21 September 2009

Skandies: Best of the Aughts

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.


Scott Renshaw said...

Sigh. The first of what will likely be many examples of "how the hell did I forget *that*?"

md'a said...

It is best of the decade, after all. Ten performances was a nightmare; I had to leave several dozen awesome ones off my list.

Anonymous said...

Awesome job, Skandie voters. Absolutely would have been on my list had I've been part of the collective.

Anonymous said...

So if we haven't seen the film shown in the clip, how do we find out who the performer / what the film was?

md'a said...

You can always check back the next day, when I'll have put up that information. But since I doubt anyone will read the comments before clicking on the link, I'll go ahead and tell you (assuming your question wasn't hypothetical) that this one was Aurélien Recoing in Time Out (2001).

Pope Benedict XVI said...

Dear Mr. D'Angelo:

I just received from a Victor Morton a letter that sent me to this Weblog of thine. Here is an excerpt from his note:

"... and again, an awesome lead performance in a Cantet film and all my points do is sneak him into the Top 20. I need to go slit my wrists or chomp down on some arsenic. What is the point of life ..."

Mr. Morton is requesting a dispensation from the Church teaching on suicide. This I cannot grant as suicide is against God's eternal law, which I merely serve, not create. But I am at a loss to understand what may be so distressing to Mr. Morton. Please explain.

God bless
Summo Pontificis
Benedicti PP. XVI

scarequotes said...

I miss seeing enough films to feel vaguely qualified to participate in the Skandies.

Also, here's a thought: Why not do a "best of the '90s" poll starting early next year? People will have had 10-20 years to get comfortable with the filmatic output in question, AND you have an earlier version of the poll (from 10 years ago!) to compare it to.

I'd be curious, anyway.

Anonymous said...

If it weren't for the amount of work involved in soliciting and compiling the data, I'd be interested in another best of '90s poll, too -- though I sort of doubt that the changes would be very significant, apart from the rectification of the late-decade bias. (I'd be more interested in an 80s poll, frankly.) And if the 90s were repolled, I'd push for a best scene category, since that's what gives the annual poll a good bit of its distinctiveness. I'd think that the scene voting wouldn't be *that* much more diffuse than the performance voting. (And I'd like to see a 90s battle between, say, the Copa, Rahad Jackson, the adrenaline shot, and the frog storm.)

Anonymous said...

I haven't drawn up decade-best film/perf lists, but I have made a Mamet-free ten best lines list:

"After I burned down the studio, I was thirsty."
"Okay, leave it. That’s just spastic enough to be charming."
"I’ve spent the last three years learning Finnish -- which should come in handy in Virginia!"
"Any of you boys smithies? Or, if not smithies per se, were you otherwise trained in the metallurgic arts before straitened circumstances forced you into a life of aimless wandering?"
"I would never, under any circumstances, do anything to harm a patient unless I was doing it as a goof!"
"Are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon."
"If you offered me a Scotch and plain water, I could drink Scotch and plain water."
“Well, well, well, I can honestly say that there is no Broadway ditty closer to my heart than the one that you just heard, 'Day Bidet.'"

King Burgher said...

I think it's fun not knowing what the clip is before watching it. I thought at first it was from Elephant. Then I recognized Aurelien and that unmistakable color scheme.

Michael Casey said...

So can we see your top 200 albums of the decade list before Pitchfork drops theirs?

Clips are an awesome way to unveil the winners - not only do they make a great drumroll, they're incredibly satisfying to see when it's a movie/actor/scene you were hoping would make it, as though the film itself gets to do a victory lap.

Berger said...

I thought this was Michael Ironside at first

Kza said...

I thnk Recoing looks like a young Larry Miller, m'self.