Stephen King’s got his big-screen honor roll — but notes when he’s got the choice between going out to the cineplex or staying home at the TV, these days the small screen often wins
When the movie studios think about selling their product, do baby boomers still play a part in their calculations? Sure. Am I a good representative of that particular target audience? I think so. Still violently in love with motion pictures? Check. Got some extra time each week to go catch one? Check. And while I may be getting on a bit, I’m still not eligible for the Golden Ager discount at the box office and still like the things I always did: a drama that engages the brain and the heart (The Prestige), a belly laugh that bypasses the brain entirely (Borat, Jackass Number Two), a horror movie that scares the hell out of me (Hostel, f’r instance), and rip-ass action films (Déjà Vu, Waist Deep).
But if I am Mr. Ideal Baby-Boom Moviegoer, the studios may be headed for rough water, in spite of this year’s uptick in grosses. The boomers aren’t getting any younger, and it’s not as easy to get us off our couches and out of the house. Complicating the problem is this simple fact: These days it’s much more entertaining to stay in than it used to be. The Dukes of Hazzards are gone, sweetie. In their place have come shows like Jericho, Heroes, and Prison Break. Not to mention a certain bunch of castaways on an endlessly fascinating tropical isle…and this amusing guy named Earl.
Plus, there are intriguing new ways to get this TV bonanza (Bonanza’s long gone too, replaced by the vastly more entertaining interstellar cowboys of Battlestar Galactica). And one of the old advantages the eightplex held over TV — multiple viewing opportunities — has been erased. Thanks to TiVo and iTunes, Constant Viewer is no longer a slave to the schedule. Even if you miss a whole season, no problem — there’s the boxed set. Put it on your Christmas list. Viewers with HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax are even freed of the tyranny of network censorship (not that there’s much anymore — check out this season’s run of 24, where I keep expecting to see a theme park called Torture World).
As a result of the above, my own moviegoing has taken a drastic plunge since last we met for this particular year-end list: just 45 movies from Dec. 7, 2005, to about that same date in ’06. Many were great, but not one had the cumulative effect of 13 back-to-back-to-back Prison Break episodes. The PB story may spend a lot of time in Gooney-Bird Land, but the cumulative effect is riveting…like watching a Sam Peckinpah maxiseries.
So watch out, studios. There’s trouble in paradise. And if you don’t believe it, look at the grosses of the latest Clint Eastwood picture…and consider this: I write for an entertainment publication and never even saw it. I could have; I had the time, I had the money, and I loved Big Clint’s last two pictures. Bu-ut…I was busy at home. Watching Jericho on my computer.
That said, here’s my list of the best I’ve seen since last December. Not a critic’s list, remember; I’m just another schlub in the popcorn line.
10. The World’s Fastest Indian Anthony Hopkins as a motorcycle racer. What else do you need to know? Oh, the movie’s great — funny and moving.
9. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada Frakkin’ horrible title. Great movie. Tommy Lee Jones channels Cormac McCarthy…and it works.
8. Waist Deep This is old-school urban action, honey, the way they don’t hardly make ’em no more. Starring the immensely likable Tyrese Gibson.
7. Snakes on a Plane You got your basic snakes on a plane, you got Samuel L. Jackson doing his thing, and a good-humored, high-tension script that recalls the first two Bruce Willis Die Hard pictures. So, hey — what’s not to like?
6. The Illusionist Two movies featuring magicians from the early 1900s came out this year. I saw both, liked both. What made The Illusionist special for me was Edward Norton dueling with Paul Giamatti, and an ending that compelled me back into the theater at once to see how I had been tricked.
5. The Descent The best horror movie of the year, beyond doubt. Possibly because the main characters are all adults, for a change? The sense of doom-laden claustrophobia this movie generates is intense and remarkable.
4. Casino Royale I came out of the theater thinking it was the best Bond since Goldfinger. A subsequent viewing of Goldfinger — for this column — has convinced me it’s the best Bond ever.
3. The Departed Ensemble ”star power” movies hardly ever work, but when they do, they can be cool. The Departed is can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it entertainment. Matt Damon continues to amaze me with his versatility.
2. United 93 If this emotionally wrenching docudrama isn’t nominated for Best Picture, the Academy should be ashamed of itself.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth I happened to see this in July and was completely seduced by its beauty and emotional ferocity. Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Mimic, Blade II) directed, and to call this his best work isn’t enough. I think this extraordinary R-rated fairy tale for adults is the best fantasy film since The Wizard of Oz. And while it’s much darker than Wizard, it still celebrates the human spirit. Your Uncle Stevie thinks you will see this movie.
The question for studios and filmmakers remains, however: How many others will you see in the next 5 to 10 years?