When asked to contribute something to this year's end of '05 double issue, I scrambled to come up with some sort of overarching theme. Several of the big movie-making trends of the past few years continued unabated in 2005, like strip-mining underground comics for content (Constantine), side-swiping the embedded political terrorists with indie docs (Enron: The Smartest People in the Room; Occupation: Dreamland), and giving C-list ingénues terrible excuses for film roles (Herbie: Fully Loaded; that abysmal wax museum movie with Paris Hilton).
But the overwhelming hindsight view of 2005 is, well, rather underwhelming. Maybe King Kong will reverse the curse (it's not looking likely), but thanks in part to a running media scare that everyone from Entertainment Weekly to USA Today helped propagate, this year will probably be remembered as the Year of the Incredible Shrinking Box Office.
It would be nice to imagine this ushering in an era when films become more intimate and personal, but that would be a bit naïve. More likely, we're entering a period of obnoxious infotainment synergy, wherein the simple fact that Brangelina, TomKat, EnronHubbard and whatever other celebrity/corporate hybrid monsters they come up with are being allotted precious news space is more important — at least to their legion of well-paid handlers — than any movie they might actually appear in. Similarly, opening weekend numbers only matter insofar as they move units of the latest Xbox version of the film. To date, I've seen more ads for the Narnia video game release than I have for the actual movie.
I realize I sound a bit like Debbie Downer here, so before I get to what really sucked on the big screen this year, let me point out a few of the bright spots. First, they finally made a movie about gay cowboys (though pretty much every western ever made is totally gay, but whatever). I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain yet, but I hear it's pretty good. Secondly, there was George Clooney. Good Night, and Good Luck was like a smoky scotch chaser to the media's post-Katrina wake-up call, and Syriana — confusing and confounding and difficult to follow as it was — is preferable to the baker's dozen of cheaply made PowerPoint anti-Bush docs out there. The fourth really wonderful thing in movies this year: Canadian lovely Rachel McAdams. I'm still uncertain I'll drag myself to The Family Stone based solely on her presence in it, but these are the sacrifices we critics make.
Okay, so that's out of the way. On to the bloated, shrill, overwrought timesucks that wasted my and everyone else's time this year. This year certainly had its share of boring, well-intentioned art films (Last Days; Capote), overrated inspirational pictures (Murderball), dingy atmospheric genre flicks (Dark Water; The Jacket) and plain old crap (The Dukes of Hazzard; Elizabethtown).
But in lieu of an actual 'Bottom 10 of '05,' I've chosen to focus on a single film that embodies all the very worst tendencies in awful movies. It's a sort of template for a celluloid train-wreck, with its unself-conscious performances, distended running time, embarrassing musical numbers, and pathetic zeitgeist chasing. You guessed it: I'm talking about Rent.
I'm constitutionally wary of films that announce their intention to define a generation. Rent seeks to back up that claim with a cringe-worthy cast of put-upon faux-hos shrieking out their troubles in an anachronistic, murderous Lower East Side, living and dying (no points for guessing what from), and loving (the triumphant music swells!). Along the way, they try like hell to pay the rent without selling out their dreams of being a shitty '80s rocker, a shitty documentary filmmaker, a greasy stripper, or a promiscuous lesbian, respectively.
I've been told the Broadway show was stunning. If so, no trace of it appears in Chris Columbus's (of Home Alone and Bicentennial Man notoriety) adaptation. [OK, full disclosure: I haven't seen the whole thing yet. I moonlight once a week as a projectionist at a small movie-house, which for the past few weeks has been playing Rent. I keep popping in to watch it, but every time I do I start breaking out in fits of convulsive laughter, which doesn't seem fair to the suckers who've bought tickets.]
Cheesy choreography, interminable plotting, ass-ugly cinematography. The worst of Hollywood, all wrapped up in a bow. It's probably too late to save 2006, but maybe this year's lesson will help to get their eyes off the bottom line. Figure in a couple years of green-lighting and producing smart, human-scale scripts, and you can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel. Bring on the films of 2010!