Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Has cinema hit an all-time low?

The question is prompted by comments made by Billy Bob Thornton in a recent interview with The Daily Telegraph. The former Angelina-squeezer suggested that “In our current state of affairs, especially in the entertainment business, we’re living in a time when …

Mon, Dec 13, 2010, 22:56

   

The question is prompted by comments made by Billy Bob Thornton in a recent interview with The Daily Telegraph. The former Angelina-squeezer suggested that “In our current state of affairs, especially in the entertainment business, we’re living in a time when we’re making — in my humble opinion — the worst movies in history.”

Mr Woodcock? The Informers? Heal thyself, Thornton.

Last friday, when introducing my pick of this year’s best films, I may have implied that I was on the same page as Billy Bob. Unable to sincerely nominate a single mainstream hit — I didn’t like The Social Network or Inception quite as much as most pundits — I somewhat willfully selected a selection of art films, subversive docs, puzzling allegories and poncey experiments.

So, I think Big Cinema has keeled over? I am in the same miserable boat as David Thomson? Not a bit of it. The multiplex, burdened with 3-D trivialities and overly reverent adaptations of groaning children’s books, is not enjoying its finest hour, but the slump is nowhere near as bad as great disasters such as the mid-1990s apocalypse or the Great Drought of ’01. I well remember that latter catastrophe. It was, as it happens, the year I began writing regularly for The Irish Times. From February to October 2001, I found myself unable to award a single commercially released film more than three stars. The fallow period was eventually broken by, of all things, Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale (well, I still like it).

The point worth making here is that 1999-2000 was, not without reason, greeted by many critics as one of the great passages in contemporary American cinema. That was the time of Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, Requiem for a Dream, Memento and Rocky and Bulwinkle (only joking there). There isn’t really a moral here. But it is worth noting that trends in mainstream cinema tend to be largely imagined. Next year has as much chance of being a 1939 (Stagecoach, Wizard of Oz, Ninotchka) as it does of being a 2001 (Pearl Harbor, Glitter, The Mummy Returns).

Okay, that’s not quite true. But I do continue to travel hopefully.