Optimism in the Face of Movie Culture

There’s a certain feeling that has come to pervade the movie-going culture, especially those that care about movies to a larger-than-normal degree. It’s a constant, oppressive pessimism. Every year we are treated to a cycle of horribleness, first the dumping grounds of the winter months where movies that a too crappy to live go to make the most money possible because somebody has to win the weekend. Then there’s the beginning of the summer movie season where all the big money blockbusters start appearing, but not really the good stuff yet because the studios are afraid they might find themselves accidentally releasing the film in those dumping grounds. Yet they continue to push the envelope, with Jack the Giant Slayer coming on the first day of March this year. After those early blockbusters we kick into the full summer swing, a pool now filled with unnecessary sequels to dumb comedies and the third, fourth, fifth entry into a superhero series. Or, even worse, a reboot of a superhero series that only ended 6 years ago. Around August time we slip into a mini slump where all the movies that were made for June and July but turned out too crappy get thrown to the wolves. In September we might see a studio trying to play the Oscar game a little earlier than everybody else, and it’ll probably be a really popular movie because the public is starved for any semblance of intelligence after a season of explosions and spandex. And then October is filled with remakes and sequels of horror films from the eighties or Asia. It’s the month of jump scares, which is all Hollywood remembers how to do in the world of horror. After that we’ve entered Oscarama, the time of year when BIG IMPORTANT FILMS are released and usually have something to do with somebody being oppressed and fighting back or taking it in a dignified manner. This can include racism or the Holocaust or natural disasters. There’s also the counterprogramming of a super violent film for all the teenaged boys to see while the rest of their family goes to some PG13 schmaltz-fest. And let’s not forget the final big-budget action film of the year, which has pretensions of Oscar hopes but will tell everybody that it just wants to entertain. These will make the most money of the year because everybody will just want to escape their families for 3 or so hours (these movies are always 3 hours long). So that’s, the movie release schedule for a year, after which we start at the beginning again but everything’s just a little worse than it was last year. Everybody knows that this was the worst year for film in the last 5 or so, if not more. Just look at all the crap that was released on a consistent basis. Was there even one movie that would stand up to something like The Godfather or Jaws?

Of course, not everybody will say all of these things. Most harbor only one or two of these thoughts in their movie-addled mind. Yeah, we have too many superhero movies and there hasn’t been a good horror movie since The Sixth Sense. Or look at all those Oscar-bait movies that exist solely to garner awards from an out of touch Academy and, hey, the only thing worse than Oscar season is post-Oscar season. It begins to feel like movie buffs aren’t really fans of movies anymore. They’ve reached a point where everything is predictable, from the release schedule to the movies themselves. Trailers show everything, there’s no point in even seeing the film anymore. Everything Hollywood does is just for the money, and most independent movies are just jumbles of quirks tossed into a juicer and puréed for easy consumption. Where are all the original stories? Everything is just a copy of something else. Creativity has gone down the drain and there’s no saving it.

Well, I’m calling bull. I’m tired of pessimism and cynicism in my favorite hobby. Since when does everything have to be amazing for us as a people to say it’s not horrible? Is anything I wrote in the first paragraph entirely wrong? No, of course not. There are movies that fit into each and every one of those molds every year and that will never change. But if I’m going to devote much of my free time to movies (and I will, because they have the capacity to be awesome) I’m just going to ignore those by-the-numbers films. Last year we saw such crap as Battleship and Silent Hill 2 and God Bless America. I watched all of those films and spent a bit of time complaining about how terrible they are, but will they be thing films that last, the one’s that stand out in our memory of 2012? Or, to put it another way, will anybody really remember Mama from this year. I saw it in theaters and I’ve already forgotten it. What has stuck with me is the Evil Dead remake. It proves at least two of the generalizations wrong by being a movie released in that period between the winter doldrums and summer blockbuster and a remake/sequel/reboot of a beloved horror franchise from the eighties. And it doesn’t rely on jump scares. What it does rely on is an interesting parallel between body horror and drug addiction/withdrawal which leads to a literal rebirth in a torrent of blood. It’s nuts, all out gore and grime and I loved it. So yeah, Hollywood can make good movies, even movies that fit into those categories that generally produce crappy films will sometimes score a nice little floater in the lane, if not a monstrous slam dunk. Things don’t have to be amazing to be not-horrible, they just have to not be horrible. That’s a pretty low bar to reach, and as a fan of movies I’ll always hope for a film to clear it rather than bonk its head. The movie buff culture has become a den of inequity where it’s cool to point out why a movie might be bad. I’d rather point out why a movie might be great. The worst that could happen is I’m wrong and Man of Steel doesn’t lift itself above a hit-or-miss director’s other works. I know it’ll look cool and have Michael Shannon yelling things. That’s enough to get me in the door. Optimism isn’t cool, but it should be. It’s more fun. Less angry. In the eternal words of Ricky Rubio:

20 thoughts on “Optimism in the Face of Movie Culture

  1. You probably already know where I stand on this.
    Yes, yes, yes!
    I’m glad to fight side by side with you for more jays and les nays in movie culture. It’s not cool to be negative about everything you watch. It really isn’t.

