Sunday, December 19, 2010

Manly Masculine Man Movies and my life, 2010

I am a blogging machine.

Look at what the New York Times just said to me:
"6. Superheroes take a break. Yes, there was “Iron Man 2,” but even that offered a respite from the glowering, pretentious action allegories that have dominated screens for most of the past decade. The battle between good and evil rages on in some quarters, but mostly in self-conscious, self-parodic form. In the strangely similar animated kiddie comedies “Despicable Me” and “Megamind” the heroes and villains are self-conscious role players, and the villains are actually nice as well as more interesting than their occasional square-jawed nemeses. This may reflect genre exhaustion (though another round of superhero blockbusters is already on the horizon), or a measure of real-world cynicism. The investigative documentaries that proliferated this year ("Inside Job," “Client 9,” “Casino Jack and “The United States of Money”) suggest that corruption and criminality exist virtually beyond the reach of justice." ((here) 

No. Absolutely not. I disagree. 

This was a year of revelations for me, mostly about gender and movies. And with that came the revelation that I need to stop avoiding superhero movies. They are campy just like slasher movies, take place in pretty cities with pretty girls, and deserve a lot more credit than I've given them in the past, which i suppose is just from neglect rather than dislike. 

Remember that I avoid modern films usually, but regardless, were i to make a list of my top ten films for this year, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would be probably at the top of the list, and Kick ass would be on there somewhere too. 

Granted, i did see these movies with some of my very best friends on two very significant occasions. They were spots of movie brightness on some very dark days. But i went into them surrounded by warnings of, "Krista this movie is about video games, you probably won't like it," "This is a funny movie, but you won't get most of the jokes," and most ridiculous of all, "Krista, this movie is really violent, I don't know if you'll be able to handle it." 
Both of these movies made me really, really happy. They were both hilarious and extremely well done, and played directly to the normal superhero film viewing audience. ( I know this because I only talk to five or six people on a regular basis, and one of them likes superhero movies like i like slasher movies.)

I know they aren't superhero movies in the traditional sense, really at all, but if you're going to put them in a genre that's the one where you put them. Comic book movies, at least. Maybe they do result from "genre exhaustion," since they're both sort of satire/deconstruct sort of films, but at least they aren't sequels or remakes or spin-offs. I suppose that these films are evidence of the "self conscious and self parodic" films that the article mentions, but I think it's an achievement for a genre to reach the point where it has a large enough fan base and an established enough personality that it can be self conscious and self parodic and still be successful. 

I suppose that this warrants a discussion on how we would define "genre exhaustion." What the article refers to I would say was the sort of ultimate point for a film genre to achieve. This may not be the case with a more general genre, for instance, action movie, or drama, but for a genre so specific with such a specific target audience: nerds. (I use the term in the most affectionate way posisble.) Recently it's seemed like superhero/comic book movies are trying to aim for a larger audience (aren't we all,) especially with the advent of technology creating a world where movies are seen just for the special effects, and comic books are, for many, obsolete. While they can no longer depend solely on a group of cult comic fans, they can rely on the fact that those people will show up to every movie at least once. Having a devoted audience like that certainly seems to help a genre get established--take slasher movies, for a totally random example. The slasher genre is built upon independent, low budget films that, while not at all applicable to a mainstream or high-film audience, were loved and relentlessly viewed by the genre fans, and for that matter, still are today. If formula slasher movies didn't make money off of those cult fans, more movies wouldn't have been made, changes wouldn't have happened, and we never would have gotten to Nightmare on Elm Street or even Silence of the Lambs. Going even further back, Psycho's success was pretty much dependent on the "cult" fans, if you will, of Alfred Hitchcock--all of the publicity was based around the fact that it was his movie. 

