Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Movies Are Dead; Long Live the Movies!

Just in time to fill the annual movie "sky is falling" quota, GQ (ever the bastion for high culture) has published an article assaying the death of the movies. It's impressive for the author's ability to extract quotes from various industry luminaries, but on the whole it's just a warmed over helping of panic. At various points, Mark Harris points the finger at filmgoers, studio executives and, oddly, the burgeoning film industries in Italy and Japan, for the sorry state of summer tentpoles and the recent, alleged dearth of quality adult-oriented dramas.

But really, there is nothing new about any of the theories he presents (except for the Japanese kamikaze thing; never heard of that before).

I happen to agree that a lot of what passes for blockbuster is utter crap these days. A couple weeks ago, I tried to watch Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and gave up halfway through. I almost never do that. Even bad movies usually have some redeeming qualities, or bring a certain goofy gallows humor to the table. Not the Prince.

I'm not sure who gave Harris the idea that thriving overseas film industries are a bad thing, but if you're looking for the kinds of films Hollywood used to make, that's where you should be looking. Last year, seven of my top ten were foreign films and most of them share striking similarities to the American classics Harris seems to mourn. Animal Kingdom has been compared (somewhat daftly) to Goodfellas by critics. A Prophet pulls more than a few pages from the gangster flicks of the 1930's. Tokyo Sonata has a script that Frank Capra would be proud of. And Mother is, by my estimation, the only film that actually earns the "Hitchcockian" label that was foisted upon it by its marketing.

There's also the simple fact that American cinema doesn't actually need the defibillation that Harris feels compelled to give it (how noble of him). It's true: the studios dump a lot of crap on the market. But, then again, they always have. Even in this era of cinema-via-focus-group, it was largely the studios that produced the watershed year that was 2007. That year, American films dominated my personal top five (including Warner Bros.' The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Miramax/Paramount's No Country for Old Men, Pixar's Ratatouille, Paramount Vantage's There Will Be Blood and Paramount's Zodiac). And as the article begrudgingly points out, there've been some quality tentpoles (2008's Iron Man and The Dark Knight and last summer's Inception), too.

Honestly, I think any movie fan who can't find anything satisfactory out there is just lazy or stubborn, or both. It's a wide world out there — it's time to leave the familiar behind and go explore.

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