Theaters everywhere—It's the ninth year of our new century, yet the movie industry doesn't want to let go of the 20th century. Of the more than half-dozen films flooding theaters in the next two days, at least five—would-be Oscar contenders all—concern themselves with the ever-receding landscape of a century that managed to bring both unparalleled prosperity and unprecedented bloodshed (and, when we'd finally crawled out from its abyss, there were more than 6 billion people on the planet, three times the number that saw the year 1900).
Valkyrie, opening this week, and The Reader, opening Jan. 2, concern Nazism, a 20th-century emblem of evil for more than 70 years. Another Nazi movie, Defiance, opens next month, and another, The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, is still in theaters. Will they still make Nazi movies at the same rate 50 years from now? Or will—one shudders to consider this—another, more modern evil emerge to define the coming age?
What about Richard Nixon, the subject of Frost/Nixon? Will he still be remembered after the baby boomers have left the scene? Similarly, today's middle-aged Catholics are the last to remember the medievalist, pre-Vatican II church: an institution now typically viewed with suspicion, or one that at best provides formative experiences for future artists like John Patrick Shanley, writer and director of Doubt.
The 20th century was the first to be extensively recorded and reproduced with photographs, audio recordings and moving pictures. After imbibing a century's worth of sound and image, we're perfectly positioned to experience the time-traveling phantasmagoria of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a story that was written in 1922 but surely needed to wait out the century for a movie audience (and movie technology) that was ready for it.
See also our Film Calendar for blurb reviews on additional titles. —David Fellerath