pretaped interviews with Dunbar's friends and family, while also incorporating street-staged performances of her plays. From the work of Kiarostami to Cronenberg and many others, my favorite films today create cinema in unlikely spaces, employing an arsenal of artistic tools and blurring genre lines. More significantly to me, they blur the line between reality and fantasy/truth and artifice, challenging us to examine that conflict in our own lives."
"Maybe it's my growing insanity over not living in NY or LA and not being able to see 'The Master' but I'm going with 'There Will Be Blood' since it's the first film that came to mind. We seem to be stuck in this hyperaware state that renders us incapable of imagining new frontiers in cinema. So bereft of ideas we remake and reimagine and go back go back and go back again to the well of inspiration. We've forgotten that we are apart of a tradition and tradition must be malleable enough to incorporate the present-age of its practice. 'TWBB' shows us the beginnings of our new gods, evokes it at least, and pulls from tradition and moves forward. Plainview's disgust at humanity is our shared disgust of ourselves."
"'The Avengers,' for reasons that I imagine are obvious."
"Season 1 of 'Girls.' (It's about the same length as Bertolucci's '1900,' which may or may not have some significance.)"
"Going through the major theatrical releases, a certain trend emerges that probably best encapsulates filmmaking of the 2010s: Filmmakers doing their darnedest to make an interesting film in the environment of market studies and familiar cinematic properties. There are several examples of this, but that 'most emblematic example' would have to be 'Predators.' That film has a plethora of talented people creating a mostly fun and interesting story but it still only exists because of the 2010s movie system's tendency to fund and distribute a familiar, and marketable, iconic property. So I'd send 'Predators' into that time capsule with a note that read '2010s filmmakers were trying their damnedest.'"
"The movie that immediately came to mind was 'Melancholia.' So much of that film's making and reception are emblematic of cinema in the 2010s, for better or worse. It was shot digitally. It premiered at Cannes, still the most important and prestigious film festival in the world. Immediately, a controversy surrounding the director's stupid comments at a post-screening press conference dominated the media's coverage of the film, almost completely overshadowing the film's merits in the process. The film concerns the end of the world, arguably the most fashionable and evocative plot line in post-9/11 cinema. And despite the film's visual grandeur and bold design, its distributor decided to release it in the U.S. through on-demand services a month before audiences could see it on the big screen."
"Oddly enough, I think one of the best examples of 2010-era filmmaking isn't even from this decade. Peter Jackson's remake of 'King Kong' has much of the trappings of big-budget studio films of the last few years. The Skull Island chunk of the film is Exhibit A in 'more is more' blockbuster philosophy. Yes, the creature work is astounding (it was probably worth the remake just to see Kong snap that T-Rex's jaw in two), but at about the point where the giant sucker worms start decapitating a large percentage of the crew, it starts to become overkill (pun slightly intended). But, more than anything, 'King Kong' represents the ultimate 'does this film really need to be made?' discussion that seems to pop up every other week now. Whether it's a retooling, a sequel, a reboot or a story that that doesn't require enormous amounts of CGI to tell, Jackson's film lives in the center of a Venn diagram of all of those. It's not a bad film and certainly better than 'SHAGS,' but there's still those nagging, indicative issues lying just beneath the surface."
"'The Amazing Spider-Man,' for good and for bad. The good: I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy watching it. It's got a good director, good actors, and looks pretty good (and it would be a shame if it didn't, considering the budget). It doesn't pass the Bechdel test, but at least it has taken some baby steps in the right direction in regards of gender issues, like I believe most movies have. The girlfriend is not just an object to desire or protect -- she can look after herself at times and is supposed to be very smart. The bad: it's a perfect example how film companies in the 2010s prefer to put their money into low-risk projects where their return on investment is guaranteed. They stick to reboots, sequels, and already established brands targeting a young audience to sell as many tickets as possible. Preferably the concept should allow for the development of games and other merchandise for extra profit. If you want creativity and completely new ideas you need to look elsewhere because Hollywood apparently doesn't look for or support it at this time."
"I was trying not to be cynical as there is plenty of good quality filmmaking to go around if you really look for it, but as an emblematic statement, there probably is nothing that's more the epitome of where we're at with movies than 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.' These days everything is bigger and louder and dumber -- playing to the lowest common denominator as far as movie-going audiences go, because God forbid you give them characters or story or conflict that might require them to use any of their brain cells. Studios are now slaves to big budget tent poles with loads of action or at least familiar name recognition in order to guarantee a box office that will match the ridiculously bloated budget they invested in developing a big screen version of brand. The movie needs to be able to sell merchandise -- be it toys or shirts or throw blankets. And as the worst of the 'Transformers' films, it still managed to warrant another sequel. Bad movies used to never warrant further installments, because people didn't see awful films. Now it's as if thought in the story being told is a distant second priority behind just putting something with name value in the theaters that they know the masses will eat up."
