Yesterday’s Best Picture assessment riff vaguely depressed me. After I re-scanned the films, I mean, and realized that an apparent majority of them seem to belong (emphasis on the word “seem”) to the pretty-good-but-no-cigar category. Which indicates, at least for now, that the forthcoming six-month award season (Labor Day to 2.28.17) may turn out to be weak or pallid, at least compared to other years. Then I asked myself, “What if this becomes a pattern? What if weak-tea fall/holiday films become the norm?”
With more and more U.S.-based directors and producers talking about how increasingly difficult it is to get funding for quality-level theatrical films because of the usual depressing reasons (i.e., the complete absence of John Calley-level thinking among studio execs, an overwhelming preference for sequels and fantasy films among the big studios, specialty distributors leaning more and more on acquisitions) and with more and more filmmakers (especially screenwriters) moving over to cable…Jesus, I don’t want to go there. Okay, I guess I have to.
All I can say is, thank God for Amazon and Netflix and Megan Ellison because at least they care about the over-30 audience, and because they’re pumping money and feeling into the form, and I don’t mean longform cable. Longform has gone to some stellar places over the last 17 years (i.e., the birth of The Sopranos) but it takes a special gift or discipline to tell your story and “say it all” in the space of 100 or 110 or 120 minutes. People who can do that are still operating on the highest level, I believe.
But with megaplex fare getting critically out-performed and out-pointed by small-screen dramas with increasing frequency, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has to grim up and ask itself a tough question, to wit: “Where, really, is the art of cinema thriving today? Because many of the truly talented people in this town aren’t working on projects that will necessarily end up in theatres, and the day is coming when it won’t be “many” but “most.”
The profound connection between movies and audiences began in theatres…what, 95 or 100 years ago? But theatres are no longer the place to be. Well, they are between October and December and when it comes to film festivals, thank God, and certainly in high-end repertory cinemas like the Aero, the Egyptian, LACMA, the Nuart, the New Beverly and Cinefamily, but otherwise not so much.
Do we just accept a kind of gilded ghetto mentality and hand out awards to fewer and fewer theatrical films, four or five of which seem very good or great each year but most of which are only respectable or pretty good or half-decent? Or do we need to acknowledge that the realms of quality cinema and big screens have diverged to the point that the legitimacy of film art is in question when you’re only talking about first-run theatrical?
Maybe we need to expand the concept of what cinema is today? Because more and more “theatrical” ain’t the place to be, baby. The Monsters Have Taken Over Maple Street, and they’ve trained a generation or two of moviegoers to mainly respond to films like Suicide Squad and to pretty much go to sleep when they see something that resembles a conventional 20th Century drama, like Franklin Schaffner‘s Planet of the Apes. (I stole this thought from a comment posted earlier today.)
There will come a day, mark my words, when younger moviegoers will regard a film like Reservoir Dogs as a boring talkathon. We may even be there right now. And the people to blame for this are the ADD downmarket fantasy-mongers at the major studios.