It is the end of 2014 and I suppose it's time for some soul searching.
This is the time of year when North Americans are dutifully flocking to movie theatres in order to finally view the "real" films. You know the ones. These are the movies, the serious and contemplative ones, that Hollywood has held back in reserve in order to compete in the pre-award rush leading up to the Oscar nominations due out early in the new year. These nominations can lead to millions more at the box office, in DVD/BluRay rental sales, and can make overnight sensations out of previously languishing and unheard of actors.
This is also the time of year when movie critics whip out their best and worst lists of the year. More often than not when these lists appear, the complaint I hear most often from the average Joe is "I haven't seen or heard of a single one of these films. Why is that?" Well...there are several reasons.
1. Critics are snobs. Yes, they are. There is no getting around that even the most influential critics have personal biases when it comes to movie genres and favourite actors or directors. I imagine that they all try to be fair, but personal preference always tends to creep into any review.
2. Critics see everything, even the stuff the studios only release in limited quantities or stuff that only made it as far as the film festivals, much of which will go directly to streaming services and DVD. Most of those films, while eminently watchable and dripping with brilliance, are simply unmarketable for the big Hollywood studios. There just isn't enough money in it for them. But the critics don't forget and they properly refuse to put a film like another installment of The Hobbit on their best of lists ahead of a small art house or foreign film like The Immigrant, which actually had weight and depth.
3. The studios dictate what we the average public gets to see. That's why The Hobbit is currently playing on three or more screens at your local Cineplex, while something like Mr. Turner is shunted to the independents. If I want to catch any of these smaller films, I probably have to seek them out in small theatres or film festivals, or later catch them on DVD or Netflix. The demand just isn't there, so the supply simply doesn't exist.
So here's where my soul searching comes in.
I love movies, but I hate the movie going experience. Movie theatres have become places that are wholly uncomfortable for anybody who actually wants to watch the movie. Audience members often forget that they are not alone in a theatre. Despite the admonishments, there are still too many who chat, play on their phones, are noisy with their snacks, bring young children when they most clearly shouldn't, kick the seats in front of them, stretch in the middle of the film, and simply just behave selfishly when decorum should prevail. It seems to me that I can have a far more pleasant experience in my own living room.
I love film, but I hate the studios. If you eliminated all of the sequels, superhero flicks, fantasy franchises, comic book stories, remakes of classics, and gross-out comedies, you are probably left with about the twenty percent of original content movies that I actually want to see and would be willing to pay for. Unfortunately, those choices are made for me long before I even get a chance to decide what they might be. The Husband and I went to see Into The Woods last week. It was the first in-theatre experience we had attended since last January. That isn't to say that we have been abstaining, only finding other ways to see the films that interest us. I do realize that I am not part of the audience whom the big studios are targeting, but really? Do they not want my dollars too?
I love actors, but I loathe movie stars. What was the last movie that you saw that starred an actress over the age of fifty not named Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, or Judy Dench? And I mean starred! Not supporting cast or part of the ensemble. Yeah. Good luck with that. Michael Keaton is back this year with a slick new Oscar-bait film entitled Birdman, and the critics are falling all over themselves to talk about his comeback. Are you telling me that he wasn't available until now? Hollywood has a chew them up and spit them out mentality that cannot seem to transcend the current crop of action flicks and sci-fi fantasy nonsense. Acting seems to have disappeared as special effects have taken over and we are left with the dross of pretty faces and publicity hounds.
I love the art form, but it does exist in languages other than English. Foreign films and their directors have become the ugly bastard children of the North American movie going public. They aren't acknowledged with any force or veracity, and when they are finally allowed to emerge from their hiding places, it is to stump for a lonely foreign film Oscar in March. Netflix does a great job of showcasing these films and I have taken full advantage.
I love the creativity, but I loathe CGI. Don't get me wrong. Special effects have their place and are necessary to so many of today's films, but why do more than half of them look like bad video games? I realize that the purpose is mainly to entertain, but I can't believe that the same experience can't be had in front of an X-Box or Playstation.
I am wistful about this post. I really love movies and the entire art form. I will never forget being dazzled by the genius of Hitchcock or the magnificence of Julie Andrews. I know that it is a subjective business and I can handle the fact that we all have differing opinions on what is good and what isn't, but the modern movie-going experience has simply left me flat and I will have to continue to temper my expectations where film-making is concerned. The gold is out there. It's just buried in layers of pyrite.