Is 2010 really the worst year for movies ever? Or is Joe Queenan just nuts?
The Wall Street Journal, which is normally quite picky about what it puts on the front page of its Friday Weekend Journal section, has given the entire page over to a wildly overbearingly cranky rant by Joe Queenan, headlined "The Worst Movie Year Ever?" (The best part of the whole piece is the layout, which inserts the headline on a theater marquee -- my compliments to the Journal's design team.)
Queenan really works up a head of steam trashing "Robin Hood," "The Last Airbender" and "Dinner for Schmucks," not to mention "Grown Ups." In fact, Queenan theorizes that Chris Rock's association with the last of those movies was the real reason why, when Rock and the film's co-stars were seated next to Kobe Bryant by the Lakers bench during the NBA Finals, Kobe gave them the cold shoulder, refusing to even look in their direction. Here's Queenan's take on why this year is so much worse than any other year:
Go into a movie theater any day of the week and watch as the audience sits listlessly through a series of lame, mechanical trailers for upcoming films that look exactly like the D.O.A. movies audiences avoided last week. More films about misunderstood mercenaries. More films about rogue cops. More films about the pivotal role of choreography in rescuing the underclass from its own worst instincts. More movies about congenial thugs from South Boston. More films about boys who do not want to grow up, ever, ever, ever. More movies about cats.
As if to lend credence to Queenan's argument, the Journal's Joe Morgenstern gleefully pans "Schmucks" in the same section of the paper, saying the centerpiece of the film "is an elaborate event at which attendees are amused by idiots -- not unlike the experience of 'Dinner For Schmucks,'" which just for good measure Morgenstern dismisses as "pathetically unfunny."
Of course, it isn't the worst movie year ever. Many of this year's movies are bad -- how 'bout that "Clash of Titans"? -- but they're no worse than those of any other year. Nonetheless, every year some critic or commentator pops up, claiming that a particular year is absolutely, hands-down, without argument truly the worst year ever for movies. It took me about five seconds on Google to find Film.com's Dre Rivas sounding positively suicidal about the cinematic offerings of 2008, prompting him to pose the question: "Is 2008 the worst year of movies ever?"
It's probably no coincidence that most of these unhappy proclamations surface near the end of summer, which is definitely the dog days for movie-going, when film fans often feel as if they have gone weeks and weeks, if not months, since seeing a film that they could recommend to anyone who's managed to graduate from junior high school. But that doesn't mean that we've hit rock bottom. We've seen plenty of good movies this year, starting with "Inception," which wasn't just beloved by most critics, it remains the most popular movie in America.
Queenan mentions "Inception" in the lead of his story, but never gets around to giving it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, which seems like a cop-out, because it puts a huge hole in his argument to claim that it's the worst movie year ever when the biggest hit of the month is a strikingly original film that has inspired mass critical adulation. Queenan acknowledges that there are a few good films lurking around, such as "The Kids Are All Right," but he even slags off that film, saying that "whatever its merits, it's no 'Sideways,' no 'March of the Penguins.'"
Of course, when "Sideways" came out, I bet there were plenty of cranky critics like Queenan who said that whatever its merits, "Sideways" is no "Shakespeare in Love" or "Fargo." I'd even wager that in 1939, arguably the greatest year ever for movies, there was some critic arguing that Hollywood was going to hell in a handbasket. It's the problem with doomsday thinking: When you loudly proclaim that things can't possibly get any worse, you look like a dummy if they don't and a fool if they do. Especially if you say it in July, when there are still five more months left in the year.
Photo: "Grown Ups" stars Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin James and Adam Sandler courtside at Game 1 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center. Credit: Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images