Throughout the great interwebs are a million articles on the best films and best television shows of the decade. As arbitrary and meaningless as it is to divide human history into ten year periods, each decade’s zeitgeist doesn’t magically change over night as December 31st becomes January 1st. Attitudes and values evolve over time, and with the speed of global communication in the 21st century, that evolution is happening faster than ever. If we need to pin down a moment our current world became the one it did, beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s 9/11.
9/11 presents the one moment we can now use to define a “before” and “after”, but I believe we were already on a gradual slide into the postmodern, and only well and truly arrived there in the post-9/11 world. “Postmodern” has no truly objective weight to it – and postmodern films have been around for decades now – but the Noughties (it’ll be interesting to see if that moniker sticks) has seen elements of postmodernism creep into popular films and television in an unprecedented manner. With that, I see two general trends in this decade: Postmodernism and Post 9/11.
Rather than add my two cents to an already-overwhelming wealth of nothing more than someone’s not-so-humble opinion, I thought I’d review the decade myself. Not in a way that measure best and worst, but rather highlight trends and changes in popular film and television over the last ten years. This is in no way a list, nor is it authoritative or comprehensive, but rather the opening up of a discussion. So, please, comment. While this discussion is technically film and television, the focus is mainly film, with television applied as needed, like some kind of ointment. There are a lot of films and shows that I’m not familiar enough to confidently comment on, so what follows is simply my opinions and my observations presented in a fairly generalized way. Please accept my fallibility. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20….
There’s been an over-arching change over the decade from conservative in both form and story, as is evident in the first two Best Pictures of the decade, the formulaic epic, Gladiator, followed by the formulaic biopic, A Beautiful Mind, to an arguably postmodern wealth of popular cinema. In these recent years, we’ve seen a proliferation of the nontraditional: a recognition of the global village, seen in such a wide range of films as from Bend it Like Beckham to Babel; multi-vocal stories and the rise of the mosaic story, in such films as Traffic and Amores Perros, and nonlinear narratives, such as Memento; self-awareness, intertextuality, and irony, such as in the work of Edgar Wright (Spaced, Hot Fuzz); and a general feeling that there is nothing else new to contribute to cinema, as is evident by the multitude of remakes, reboots, reimaginings, adaptations, reworkings of genres, and more. Think then of the two most recent best pictures: No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire (both also based on books). It would have been difficult to see how either of these would even have been considered for an Oscar ten years ago.
“Post-9/11” cannot be characterized in one way; really, it should be divided into Post-9/11 and Post-Iraq War. Characterized by escapism and “black and white” moralizing, the years 2001, 2002 and 2003 brought us films like The Lord of the Rings, the first two Harry Potter films, the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, and the beginnings of the superhero trend. But as the decade went on, and we watched a futile war in Iraq unfold, the Us Vs. Them mentality faded, so much that the line between the two even faded. Filmmakers began to explore differing questions of good and evil, of self and other. We arrived at a brand-new questioning of our underlying values and structures. A villain that was simply unquestioningly evil suddenly seemed irrelevant and outdated.
The change is marked by a quick comparison to what we get away with now and what we would never get away with several years ago. The fact that Battlestar Galactica was able to include acts of terrorism perpetrated on behalf of the protagonists shows how fast we moved on from the situation as chronicled in a documentary about the Dixie Chicks, Shut Up & Sing, which seems just so ridiculous now. The political and cultural climate we live in now seems such a far cry from Operation Iraqi Freedom that it’s amazing to see how much the world has changed, not just on September 11, but in the years that followed as well.