Trendsetters

Arts Writers Reflect on The Best and Worst Arts & Entertainment Trends of 2010.





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TRUTH OR HOAX?

By and large, 2010 featured a host of fascinating developments in the juxtaposition of reality and fiction in movies. In their own ways, two high-profile works quietly rejuvenated the mockumentary as a revolutionary, influential art form. Filmgoers saw a relationship blossom and then collapse in strange fashion behind the veil of an online social networking platform in "Catfish." Enter world-famous graffiti artist Banksy, his anonymity preserved by facial obscuration and voice alteration, narrating the improbable transformation of one Thierry Guetta from amateur video artist to street art celebrity. In the wake of both films - officially billed as "documentaries" - many immediately questioned the veracity of the characters and events they witnessed. As truth and fiction emerged as equally potent interpretative forces, films like "Catfish" and "Exit Through the Gift Shop" sparked a rich array of discussions on the nature of screen representation and the creative process.

Perhaps less tantalizingly, the trend managed to extend into the realm of mindless popcorn entertainment as well. Audiences reveled as a world-weary evangelical minister navigated his way through a fictitious documentary chronicling his final procedure (Daniel Stamm's "The Last Exorcism") while supernatural forces terrorized a household in hauntingly familiar fashion (Tod Williams' "Paranormal Activity 2"). But make no mistake: The true nadir arrived in the form of "I'm Still Here," Casey Affleck's egregiously pointless portrait of Joaquin Phoenix on the verge of a nervous breakdown. When it was revealed to us that Phoenix's odyssey from Hollywood to a career in hip-hop was just an elaborate hoax, Affleck's project drowned itself in a quagmire of purported self-importance.

-David Liu

3-D FILMS: FALLING FLAT

It seems as if we quickly latch on to any trend that showcases the superiority and advancement of this modern age. 3-D films are no exception. After "Avatar"'s immense commercial success, filmmakers jumped on the bandwagon, proudly pronouncing "in 3-D!" after their film titles in hopes of eliciting revenue.

Stripped down to its core, it's simply another way of burning money. Producers empty their pockets to pay for the equipment, the costs of which trickles down to moviegoers, who are coaxed by the aforementioned producers to shell out an extra five or six bucks in exchange for a pair of uncomfortable glasses and headache-inducing visuals. And where does the money go? To fund complicated techniques, all for the purpose of making the images more "realistic." I'm sorry, but I'm just not going to believe that tall, blue-skinned people exist, no matter what crazy shenanigans you use to convince me otherwise.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe that a film's core lies in its script and actors. But once you add in this 3-D/CGI business, it creates another layer that masks a film's mediocrity through extravagant displays, making it difficult to distinguish between an narratively satisfying cinematic experience and mere eye candy ("Alice in Wonderland," anyone?). It's a pity, considering the amount of funding and effort that goes into 3-D projects. Why not channel that innovation into, say, creating more unique storylines or tweaking the cinematography? At least it guarantees a lasting impression.

I'll admit that when done tastefully, 3-D can certainly enhance and support a film's premise. Such is the case with "Avatar," whose purpose is to showcase the aesthetic ingenuity of Pandora. Sadly, however, too many filmmakers view it as a trend that they must follow. Half of the films aren't even shot in 3-D, as they were hastily converted after production ("The Last Airbender," I'm talking about you). When our theaters are flooded with the likes of "Step Up 3D," and moviegoers storm over to the multiplex to watch atrocious actors dance in front of their eyes, I cannot help but wonder what's wrong with a world where we prize spectacle over substance.

-Cynthia Kang

KE$HA

It's questionable whether she can actually sing, or if she has even bathed within the last year but what is undeniable is the meteoric rise that Ke$ha had in 2010. Mainly powered by what seems to be only glitter and Jack Daniel's, the pop anthems and pounding beats could not be ignored as "TiK ToK" effectively infiltrated every media outlet. It was showcased on "Saturday Night Live," "The Simpsons," and everyone's favorite, "The Hills" where, finally a soundtrack as insubstantial and engineered as that show's drunken antics was found.

Just as the "reality" of the "The Hills" is manufactured by MTV, the phenomenon of Ke$ha remains nothing more than a heavily calculated image of trash chic. The sound is not quite rap and any singing is muted by an auto-tuner, but Ke$ha's mass proliferation does beg the question: do you need to be talented to be a musician? Or, can the auditory equivalent of 20 strobe lights and 40 shots be considered "music"?

It's a perplexing and hyperbolic concoction which has upped the ante for pop music to a new level of mediocrity. The world, under the influence of a "sexy-fied" Ke$ha cocktail, has spoken and we're all "dancing like we're dumb."

-Jessica Pena

THEATRICALITY AND HIP-HOP

Type "Nicki Minaj" into YouTube and you'll get 221,000 results. Most are videos of the wild-eyed rapper clad in pink wig and with an absurdly thick ass. The rest are of black, white, Puerto Rican, Chinese boys and girls trying to imitate Nicki's whiplash flow, rolling from syrupy sweetness to rottweiler growl.

With Young Money Entertainment leading the way, more circus troupe than rap label, hip-hop has regained its sense of humor and awakened from a mid-decade lull, when laid-back complacency had become the rap gold standard. Tagging has given way to hash-tagging, self-serious street credibility has turned to ridiculously overwrought production (think Kanye's 34-minute music video) and Rick Ross now reminds himself of MC Hammer, John Lennon (if he had made all of his bitches tattoo his logo on they titty), Larry Hoover - sometimes he even reminds himself of himself.

Both the rapping/singing/whining/Bar Mitzvah'd Drake and LaGuardia High School graduate Nicki Minaj have acting pedigrees, and Minaj especially has brought a newfound theatricality to rap through her voices, faces, and alter-egos. And for the first time in a while, rappers seem to be spending ridiculous amounts of money on their actual music (who would have thought!). It's music that sounds insane and engaging, that seems like actual fun to make and to listen to.

-David Getman

BRIEF ENCOUNTER

October, November, December. It's a short breath to utter the phrase; It takes nearly as short a time to break up, too, if you're Jake Gyllenhaal and Taylor Swift. Fall romances bring media advances, and as with all fairy-tales-gone-sour, the tabs are bound to ask: Did all the attention get to be too much? Of course, the two were bound to be at the center of media speculation, being famous, hot, and - until recently - carefree enough to shamelessly hold hands in very public places.

They went on adorable dates (their favorites: maple lattes, Nashville and non-alcoholic events). They insisted on "talking a lot and enjoying each other's company." Something was fishy from the start.

Considering that the release of Gyllenhaal's film ("Love and Other Drugs") and Swift's album (Speak Now) coincided with attention-grabbing media coverage of the budding romance, their situation still seems suspiciously serendipitous. The whole arrangement smells, and it's not just the maple syrup - the stench of free publicity lingers in the air. Funny how relationships always end, after the movie's come out.

-Liz Mak

Tags: SPRING ORIENTATION






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