Thus far, our retrospective on the 2000s has focused mainly on “trivial” pop culture issues: things like what books we liked, which movies were good, whose album was the best, what sports team was the most memorable, etc. We’ve completely ignored things like 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the recession. Part of this is merely out of prudence: We like to show restraint in areas that seem to require some expertise. It’s also been out of charity: Unlike Mark Antony, we come to praise the Aughts, not to bury them, so focusing on the darker aspects of the Aughts is beyond our stated purpose.
Any look at this decade, though, would feel horribly insufficient without a look at the presidency of George W. Bush. Like no other single individual, President Bush defined the Aughts. Indeed, Bush may have defined the Aughts more than anyone has defined a decade since Julius Caesar—his global impact is that wide.
At this point, though, criticizing Bush is kind of like setting fire to an already beaten and bloodied horse carcass. After all, the failures of Bush are common knowledge by now, right? Continue reading »
Despite my general negativity about movies of the Aughts, there were still plenty of great films released this decade (although I think a Top Ten list of 90s movies would probably omit films that could be #1 on this list). I’ve already provided a list of the ten funniest films of the decade, and there were other great comedies that didn’t make the list. Today, though, we turn our attention to the dramatic category. As Josh has already declared, though, genre concerns can be distracting, so I will not be bound my technical genre classifications. Consider this a list of films I like for “dramatic” reasons:
Commercially speaking, the Aughts were an excellent decade for film. Even in poor economic conditions, box office records continued—and still continue as we speak—to be broken. Box Office Mojo’s list of highest grossing films is littered with movies from the Aughts. Much of this is due to inflation, of course, but even on an inflation-adjusted list of all films to pass $100 million in gross, 273 of 665 films—or 41%—come from this decade alone.
For those who make their living off of movies, then, there was plenty to be happy about in the Aughts. But for the audience, for those who like to watch daring and innovative films, the decade was surprisingly disappointing.
Of course, painting in such broad strokes is always a tricky game, particularly for something as ingrained and multi-faceted as film. Unlike television, cinema has been established as a medium for serious art since before I was even born, so the Aughts couldn’t really see a general creative leap of that sort. Unlike music, in which production costs are lower and output generally faster, film cannot experience the kind of rapid flourishing and integration of entire genres. Continue reading »
What we read while pondering Meyer and Manning’s respective “leaves of absence”:
- Some argue that the premise behind this whole Aught Lang Syne feature–that the new decade begins in 2010–is misguided. They’re wrong.
- A few Mondays ago, we linked to an interview with famed Russian translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. In case that didn’t slake your interviews of literary translators thirst, here’s The Mookse and the Gripes with Chris Andrews, who has done most of the translating of Roberto Bolano for New Directions Press (although NHP did not have the rights to The Savage Detectives or 2666, which Natasha Wimmer translated for Picador and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, respectively).
In James Wood’s influential review, “Human, All Too Inhuman,” of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, he discussed what he calls “the littleness of the big novel.” His point, put somewhat crudely, was that as the ambition of novelists grows to include encompassing the entire geographical, political, and philosophical spectrum, works of fiction end up losing their humanity. As Smith herself said, “It is not the writer’s job to tell us how somebody felt about something; it’s to tell us how the world works.” As a result, Wood claims, the movement that he termed “hysterical realism” produces work that “knows a thousand things, but does not know a single human being.”
About a year after Wood’s condemnation of contemporary fiction first appeared in The New Republic, The Corrections was published. Jonathan Franzen’s novel certainly does not lack the kind of ambition Wood talks about: The Corrections spans cities, countries, and continents, covers multiple generations, deals with financial disasters and Eastern European political instability, looks at modern academia and middle-class suburbia. In short, the book does seem to know a thousand things.
And yet Franzen’s story remains wholly grounded and deeply personal. At its heart, The Corrections is a story of a Midwestern family, the Lamberts. The Lambert patriarch, Alfred, is a stubborn, straight-laced, intelligent, and principled man who is suffering from early but unmistakable signs of senility as the novel begins. As Franzen puts it: Continue reading »
Our look last week at the decade in television focused mainly on dramas. But the creative advancements in the medium were not limited to that genre; it’s only more obvious there. The Aughts have been a great decade for comedies as well seeing such brilliant shows as Arrested Development, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and many others. There are plenty of reasons why comedies have been so good during the Aughts, and we touched on some already, but the same principles that applied to dramas are at work here: The people making TV realized that there is an audience that actually likes shows that are unconventional, smart, and formally innovative. We’ve seen shows embrace the documentary structure (The Office, Modern Family, etc.), plentiful flashbacks (How I Met Your Mother), third-party narration (Arrested Development), and political satire (South Park). A slew of new comedies from 2009—Community, Parks and Recreation, Modern Family—bode well for the continued success of the sitcom.
Comparing comedies, though, is a little trickier than comparing dramas, since they don’t generally tell one consistent story. Even seasons often contain no “narrative arc,” and, if they do, it often has little to do with the actual comedy. As a result, comedies are much more susceptible to uneven seasons and bad stretches than dramas. Instead, we’re going to compare episodes. And unlike previous lists, we’re going to put a strict cap, of one, on the number of times a single show can appear on the list. Other than that, though, the parameters are pretty loose: Of any show, no matter how long it lasted or where it aired or on which network, these are the Aughts’ ten funniest episodes of TV: Continue reading »
Probably the best illustration of television’s place in the culture at the beginning of this decade are the routes taken by its most prominent auteurs to the field.
David Chase, the creator, head writer, and executive producer of The Sopranos, settled for a career in television when he was unable to break into film; when Fox didn’t pick up the pilot, Chase planned to re-edit it and release the first episode as a film. Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, was a screenwriter for plays and films; The West Wing was actually developed from unused plot elements from his script for 1995’s The American President. Joss Whedon, creator of cult hits Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and others, originally wrote Buffy as a film. Friday Night Lights, of course, was developed loosely from the film—and book—of the same name.
And, of course, David Simon and Ed Burns, the creative duo behind The Wire (as well as The Corner, Homicide, and Generation Kill) came directly from the subject matter they would be writing on: Simon as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Burns as a homicide detective, and later a school teacher, in Baltimore.
In short, good TV was something that seemed to happen by accident. Accidentally or not, though, the television produced during the Aughts was better than anything that came before it. Continue reading »
So you thought we were done discussing the music of the decade? Well, think again. We didn’t get to what is arguably the most important list of all: The Best Songs of the Decade. When Tim introduced Aught Lang Syne last week, he discussed how certain cultural events will always be linked to events in our lives. Songs may be the best example of this phenomenon. Unlike albums or even music videos, which are generally experienced individually, we tend to listen to songs in groups: They’re on the playlists at the parties we go to; they’re in the background of the bars we drink in and the restaurants we eat at; they’re the songs we dance to when we go to clubs; they’re on the radio when we take road trips. In short, they are the soundtrack of our memory. These are the songs that we will inevitably remember when we think of the Aughts.
Of course, out cultural memory does not always have the best taste: It will probably be impossible to remember the Aughts and not think of the Black Eyed Peas, but God knows I’ll try. What follows, then, is not an attempt to capture the most popular, memorable, or iconic songs of the decade; it is merely a list of the 25 Best Songs. Nevertheless, it is often difficult–and generally undesirable–to dissociate a song from the positive memories of the context in which you heard it. So even without actively trying to incorporate these qualities, the Best Songs of the Decade will inevitably include some of the Most Popular, Most Memorable and Most Iconic.
Anyway, on with the list: Continue reading »