Fri, Dec 23, 2005 - Page 17 News List

This year's movies pressed the right buttons

Fundamental changes are taking place in Hollywood, but film pundits are fuzzy on the details

By Manohla Dargis  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Despite the doom and gloom reported by industry observers, it has been a big year for movies with some great releases hitting the big screen.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF AGENCIES

Batman Begins, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Capote, Darwin's Nightmare, Duma, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Funny Ha Ha, George A. Romero's Land of the Dead, Good Night, and Good Luck, Grizzly Man, Head-On, The Holy Girl, Howl's Moving Castle, In Her Shoes, Keane, Match Point, Millions, Mondovino, Mysterious Skin, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, Police Beat, Pulse, Red Eye, Rize, The Squid and the Whale, The Sun, Syriana, The Talent Given Us, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Three Times, Tony Takitani, Tropical Malady, Waiting for the Clouds, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Who's Camus Anyway? and The World.

Was this a good year for the movies or what?

While film industry reporters have been busy filing doom-and-gloom analyses, reports about a disputed box-office slump and prognostications about the narrowing gap between a movie hitting your local multiplex and your local home-video store, a lot of filmgoers have been enjoying an exceptional year of movies.

I don't know any film critic who had an easy time whittling this year's offerings down to a neat 10 titles, which is why so many critics have instead trotted out a baker's dozen of favorites, sometimes more. And while the doom and gloom suggests that something major is happening in the US movie industry, it is also clear that those who spend too much time in the dark, including most industry watchers, have no idea what the future bodes for the movies.

Steven Soderbergh, for one, believes that we are in the middle of a paradigm shift. "The economics don't work," he said last September, while promoting his most recent film, Bubble, at the Toronto International Film Festival. "Everybody on both sides, from top to bottom, needs to rethink the issue of compensation and participation. It just has to be redesigned.

Movies cost too much. People are getting paid too much. And a dollar should be a dollar, in my view, no matter where it comes from. It just needs to be rethought. It's already starting to happen. There are already deals being made that acknowledge the fact that it's broken. But whether you're going to see that change in a broad sense prior to the digital changeover, I don't know."

That digital changeover will certainly be part of this paradigm shift, encompassing how movies are produced -- the new technologies, the complex financial deals -- and how they are consumed. In November, Jeff Robinov, president of production at Warner Brothers Pictures, which bankrolled one of Soderbergh's frothier entertainments (Ocean's Twelve), told Laura Holson of The New York Times: "Something is changing in the movie experience. Is it piracy? Is it commercials? Is it the availability of movies? Or are we not creating enough things to drive people out of the home? My biggest fear is having a movie that deserves to be seen, but is not."

Whatever you think of the state of the art and the health of the industry, there is no denying that the experience of moviegoing has changed as radically as our perception of what the movies mean to our lives.

Entertainment news now assumes an increasingly prominent place in the culture, notably in the mainstream press, even as the movies themselves seem less and less relevant to the culture, no matter how hard filmmakers try. It's hard to know what to make of this state of affairs, though given that the movies have survived previous threats like the introduction of sound, television and the government-enforced breakup of the studio system, there is hope that they will survive all this old- and new-media attention, much of which, as it happens, has little to do with whether the films are any good.

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