I know what you're thinking: Bit early, isn't it? In truth, my original plan for this project had been to collect preliminary ballots from the crew (so as to minimize the possibility of people being influenced by the results of the other decade polls that will surely follow) and then just sit on them until January, at which point I'd allow revisions based exclusively on the relative handful of films that premiered during the decade's final few months. That's precisely what I did ten years ago. (Slight pause while I feel incredibly old.) After some reflection and hair-pulling, however, I've decided to just go ahead and present the preliminary results now, as if they were final, even though I'm still going to let folks revise their ballots at year's end should they wish to do so. Why? Because:
• I'm tired of being last. The majority of Skandie voters are "civilian" film buffs, not professional critics, which means that I always give the folks who don't live in NY/LA until late January to catch up with the December platform releases. So I'm always unveiling our results well after all the other year-end awards have been bestowed and chewed over. Since that's not a factor in this instance—I'll explain that contention below—I figured it'd be nice to kick off the conversation for a change.
• It doesn't really matter. But what if Where the Wild Things Are, say, turns out to be a masterpiece? Odds are good that it still won't make the cut. That may sound crazy, but consider the telling case of Spike Jonze's first film. Being John Malkovich premiered at the 1999 Venice festival, about a month or so, if memory serves, after I collected preliminary ballots for Best of the '90s. It was the runaway winner of the '99 Skandies, amassing 403 points from 34 voters (out of 41)—runner-up Eyes Wide Shut received only 227 points. To this day, it has the second-highest average rating in Skandie history (3.61 out of a possible 4). I have no doubt whatsoever that if I were to conduct a best-of-the-'90s poll among the same voters today, Malkovich would fall somewhere in the top 20. But it didn't place at the time, even though I solicited revisions long after at least 34 voters had seen and clearly loved it. Which suggests that people need to live with a film for a while before it achieves a decade-crowning level of kerfawesomeness in their minds. In fact, while 1999 is generally considered one of the best years for film in recent memory, not a single picture from that year made the Skandies decade list, and even '98 only managed one title (Rushmore). To get a truly fair sense of the decade's finest, I should wait to conduct this poll until at least the middle of 2011. And what fun is that?
• Some films will get screwed no matter what. Even if I did wait until January or February, and even if voters were prepared to say "Yes, this movie I just saw two weeks ago and have had no time to digest ranks right up there next to films I've watched half a dozen times over the past ten years," the plain fact is that a significant number of 2009 films just won't be seen by enough people to have a sporting chance. Maren Ade's Everyone Else just missed my own list, for example—it'd certainly be somewhere in the #11-15 range—but at this writing I know of only one other voter who's seen it. A few New Yorkers will be able to see it at NYFF, but because it wasn't at Toronto, and has no distributor at present (and hasn't yet turned up on the torrent sites), it's effectively hamstrung. Likewise, Audition, a Skandie favorite that premiered in 1999, received no votes at all ten years ago, because virtually nobody in the U.S. saw it until it was commercially released here in the summer of 2001. (It did receive several votes for this decade, which I had to ask people to revise.) Again, it'll be another 18 months or more before any "fair" assessment would be even remotely possible, so why wait 3-4 months?
• Peer pressure. Right when I was trying to decide what to do, Pitchfork started unveiling its lists of the decade's best music, simply noting for the record that they'd add a supplementary list next year to cover the albums/tracks released this fall. And I said Oh fuck it.
So here it is. For the decade poll, I whittle things down to their essence: Top 20 films, top 20 performances. (Male and female, lead and supporting are combined for the latter.) I'll be posting them in reverse order, one per day, all the way through October, for maximum suspense and to annoy some dude named Patrick Murtha who keeps attacking me on his blog and finds my usual 20-day Skandies reveal pretentious. (I really should turn off Google Alerts.) I've created a clip for each finalist—the opening minutes for the films, a representative scene for the actors. And for some reason I think it'll be more fun if you discover them via the clips, so initially I'll just be posting a link that'll take you directly to each one. (I'd embed them, but then the mid-clip still would often give it away.) But check daily, as presumably the clips all are ToS violations and I don't plan to leave them up very long, lest my account be shut down. If you miss a clip, a poster or still will have taken its place.
(One thing I won't be doing just yet, however, is noting how many points things received, so as to hopefully foil any attempts at strategic revision.)
Kicking off, then, with Best Performance of the Decade: #20.
Click to enjoy.