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Outstanding Movies or an Oasis in the Desert?: Good Movie Debate

Heath Ledger as the Joker
Heath Ledger was phenomenal...but was the rest of The Dark Knight really that great? Image via Wikipedia

*I really wanted the title to contain the plural of oasis, but I have no idea what that is. If you know, please tell me. All links in the body of this post are links to reviews and other posts on this blog.

I’ve been to a lot of movies in the past year, and many of them have been disappointing. Many of them were visually stunning but had awful scripts/stories (Alice in Wonderland). Many others were fun while they lasted, but upon further reflection, fell apart (Takers). Some would have been passable if they had just managed to generate more chemistry between the main characters to distract from a subpar script (Knight & Day, The Killers, The Tourist). All of these movies were bad.

But then there were movies that were good–really good. They had great acting, a solid script, used new technology or camera work, and pushed the envelope on what we expect from a movie. Not only did these movies spawn what I like to call “The Matrix Effect” (a concept for another post), they further brought into relief this problem that’s been bugging me for a while.

I finally saw The Social Network last night at the dollar movie theater (review to come). It was a good movie. I suppose I was expecting so much more because of all the hype it has been given. The same thing happened when I went to see Inception. It even happened when I saw For Colored Girls and, in another movie season, The Dark Knight. All of these movies are good, have their merits, and do something different with film, but all of them seem to have been grossly overhyped and not without flaws. I haven’t seen The Black Swan or The King’s Speech yet, but I’m almost certain I will greet this the same way.

What’s causing this? My theory of this is called The Oasis In the Desert Effect. The movie season hasn’t been great. Many highly anticipated movies have fallen flat. We are in the valley of Hollywood sequels and cheap 3D effects. We are thirsty for a really good movie. We want to be challenged to think. We want our perception of reality bent. We want to challenge what we think we know of people. We want to see actors and actresses push their talents to the brink. And when we get even a little bit of that in view, we pounce on it like a thirsty man in the desert pounces on an oasis or a starving man on a feast.

I’m not saying that these movies aren’t good or don’t deserve attention. I’m simply asking, in a better movie season, would they stand out? I think that we have been fed such mediocrity that if a movie is solid, we laud it as if it were a masterpiece (I’m guilty, too. See my review of The Crazies, if you don’t believe me). We won’t allow anyone to point out the flaws of these hallowed movies, and we swear they were robbed if they don’t sweep the entire awards season.

The truth is, many of these movies have flaws that stick out like a sore thumb upon reflection. I think, though, that they are heading us in the right direction. If we vote with our wallets for original content, maybe Hollywood will begin to make more thought provoking, smart, witty movies with heart and substance, and cast people with amazing talent…or maybe not. After all, that’s how I got stuck with Tyler Perry.

Anyway, here are my top picks for this year (and these are just movies that I’ve seen), in no particular order:

  • The Other Guys (comedy)
  • The Crazies (horror)
  • The Social Network (drama)
  • Inception (drama?)
  • Shutter Island (drama)
  • He’s On My Mind (independent film)
  • Devil (horror)

*I saw many other films, but the years may not be 2010. I’ll add to this as I confirm release dates and see other movies as they are released on DVD or in the discount theater.