For decades and decades there used to be this thing, this standard, this kind of widely admired, grade-A movie that was more or less regarded as extra-good on its own carefully constructed, well-ordered, just-right terms.

The charm was mostly in the craft and rigor and style of it, and rarely about what it was saying. That’s not to say that each and every significant film since the 1920s didn’t “say” something, or that the things that were said time and again (sometimes overtly, more often in the subtext) were entirely admirable. They often weren’t, but good movies were mostly about the way they played to a relatively accommodating paying crowd. They were about being smart, clever, confident and assured….about having their act figured out and thought through to the bottom, which often resulted in a more-or-less harmonious whole.

Right here and right now, this kind of approach to first-rate filmmaking — that kind of finely-tuned, craft-based methodology a la Manchester By The Sea, Call Me By Your Name, 12 Years A Slave, The Social Network, A Separation, Zero Dark Thirty, The Irishman, Lady Bird, Son of Saul, The Wolf of Wall Street, Leviathan, Joker, The Square, Moneyball, The Lighthouse, Dunkirk — that kind of filmmaking has been…well, not “forgotten” exactly but sorta kinda put aside for the time being. Right here and right now, films are mainly being made and judged according to who’s in them, who made them and whether or not the right boxes have been checked.

And guess what? If you say in so many words that the afore-mentioned seems to be happening, you’re a bad person who needs to be cancelled.

Critics are totally playing along with this, of course. Because they don’t want to be replaced.

This is the ideological garrison state within which we all currently reside. What a film is “saying” is all. Craft levels are appreciated, respected…but if they’re only so-so in this or that film, no one is going to get overly bent out of shape. Because ideology and social reflection are what matter. Say it correctly and assemble the package with the right collaborators, and you’re more than halfway home.