I consider myself a ‘populist’ movie critic/reviewer,” a critic friend wrote a couple of hours ago. “I can enjoy a smart, well-done studio comedy (21 Jump Street) as much as I can savor a superb, foreign-language movie (A Separation). My top 10 list of 2011 included a mix of big Hollywood movies (Moneyball) and imports (Melancholia) and crowd-pleasers (War Horse) and indie-style fringe pictures (Drive).
“But this year’s crop of summer movies is draining the life out of me, and seriously making me consider hanging it up and switching beats or quitting journalism and changing professions altogether. Factory-line swill such as Men in Black 3 or What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Battleship is one thing. But when filmmakers I admire and respect — Ridley Scott, Joss Whedon, Sacha Baron Cohen — crank out bottom-feeder, soul-sucking swill, I start questioning myself. Is it me? Have the movies left me behind? I’m 45. Am I too old for this game?
“I keep thinking about what Janet Maslin wrote when she hung up her movie critic hat at the New York Times, specifically when she said she had run out of ways to say something was ‘hilarious.’ I keep seeing movies I was anticipating, made by people I admire, and keep coming away disappointed and agitated. And I’m starting to doubt my judgment — starting to wonder if it isn’t the movies that are the problem. Because how else can you explain the avalanche of shit that we’ve been getting this summer?
“In other words: Is it just me, or are mainstream American movies worse than they’ve ever been?”
Wells to critic friend: I was generally pleased by SBC’s The Dictator (particularly the political speech at the end about how Americans can’t understand what it’s like to live under a dictatorship) but otherwise I hear you. Yes, the despair over dreadful summer fare has become routine and yes, it seems to be getting worse each year. It’s corporatism, the plague of the ComicCon mentality and a general refusal to respond to subtlety or depth or delicacy among the under-30s. But being 45 shouldn’t be any kind of impediment to grappling with this. One way to cope is to adopt an absurdist “merrily we go to hell” attitude. Works for me, at least.