There was a moment, approximately 10 years ago, when it seemed like the art of making movies might completely die. That moment fell, not coincidentally, between the release of Independence Day and Twister. Then came Armageddon and, pardon the awful pun, some of us feared the end was near.
Of course, those were boom moments at the box office. As far as cold, hard cash is concerned, Independence Day was one of the biggest movies of all time, but it seemed that, at least for the moment, Hollywood had stopped serving as the huge reflecting pool it had been in the past. Sure, watching Will Smith cold cock an alien was worth a few hoots, but most of us struggled to relate to his plight.
Movies are, at their most basic level, entertainment, so one should never deny oneself a few joyrides here and there; but movies are also art. And art, as best we understand it, should reflect who we are and the struggles that we go through as people. And it should do it well.
As Y2K fears subsided, it looked like we might be on an upswing. People turned out in droves to see Russell Crowe slay tigers in 2000 and then solve impossible mathematical equations in 2001, but neither film really seemed to recapture the magic that the powerful films of the ’80s seemed to have had in spades. Yes, the ’80s. Sure, we laugh about the ’80s now and then flock to Target to buy Alf when season 3 is released on DVD. The ’80s were all about movies that had a soul. Out of Africa. Terms of Endearment. Sixteen Candles. When Harry Met Sally. E.T. Philadelphia (1993, but close enough).
Now, according to some, the box office is tanking, and just when some promising things have started to happen. The first hint that quality movie-making might be making a comeback was Charlize Theron’s tour de force in Monster. And then, believe it or not, there was the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Most may not have related to the character of Aileen Wuornos, a real-life prostitute turned serial killer, but her pain was so palpable it grabbed you in your seat nonetheless. And no one truly understands exactly what it means to be a Hobbit in search of a ring, but most understand the larger metaphor.
However, the most uplifting cinematic moment of the last 30 years may have come just this weekend in Brokeback Mountain. Not because it is the best movie of the last 30 years, but because it is a mainstream film (read: you can find it at most major movie theaters) that reflects a portion of the population that rarely goes to the movies and sees itself.
The portrayal of a gay romance, albeit a closeted one, as the focus of a feature film has been a long time coming. Sure, there are the artsy, independent “gay and lesbian” movies that a small number of resourceful people see each year, but never in our memory has there been a film like Brokeback Mountain. Things are looking up, and it’s about time.