Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Year In Media: Part 2, Television and Film

2012 seemed a pretty lackluster year in cinema.  I honestly can think of very few memorable films.  Now, I'm not a huge movie enthusiast.  My tastes are regularly quite pedestrian.  Looking over rotten tomatoes list of  100 top rated films, these are the best I could come up with, of the few I'd actually seen:

Moonrise Kingdom
The Avengers
Safety Not Guaranteed
Wreck It Ralph

I suppose there are two things I think about with film.  And this is probably true with art more generally.  First, is it entertaining, and second, is it important.  By important, it might be accomplishing different things; it might be doing something new.  There might be a particular aspect of the production of the piece that pushes the art forward.  Whether it is entertaining, is, well, pretty simple.  As I mentioned, I'm not a huge film fan.  What I mean by this is that I like to be entertained by film much more than I want to appreciate it's importance.  While I certainly love interesting cinematography, compelling characters and narratives, set design, etc., I'm ultimately not very forgiving of a film if it isn't entertaining enough.  With music, by contrast, I'm much more forgiving if I feel there is something important going on, even if I find the finished product lacking.

So what to make of the list above?  It seems embarrassingly low-brow. Lincoln and Moonrise Kingdom were maybe the only films interesting in being "important".  However neither seemed particularly interesting.  Daniel Day Lewis was brilliant as usual, and the historical recreation was fun.  Moonrise Kingdom was cute, but Anderson's precious shadowboxes were lacking in emotional depth this time out.  Bernie and Safety Not Guaranteed were I suppose too comedic to rise to that level.  Not that comedy precludes high-art, but it might get in the way of serious themes or artistic expressions by sacrificing depth for irony.  The other three films on the list are decidedly juvenile.  But I'd have to say they were more memorable.  There were moments in the Avengers that were possibly highlights of the year for me.  Being a life-long gamer, Wreck It Ralph couldn't have been more clever.  Chronicle, was beautifully inventive.

I rarely watch anything on cable television anymore, aside from the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.  Netflix has come to dominate my viewing habits.  This past year has found me culling British and Foreign detective shows like George Gently and Wallander (the original Swedish version), as much I suppose for their convenient predictability as for their entertaining characters and mild intrigue.

But of everything I watched in 2012, maybe the most important and compelling was a little documentary produced for PBS' Frontline called The Interrupters.  Made by Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams, it follows the eponymous group of inner-city social workers who literally go out into the streets of Chicago and intervene in violent conflicts, trying to deescalate violent conflict between rival gangs and individuals.  Having come from the same neighborhoods themselves, they bring a depth of understanding and moral gravity into situations that are often minutes away from tragedy.  I showed the unedited version to my continuation students to completely rapt attention.

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