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Movies

A Decade in Review: The 2010’s

There are only three weeks left in this decade. It makes me think about the movies that will turn 100 during the “new 20’s” and the images from those films that still inhabit our popular imagination, like the vampire walking up the staircase in Nosferatu (1922), the birth of the machine-man in Metropolis (1927), or the tramp befriending a youngster in The Kid (1921). The 1920’s forever changed the art form of the motion picture with the invention of sound, and with due respect to Roger Ebert, it was the last decade that film could be described as an entirely visual medium.

What about the 2010’s? The decade’s most important picture from a commercial standpoint was certainly 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, which wrapped up a story told across almost two-dozen previous films, and made more money than any movie before it. Endgame will not win any Oscars in February, except maybe for Visual Effects. It won’t make many critics lists of “movie of the decade” either. And, if I’m perfectly honest, I didn’t love Endgame. However, it demonstrates a triumph of serialized filmmaking beyond the “trilogy” model pioneered by Star Wars.

And what about Star Wars? The Sequel Trilogy has made money hand over fist, and the films so far have certainly surpassed the…ahem…quality of the Prequel Trilogy. Overall, I cannot judge the Sequel Trilogy until next Friday. Stay tuned.

Speaking of Star Wars, I’m currently very much enjoying watching The Mandalorian and Rebels on Disney Plus. That brings me to television in the 2010’s. I cannot understate what television achieved this decade in terms of art and technology. In the 2010’s, shows like The Americans, Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones (for better or worse) demonstrated that television may be a better place to tell certain stories that the cinema.

Has the explosion of television options during this time of the “Streaming Wars” watered down the cultural impact of the medium? Yes, and no. A mere six months after the end of Game of Thrones was supposed to end appointment television, we can’t stop talking about Baby Yoda. It has become harder for television series to capture the attention of a distracted public, but certainly not impossible.

That brings me to lists. Top ten movies and television shows of the 2010’s:

Movies

1. Gravity (2013)

2. Black Panther (2018)

3. Get Out (2017)

4. Toy Story 3 (2010)

5. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

6. Lincoln (2012)

7. Nebraska (2013)

8. Twelve Years a Slave (2013)

9. Roma (2018)

10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Television

1. The Americans (FX)

2. Mad Men (AMC)

3. Breaking Bad (AMC)

4. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

5. Game of Thrones (HBO)

6. Fargo (FX)

7. Stranger Things (Netflix)

8. Better Call Saul (AMC)

9. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)

10. New Girl (Fox)

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe

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Movies

Us (2019)

Us (USA, 2019)

Directed by Jordan Peele

After I saw Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” (2008), I would joke that the message of the film was that the real vampire was the vampire within.  That particular joke played not only upon the movie’s content, but on the type of Scandavian existential dread often found in the films of Ingmar Bergman.  Due respect to Mr. Bergman’s vision of God as a hideous spider in “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961) or Mr. Alfredson’s star crossed vampire, there is a new existential nightmare in the cinema canon, the “tethered” in Jordan Peele’s “Us.”

Many great horror movies lull the audience into a sense of comfort.  Peele certainly did that in 2017’s “Get Out.”  Us isn’t one of those films.  From the first frame, Peele brings the audience into a nightmare that doesn’t let up.  There are lulls in the action, but nothing long enough to give anyone the type of familiarity or comfort that one might feel when watching Psycho (1960) for the first time.  The viewer is allowed to catch their breath, but can never let go of that awful feeling that nothing is ever quite right.

To give away too many plot details of a suspense/thriller/horror film can inadvertently ruin the film.  I won’t do that in a short, initial review.  I can tell you that the cast is perfect, particularly, if Lupita Nyong’o isn’t a shoe-in for a Best Actress nod they should just cancel the Oscars next year.  The score is one of the best I’ve heard, up there with Metropolis (1927), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), and Fargo (1996).  Michael Abels creates the perfect complimentary sound to Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography – eerie when it needs to be and epic when it needs to be.  

After “Get Out” and its biting commentary on race relations in America, it wouldn’t be surprising if Peele created a companion piece.  “Get Out” is a great film in its own right, but in some ways the two films couldn’t be more different.   There are certain stylistic similarities, but “Get Out” satires monstrous elements of society, and overall, is a much funnier movie.  “Us” has its moments of humor, but it is a nightmarish meditation on the nature of evil in general.  In short, the monsters in”Get Out” were concrete, the monsters in “Us” are the wind.  

Which one is more horrifying?  It depends on your fears, and to some extent on your experience.  I’m going to watch “Get Out” again this weekend and think about how to answer that myself.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe  

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Movies

Home Alone (1990)

Some movies you watch every year, or almost every year. Most of the time, these are holiday movies. Let’s face it, get yourself a successful holiday song or movie, and you’ll be rolling royalties until the cows come home. That’s all by way of saying that there are movies that I love – love – that I don’t watch once a year. These include classics like the Seventh Seal and blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yet I find myself watching some movies once a year, every year. It makes we wonder if these movies are worth my time. One of the easier ones to answer that question for is Home Alone.

Home Alone is a great movie. It is not particularly influential. You won’t generally find it discussed among film students or academics. It isn’t made by a great director (although Chris Columbus is by no means a bad director), and it boasts no legendary movie stars. Macaulay Culkin may have been the most bankable child star since Shirley Temple, but he’s not exactly Robert Redford.

Then, is it a bold statement to say a film is a great one if it does not measure up to traditional great movie metrics? Look closer. Home Alone is a tightly shot and plotted film. The story connects with the audience, despite how absurd it seems to modern eyes. It’s not just holiday nostalgia either – I’m watching A Christmas Story as I type this. Talk about your meandering, nonsense film. People love it, but at some level, we all have to agree it’s a silly movie. We like silly movies, and that’s okay, by the way.

So if Home Alone isn’t a silly movie or a nostalgic movie, that’s fine. Sure. But a great movie? That’s a stretch, right? It’s like the time that I tried to convince a film buff that The Empire Strikes Back is a superior film to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. I mean, it is a superior film, but a film buff will never admit that – and neither, by the way, did the one I spoke to. By the way, the greatest science fiction/fantasy (i.e. speculative fiction) movie of all time is the Seventh Seal.

I digress. Greatly. Let’s talk about the holiday classic you came here to talk about. What’s great about Home Alone, first of all, is how it re-creates the insane family dynamics of the Holidays in the first act without making the movie “about that.” It sets the stage with very few interactions between the family characters, and does not leave Kevin’s point of view, for the most part. This centers the story on Kevin’s experience, but also believably creates a madhouse family reminiscent of Holiday classics like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The film doesn’t let up either. There are no wasted scenes – everything builds up to the next or develops the characters. The jokes are funny, the touching scenes are touching (e.g. the church scene), and the famous slapstick scenes in the third act live up to their reputation. It’s an efficient and effective movie. If that isn’t a great film, what is?

By the way, I partially take back what I said about A Christmas Story. That scene where Ralphie beats the living daylights out of that bully is pure gold.

D.G. McCabe; December 24, 2018