Thursday, February 22, 2007

2006: The Year of the African Picture

10 Best Science Fiction Movies of All Time

This might just be me but I usually see a sort of pattern in each year’s slate of movies. The patterns aren’t entirely exclusive by the year but a case can be made that they are brought on by trends that ebb and flow:

2001 was the year of the dark storyline. Disjointed storylines were abound in Momento, Mullholland Drive, and Vanilla Sky. And In the Bedroom and Man Who Wasn’t There were both films with dark sides. In the Bedroom was nominated for best picture and Mullholland Drive received a best director nomination and Momento received attention for best screenplay. Dark films usually come in low-grossing thrillers but these five films were higher end products that at least all started out with potential for an oscar nomination.

2002 I really couldn’t find a pattern, other than the best picture win for Chicago solidified the Return of the Musical. There are no other films in that year that reflect that trend, however.

2003 was the year of the epic with Pirates of the Carribean, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, Last Samurai, Cold Mountain and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Seabiscuit also had characteristics of an epic, in that it was a big budget period piece, but it didn’t involve any kind of fighting or battles. The number of big-budget blockbusters and tent poles per year has significantly increased in the ‘00s, but usually they’re constricted to the summer. Last Samurai, Master and Commander, Cold Mountain, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King were all released in the Oscar Season and either received Oscar nominations or significant
Oscar buzz. One could argue that Lord of the Rings had been going on for three years but a) 2003 was the year in which Lord of the Rings won and b) Return of the King was the most action-packed. The epics that followed in the next year, Alexander and Troy, were far more poorly received.

2004 was the year of the biopic with Ray, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Kinsey, Hotel Rwanda, Beyond the Sea and Vera Drake. Three of these were nominated for best picture, Hotel Rwanda was the perennial sixth candidate, and nine of the twenty acting nominations, with Kinsey’s Liam Niesson nearly making the lead actor category 5 for 5 in biographically-based roles for the first time in Oscar history. The trend continued to some extent the following with Walk the Line and Capote but Walk the Line was considered more of a love story than its 2004 counterpart, and Capote was more of a crime story than a biopic.

2005 was the year of the social statement film with four of the five best picture nominees in Good Night and Good Luck (the suppression of the press), Crash (interracial relations), Munich (the Palestinian-Israeli conflict), and Brokeback Mountain (homosexuality). In addition, among the other Oscar contenders, there was North Country (sexual harassment), Constant Gardener (corruption in the pharmaceutical industry) and Syrianna (the energy crisis/CIA corruption). Things were getting so ridiculous that political pundits were taking summer popcorn fare like Batman Begins and Star Wars III (whose storyline was conceived before either Bush got into office) and interpreting them as left-wing or right-wing statements about the Iraq war.

This brings us to 2006 which I might call the year of the Third World or more specifically the Year of the African picture with Last King of Scotland, Catch a Fire, Babel, and Blood Diamond. This might make sense considering the success of 2004’s Hotel Rwanda and 2005’s Constant Gardener and the fact that over the last couple years Africa has become a hot-button issue. One thing that comes to mind was the Worldwide 10-City Concert that preceded the G8 Summit Conference in the summer of 2005. Bono, the chief spokesman behind the movement, was named Man of the Year by Time Magazine. Increasingly, globalization and Internet 2.0 are taking storm and have surfaced on the National consciousness as of late.
Lastly, the popular thing for celebrities to do, as demonstrated by George Clooney and his dad, Brangelina, and Madonna, is to go visit Africa firsthand.

The four above-mentioned pictures all harbored serious Oscar ambitions and were shot on location, taking us first hand to the heart of the “Dark Continent.” Pictures have been set in Africa since the days of Beat the Devil, Out of Africa, Snows of Kiliminjaro and the African Queen but the African jungles served as nothing more than a background for stories about the Western colonizers. The latest wave of pictures that has surfaced since Hotel Rwanda has focused on problems facing the indigenous people of the continent which is a massive improvement.

What this means for the Oscars is that in such a close race Babel might have added weight for being part of the year’s movie trend. Voting for Babel would be a way of acknowledging this trend of shedding light on what has been commonly referred to as “The Dark Continent.”

1 comment:

Matthew Lucas said...

"Vera Drake" was not a biopic. It was fiction and the dialogue was mostly improvised.