The decade in cinema is ready to go out with a bang; with six weeks left in 2009, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is the 13th highest grossing film of the year; a fact which says everything and nothing.
But as the 00's slip away without anyone having given them a decent nickname, its time to start taking stock and pointing fingers. A handy list compiled on Wikipedia of the world's most beloved (in dollars spent) films of the last ten years gives us a good place to start. And with six weeks to go, there's some big conclusions to be drawn:
• It actually could be worst. Considering this is a list of the decades blockbusters, not the decade's edgiest indie releases, a surprising amount stands out as not completely horrible. Certainly, depression sets in when one sees the accumulated grosses for the Pirates and Transformer films and the depressing number of sequels in the list, but when you get past that, the 00's actually had some good things going. If you are going to make superhero movies, The Dark Knight and the first Spiderman are each in their way, as good as any superhero movie ever made. The Lord of the Rings trilogy will go down as one of the great epics of filmdom. The Harry Potter films, while uneven, have provided a fairly high level of craftsmanship and a certainly non-exploitative trend in kid's entertainment. The 00's saw most of Pixar's breathtaking run, most of which makes the Top grossing list. And somehow the fact that a musical based on Abba songs is the 35th highest grossing film of the decade strangely gives us hope that the universe is ruled by a god with a wacky absurdist sense of humor.
• We are a bunch of children. If the movies on the list aren't outright kid's movies they are at least family-friendly adventure movies. You have to go to number 23 on the list to find anything remotely resembling an adult-themed drama or comedy...and that 23 is The Da Vinci Code. After that, the only films even marginally grown up on the list are Passion of the Christ (34), Mamma Mia! (35) and if you really want to get technical Meet the Fockers (50), a list that is even more depressing than if there were no grown-up films on the list at all.
• Human beings rule. Only 12 of the top 50 are animated.
• Steven Spielberg is no Steven Speilberg these days. The director is still held up as the box office gold standard, but the highest he got in the 00's is number 21 with Indiana Jones and the crystal UFO hidden in the volcano or whatever it was called, and that was with Indiana Jones! After that you have to go down to 38 to find another Speilberg film. Somehow The Terminal and AI didn't make the list.
• We mostly want the second installment of a series, sometimes the third, but rarely are we interested in a series when it first starts out. Of the franchises with multiple installments on the chart, here's how the different chapters stack up in order of grosses:
Lord of the Rings: 3,2,1
Pirates: 2, 3, 1
Batman Reboot: 2, 1
Harry Potter: 1 5, 6, 4, 2, 3
Shrek: 2, 3
Spiderman: 3, 1, 2
Star Wars prequels: 3, 2
Transformers: 2, 1
• Australians are dangerously over-represented in our culture. Yes, we know that technically Australia is a continent, but nonetheless it's a relatively not-that-big island in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of little other stuff around it. (Yes, for the purposes of scientific measurement we are counting New Zealanders as Australians. "Oceanics" is too scientific sounding; "Down Underers" too wordy).
Now understand us, we bow to no one in our sadness at the news of the death of Breaker Morant; the first two Mad Max films are gospel. If anyone has rented Babe or Heavenly Creatures or The Man From Snowy River, give us a holler, we'll be right over.
But does every film have to be made by Australians? Are Michael Bay and Gore Verbinski really the only American directors left?
A third of the top ten is directed by Down Underers (the LOTR and Shrek films) and another one (The Dark Knight) stars one. If you include Geoffrey Rush as the real reason for the Pirate films success (a case we'd be happy to make after a few drinks), then you could say every non-Harry Potter film on the top ten is Australian.
Now this is all well and good, but has anyone thought about what happens if Australia were suddenly to withdraw all its actors and directors from American cinema? Entertainment, our biggest export, would be crippled, and our economy would grind to a halt overnight. Yes, the Australian people have been good friends to us over the years, but is it responsible to leave our economy and national security open to blackmail as the short-sighted leaders of show business have done.
• Just for the fact that Titanic is not the top-grossing film of this decade, we should pat ourselves on the back. As President Obama gets credit just for not being George Bush, so too should we as a world of moviegoers get a gentleman's C just for showing up this decade at movies that weren't about Jack and Rose.
Of course there are still six weeks to go, which is plenty of time for all the above to change. And another James Cameron film is waiting in the wings.