When a fan base gets big enough that movies can be made by a big production company and make a profit, that seems like a pretty huge deal, not a sign of genre exhaustion. There comes a saturation point with formula films, i guess, where you have to recognize that you are a formula film--and it seems like a fantastic moment to me. Wes Cravens' career success in the past twenty years is based entirely off Scream, and while maybe that means that he's no longer making movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, it means that...well, enough people get it. Enough people have seen enough films that a movie referencing them is successful in the mainstream (you may think I'm referencing the success of the Wayan and Selzer. I am not. Do not speak those dirty words here.) And, while I'm not at all an expert or even a little bit knowledgeable about superhero/comic book movies, I think it's the same situation. When you have enough (wonderful, loveable, awesome) nerds out there to understand Scott Pilgrim  or Kickass, you're pretty set. Congratulations, you're a genre. 

What i really want to talk about is how underappreciated Scott Pilgrim is. I just read quite a few articles about movies of the year, and I've looked at Academy Award Nominees: Scott Pilgrim is conspicuously absent from all of them. There's a lot of talk about how The Kids are All Right (which i haven't seen, but i love on principle,) represents our modern family structure and changing view on social acceptability, about how The Social Network works because we're all so obsessed with the internet, how Inception captures the confused, surrealistic, escapist view of entertainment right now. 
And yeah, i guess that's pretty much whats happening in 2010, but clearly none of these people spend any time looking at internet memes or in not-so-classy clubs, because they've forgotten about two very important and potentially opposite groups that are coming into the mainstream this year: nerds and hipsters. 
Maybe I'm biased, having my personality coincidently fitting parts of both stereotypes/subcultures, but i really think that in the future when you stereotype folks in 2010, or at least in the coming decades, they will be playing videogames, watching videos of lolcats, and arguing about cult film. They will be wearing plaid and fedoras and listening to Bright Eyes and The Avett Brothers and being "all ironic." 
Scott Pilgrim did not miss these subgroups. It represented them, and perfectly. No aspect of my weird little cultural underground, that lives somewhere in my boyfriends garage where D&D is played or at the Starbucks in Barnes&Noble where my best friend and i often sit judging people, was missed. My friends, this movie is our Breakfast Club. Teenagers will watch this movie thirty some odd years in the future and say, "Oh, thats what my parents were like in 2010." Or whatever we say when we watch Breakfast Club. No movie that's on all the lists really took these groups into account, as far as i know. 
Presumably, our culture is too focused on the nonsense that MTV is putting out to notice whats really going on in youth culture, or maybe I'm too focused on what isn't going on in youth culture to notice that whatever MTV is putting out is the reality of those under thirty. I'm pretty sure I'm right, though. Scott Pilgrim captured what i see as the mood of our generation perfectly, which few if any forms of mainstream pop culture had really done, as far as I can tell. So...congratulations, nerds and hipster, you're a subculture! 

Not to even get into the fact that a lot of the technical stuff Scott Pilgrim did was just insane. It's sort of concoction of aspects of videogames, comic books, movies, internet, and weird dream sequences was amazing and incredibly innovative, absolutely like nothing I've ever seen. If it influences movies as much as it should, it may signal the beginning of a hyper-realist surrealist movement or culture. The movie makes it seem like we are getting the truth, but from Scott Pilgrim's perspective--it is distorted, but exactly in the way an identity confused youth who spends much of his time in the world of video games, underground clubs, interrupted naps and the internet would imagine it to be. 

So really, there is a lot of room for a recognition, as that article claims there is, of the unhappy realities of crime fighting--the genre is acknowledging itself as fiction, which i think is a very mature thing to do. 

So! In conclusion! I think that the exclusion of Scott Pilgrim from prestigious film critic and award nominee lists is a horrible, horrible mistake, and that the film "trend reports," if you will, that I've read very much misinterpreted what the superhero movies of this year mean for the genre and the "state" of cinema and therefore, ourselves, in general. 

However, once again, I tend to look at genres backwards (from self parodic to origin, instead of the other way around,) so my knowledge of superhero films is super limited, so please disagree with me if you feel it necessary. 

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