In thinking about assembling a list of my favorite films from the last ten years, a singular thought went raging through my head the entire time; who gives a shit what you think? Looking at the traffic numbers for this blog the past few months, I can only assume that if you’re reading this, you’re either related to me, know me personally or are bored out of your mind for something to read. So, given that I know the limitations of my own writing and assuming that it will be fun for me to think about the last ten years of movies that I loved, I decided to just go ahead and pretend that maybe someone else other than me cares what I think about this. Of course, I should probably wait until next year; given that Western Civilization went from 1 BCE to 1 AD without a year zero in between, “the 2000 decade” began on January 1st, 2001 and will technically end on December 31, 2010. Try telling that to a country where people built bomb shelters to ride out the Y2K apocalypse and believe that dinosaurs walked with man. Time is clearly a novelty item in this place. Might as well jump on the bandwagon.
I guess, though, what really stands out when looking back across this time in my life is the dominance of THE BIG LIE on my perspective about the meaning and value of movies. Living under the shadow of the last ten years of American political life, from lame duck sex scandal Clinton to the disaster of the 2000 election to September 11, 2001 and the lies and wars that followed, to Hurricane Katrina to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and The American Idol-ization of our culture to the Patriot Act and Homeland Security Code Orange (no, Yellow… no, Red!) and the financial meltdown caused by deregulated Wall St. trying to plunder unqualified home buyers and burning everything down around them, to the Birthers and the Tea Partiers and the fracturing of America into shouting packs of liars willing to undermine the entire nation to make their point, well, it’s been an absolutely shit soaked decade of awfulness. It also marks the decade during which I found my true love and also found my calling; I became a husband, father, film programmer and a film writer. So, yay that (for sure).
Personal life aside, the effect of all of that horrible, previously unfathomable insanity on me has been to send me diving into the movies as a true escape from the inward-looking screeching of America; movies have been a way for me to become an international citizen, a member of a community of people from all over the world who care about the art of film in a way that seems foreign to the dominant story of modern American life. A love of the art of film, a passion for internationalism in cinema during one of the most xenophobic decades in the nation’s history; it all seemed literally like a new form of counter-culture (albeit passive), a way for strangers to huddle together in the dark and hope for a more meaningful, emotional engagement with the world. And yet, at the same time, the internet has risen to make that community more viable, more real. But even that space has changed dramatically over the past few years, and not all of it for the best, I don’t think.
One of the most unfortunate things that has happened to thinking about and communing over movies this decade has been the transformation of the internet from messy democratic marketplace of ideas into a collective group-think of echo and agreement. It even manifests itself in real life situations; just walk out of any press screening at a major film festival and you can physically feel the move toward consensus building as writers, critics, programmers all gather and start constructing an inviolate canon of films and ideas that are then disseminated through a thousand online pages, each read by the other 999 writers, the finer points of minor disagreements becoming the focus of wildfire outrage, while general dissent remains pretty much unthinkable, lest ye be rendered irrelevant by the only community you feel you can truly love. On the other hand, the rise of heavy handed, desperate old media types that have walked into this online space and tried to turn it into something of “value” (read: a business) has served to galvanize the passionate minority and to bring people like me closer to those with whom I feel I have something in common.
So, despite a unknowable number of hours spent watching movies, perhaps the seminal moment of this decade in cinephilia has arrived just at the end; the recent publication of Farber On Film: The Complete Film Writings Of Manny Farber serves as a wake up call for this community. I hope it gives my friends and colleagues the confidence and courage to be themselves, to find their voices and stop worrying about the “state of film writing” and “criticism”. I hope we can all just sit down and do what we love in a way that we love because we love it and have something to say. And if the by-product of that philosophy is a broader cross-section of ideas, of likes and dislikes, of essentials and disposables, I couldn’t be happier. After a decade of being trampled under foot by social conditions that remain the polar opposite of my own understanding of meaning in the world, I’m hopeful we can build a better, more diverse and interesting community among those who share our love of and belief in the power of cinema to describe and change the world.
So, fuck it; consensus be damned! In the spirit of looking back at what was in order to find a common ground with what is to come, I will be presenting The Back Row Manifesto’s Incredibly Personal, Completely Subjective List of the Best Films of The Decade (2000-2009) over the course of the next twenty plus days. Think of it as a sort of misguided advent calendar without the little chocolate surprises. Either way, thanks for reading, please check back every day over the next few weeks and, most importantly, feel free to leave a comment, Mom.