    1. Woo! I’m always happy to have you on my side (or be on your side!). It’s silly to be so cynical about the things that we like to do. What’s the point?

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. Even when seeing something I ultimately don’t end up loving at the end, I always at least try to find the silver lining in any film, and pretty much every one of ’em has at least one if not more. Enjoyment doesn’t require greatness to exist.

    1. I love your last line. I love great movies, but I can also enjoy non-great movies. I can even enjoy crappy movies (which is why I’ve seen Anaconda like 5 times).

      1. All the pessimists are crooks anyway. If they really hated all these movies, then why do they still watch them, year after year, movie after movie. I can’t imagine they aren’t gaining some sort of twisted moment of joy or happiness somewhere in there. My theory: they bring down the mediocre so they can more easily diefy their favorites.

        1. Not a bad theory. I’m sure that’s a part of it. And God forbid you talk about their favorites in a bad way. Django Unchained and Drive are merely good, not the second coming!

  3. There’s that theory that the art you really consider great tends to be stuff you experienced from maybe 15-30 years old and then you kind of stick with it and culture moves past you…I worry I’m hitting that point a little. It feels harder to be completely blown away. It is easy to interpret that as things getting worse when really it is the person that is changing, not the quality of the stuff.

    1. If the late Roger Ebert taught us anything it’s that it is possible to remain in love with film (or whatever) into old age. Keep the faith!

  4. Well, I liked “God Bless America,” but besides that, I’ve been feeling that pessimism myself lately, and for somebody wants watches dozens of movies a week, you get tired and disappointed. It feels like two things are happening right now. One, is that, there’s too many movies, that are made, just for certain demographics, and they’re specifically making for demographics, and not making quality first, and then look at who’s most likely to like it, which is what they should. The second, of that, is these tentpole movies that Hollywood makes, which, almost exclusively used to be for teenagers, which was bad enough. They made it for them, because they had the most amount of disposable money, to go see those really bad horror films and whatnot, but now that’s shifted, to this, ComicCon crowd, or whatever you want to call it, these franchises with these superfans, who will get anything of the thing like every remotely have a personal connection to, and it’s a slight improvement, quality-wise, but it’s exhausting. How many times can you see the same movie over and over again? Literally, the same one, sometimes over and over again, now. The only thing that keeps me going, is knowing that, eventually, there’s going be a movie, that’s gonna renew my faith in film. It may a small Indy film, it may be a Hollywood blockbuster, it may be a foreign film, whatever it is, that next great movie is going to come along, and it’s going to renew that optimism. So, I think the key is, to not get caught up in any campaign or franchise, or camp out for a film, wait for the reviews to come out, read them, and eventually, you’ll find the good films to watch. Still, some weeks will be better than others, but we’ll get through it, through good movies. I firmly believe that.

    1. I am glad to find an optimistic ending to this comment. It’s rough sometimes, you’re right, to find quality out there. There always is quality, though. I just watched Upstream Color and was pretty blown away by it. I have it as the second best film of the year and it totally makes up for some of the dreck put there.

  5. Your hatred for GOD BLESS AMERICA is decidedly unamazing. It’s also non-horrible. I am enlightened. (And prefix crazy!)

    1. For a version of God Bless America that isn’t horrible (and is British), see Sightseers. It has the added benefit of being funny and uninfuriating. YOU’VE INFECTED ME!

  6. I’ve just become better at ignoring everything that won’t appeal to me. Too much good/interesting stuff if one digs around. For all the plastic focus-group created product out there, we still have work from Carlos Reygadas, Pedro Costa, Cristi Puiu, Jean-Luc Godard, Lars von Trier, Agnes Varda, Michael Haneke, David Lynch, Wong Kar-wai, Lucrecia Martel, Jia Zhangke, Aleksandr Sokurov, the Dardenne brothers, Hayao Miyazaki, Pedro Almodovar, Abbas Kiarostami, Paul Thomas Anderson, Claire Denis, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Hsiao-hsien Hou, Roman Polanski, Takeshi Kitano, Ming-liang Tsai, Yimou Zhang, and Bela Tarr (unless he is serious about retiring) to look forward to.

    1. I’m all for all those filmmakers. Some favorites on that list. But even silly Marvel movies can be pretty fun. They might not be as potato-filled as a Tarr movie, but they’ll have some nice explosions and fun lines. Sometimes that’s enough for me.

  7. Though there could still be a place for negative nancy-ing. if there is art that you find disagreeable, it could be the motivation to make art of your own, find things to say, to comment on, etc. Plenty of art exists to be the inverse of another piece of art so if you are really itching to say something and have the ambition/know-how/tools for expression, that negativity could be a good driver.

    1. Oh sure. I’m not against a genuine negative reaction to a film. What I’m against is the labeling of movies as necessarily bad because of what it is. Not all superhero movies are shallow, not all Oscar buzz movies are made to get awards. Stuff like that.

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