"Well I think I would want to pick a really good film, first of all. Maybe I'm an optimist. I also think the film should be shot digitally, which could represent this era aesthetically as well as technologically. I picture a style composed mostly of aggressive montage, something ambitious narratively and, of course, the use of CGI. But perhaps most importantly, I'd want the film to deal with a new era thematically, tackling issues of digitality (not easy on film) and charting changes in human interaction. This all leads me to the obvious choice: 'The Social Network.' Even though it's set in the recent past, no film has its eye trained more unwaveringly on the future than that."
"I thought a lot about this one and ultimately decided on J.J. Abrams’ 'Super 8.' I know what you’re thinking, this is meant to be the most emblematic example of filmmaking circa the 2010s not circa the 1980s! That’s the point. In answering this question, I felt an inner conflict whether to be idealistic or cynical with my selection. In the end I struck a balance between the two by picking a good movie for cynical reasons. 'Super 8' shows how many filmmakers circa the 2010s are copying the past, albeit lovingly, rather than paving the path of the future. The film’s 'director' is a character obsessed with production value, who thinks that a clichéd romance can account for story and character development. Given a lot of the movies I have seen recently, he seems to be emblematic of most directors working in Hollywood today. It is for those three reasons why in my eyes, 'Super 8' is the most emblematic example of filmmaking circa the 2010s."
"'Resident Evil: Retribution.'"
"The answer of 'Avatar' to me is almost too obvious; the action spectacle with quasi-political undertones. But what changed cinema for the worst is the 3-D application as a brand that's been stamped on artlessly. You are also less aware of the people next to you when you put on those 3-D glasses; this diminishes the communal experience. I watched James Cameron's opus spectacle again on Blu-ray and much preferred it in 2-D. It's a remarkable entertainment with just enough food for thought, although the last quarter is still action overkill."
"'Inception' seems to be a huge influence on filmmakers already. Even the latest 'Resident Evil' film took inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s reflexive action puzzler. Even though I don’t think it’s a particularly smart movie, there does seem to be a greater interest in at least pseudo-intelligent blockbusters that aim for buzz in the form of discussion. And the thing with ambitious works like that and now 'Cloud Atlas,' the benefit for them is that even if you don’t like them, you end up part of the conversation. So you have to see them regardless of what you’ve heard and expect your own response to be. Somewhat related, I think for better or worse, puzzler documentaries like 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' and 'Catfish' are pretty emblematic, as well."
"This all depends on whether we're going for accuracy or self-flattery, but I'd say 'Inception' splits the difference rather nicely. The complaints about it not being deep, I always felt, kind of missed the point: for all its complexity, it is, at heart, a big crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster, in which regard it succeeds rather well. It's representative of a tendency modern blockbuster audiences have to want at least a tip of the hat to quality and intelligence, to redeem the big summer movie from its loud, stupid stereotype. It's a work in progress, this rehabilitation, but as a cockeyed optimist I'd rather our time capsule reflect our (modest) aspirations rather than our shame."
"I don’t think this generation of filmmaking is defined by remakes, I think it’s defined by an overpowering desire to legitimize (and yes, capitalize on) youthful obsessions from the 1980s. With that in mind, I offer that Edgar Wright’s 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' is the best example of this mindset, illustrating the means by which childhood mass media influences real lives in both subtle (the 'Urine Bar') and overpowering ways (a series of video game 'boss fights' as metaphor for overcoming relationship baggage). Wright’s broad action sequences and attention to modern interpersonal relationships, as opposed to familiar rom-com clichés, also covers a wide gamut of cinematic storytelling styles in the modern era. Besides, if we're preserving a film for posterity, why not pick a good one?"
"For me the film which sums up our times would be Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo,' which is essentially a halfway house between James Cameron's 'Avatar' and Miguel Gomes' 'Tabu.' It encapsulates the cinephile's obsession with the specifics of the medium, and is one of the purest examples of the cinema as a reflective device. That it presents two of our greatest contemporary debates (Film to Digital and the importance of 3-D) makes it the ideal punctuation point for our times."
"'The Avengers' reflects both Hollywood's obsession with superheroes and the potential for surprises to occur within the studio system. Following the string of individual Marvel films both good ('Iron Man') and bad (everything else), a superhero all-star game seemed repulsive on multiple levels. Money in the bank, sure, but these characters could barely carry their own films. How could they possibly unite and not be a total disaster? In the hands of a creative filmmaker with a sense of humor, however, 'The Avengers' is an immense success. Joss Whedon plays to the strengths of each character and fits them together in a balanced, engaging manner. The ends still don't justify the means, but Whedon's film is proof that, with the right players, a blockbuster can deliver the goods."