The Hurt Locker and how movies age

If you haven’t gathered from reading this site, my friends and I pretty much all work in entertainment and media, except for B, who is a money manager, but his client list is, um, identifiable. But apart from B, we’re all in “the business” in some respect. So, naturally, a lot of our conversations are movie/entertainment based. As Cannes unfurls on the shores of the Riviera (you can read my preview, complete with outrageously early Oscar prediction, on LaineyGossip), we are, naturally, talking about movies and the relevancy of the festival launch for the prestige pics, which then devolved into the best festival finds of the last dozen years (since any of us were old enough to 1) understand and pay attention to festivals and 2) go to festivals). Which lead to me saying this, “You know what movie totally slid under my radar during festival season? The Hurt Locker in 2008.”

And then we started talking about The Hurt Locker and what a monster that movie is, and then J, because she remembers EVERYTHING, said, “Sarah, how did you not include it on your best of the decade?” So now I have to revisit one of the very first things I wrote on Cinesnark, over two years ago, and damn if I didn’t omit The Hurt Locker from the Best of 2000-2009. It didn’t even make the “near misses”! (In my defense, it did make the Best of 2009, and I did single out Jeremy Renner’s performance as the best of that year, although I gave the Oscar to Jeff Bridges. In retrospect, I should have stuck with Renner.)

So now I’m fixing my mistake—my two mistakes—regarding The Hurt Locker. It absolutely should have been on my best of the decade, and that Oscar should have gone to Jeremy Renner. So how does the decade list change? Well, I would cut Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Take Napoleon Dynamite off the “near misses” and give that spot to Azkaban so that The Hurt Locker can go down as one of the best movies made between 2000 and 2009. But I’m going to take that one step further and say that, to date, The Hurt Locker is one of the only movies made post-2000 that matters in any significant way.

One of the themes of Cinesnark, insofar as I think about things like “having themes”, is that I deeply believe that we should not give out filmmaking awards until five years after the fact. This is the reasoning behind The Ethels, and it’s one of my guiding principles for movies in general. Of course there’s an element of hypocrisy built into that logic since I do a best-of list at the end of each year, but I will try to remember to revisit them occasionally and see how they change year to year. Because movies change over time. They age and alter as their context shifts. It’s easy to get caught up when a film is having a big moment, but how many of those movies really stand the test of time? Take the first Ethels—I unseated Saving Private Ryan and gave all their Oscars to The Thin Red Line. Logic? Remove the first scene from Ryan, the D Day invasion, and the movie you’re left with is a pretty rote war film. But that first scene was so incredible, everyone lost their shit. But, one scene does not a movie make, and in the balance, Ryan isn’t THAT good.

But you know what is THAT good? The Hurt Locker. Three years removed from its theatrical run—four from its debut during the 2008 festival season—it’s BETTER than I remembered. It’s aging up. After talking to my friends, I ended up digging out my copy of it to re-watch it, even after saying, “That’s a great movie but damn, I never want to see it again.” And while it is every bit as harrowing and painful as I remember, on a repeat viewing, Katherine Bigelow’s direction is even more masterful, Mark Boal’s script is sharper, darker and more honest than I recalled, and the acting is crazy. It’s not just Renner—there’s a stellar ensemble at work around him. So sorry, Renner, I should have fantasy-given the Oscar to you. That’s actually a great example of how context changes a movie. I had Renner as my best leading actor performance in 2009 until I saw Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Bridges was very, very good in Crazy Heart, but just one year later he virtually replicated the character in True Grit. Bad Blake and Rooster Cogburn are basically the same person separated by 100 years. It took the shine off both performances for me. They’re still good performances—Bridges is a really good actor—but that he recycled so much of one character into the other…eh. It’s less than. See? Context changes things.

So, I am updating my Best of the Decade to include The Hurt Locker, and I want to go back in time and stick with my initial statement that Jeremy Renner gave the best leading actor performance in 2009. And, in the spirit of looking back and judging things, if I had to name the three movies of the past dozen years that stand the best chance of mattering to film history, I’d go with The Hurt Locker, There Will Be Blood and Lord of the Rings (simply because it revolutionized serial filmmaking). In fact, in 2010 I thought the conversation about “best American film of the decade” was between There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, and while No Country remains an excellent film, it’s lost some of its weightiness. Like, what conversation do we have about that movie today, in 2012, beyond, “Oh yeah, that’s a good movie”? There Will Be Blood is still relevant to the conversation because it’s all about greed and oil and money and power, and I found myself referring to it often when discussing Occupy Wall Street and the idea of 99% vs. 1%. And as No Country goes down, so The Hurt Locker rises up. I don’t think such a brutally honest portrayal of modern warfare will ever lose relevancy or meaning.

This is me, course-correcting my opinions. The Hurt Locker is a monster fucking movie, and one of the most important achievements in filmmaking of the last dozen years. It’ll be interesting to see how it continues to age.

7 thoughts on “The Hurt Locker and how movies age

  1. I’m so glad you mentioned that the movie is aging up. I love the first viewing and knew that a 2nd viewing was in order but I’ve been putting it off because it’s not an easy movie to watch. But now you’ve gotten me all excited about it – it’s going in the dvd player tonight!

  2. cc

    You are absolutely right. The Hurt Locker completely blew me away. I remember watching the Oscars and being genuinely upset thinking that the spectacle of Avatar would beat out storytelling, character and all of the other things that make movies great. I enjoyed Avatar, but if you take away the incredible advancements in technology and the visual appeal, you’re left with a mediocre script and a story that’s been told a million times before.

    I saw The English Patient for the first time a few weeks ago and let me tell you, that is a movie that did not age well. I just thought that it was batsh!t crazy. I think if I’d seen it when it was released, I may have felt differently about it. But going in with fresh eyes, a decade or two later (and the knowledge that it won best picture etc.) I just wasn’t impressed.

    There are movies that I saw years ago and loved so much that I don’t think I could ever really judge them objectively even after a lot of time has past. And I think that’s the case for a lot of people with The English Patient.

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  5. Michelle

    I agree with and appreciate your revision– Jeremy Renner’s performance in Hurt Locker was amazing, and will probably become known as the best of his career. He was robbed!

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