Thursday, December 27, 2018

What a meh year for movies

This is the week in LA and New York when movies that hope to be contenders for the Oscars must run in theaters.

Being a member of the WGA and DGA, I’ve received a lot of screeners of the hopeful films. And I have to say I am singularly unimpressed.

Maybe it’s just that I’m an old guy and remember when Pictures of the Year meant THE GODFATHER, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. These were epic motion pictures, with scope, brilliant performances, and masterful storytelling.

And now any movie that Michael Bay doesn’t direct is considered Oscar-worthy.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS? It’s a frothy romcom. There used to be one a week released a few years ago. The producers of PILLOW TALK never felt they deserved an Oscar. CRAZY RICH ASIANS may be delightful and entertaining (I haven’t seen it), but it’s just a Friday night date movie.

Every year now it seems there are six movies about the British monarchy.  They're starting to feel like Oscar grabs. 

THE GREEN BOOK was very enjoyable, but when you remove the racial element it’s just a by-the-numbers buddy road picture. Good performances, and scenes that hit all the desired emotions but nothing you haven’t seen before fifteen times. And factually inaccurate.  As a way of passing the time for a couple of hours it was just fine. But again – Best Picture?

ON THE BASIS OF SEX was good (see my review posted yesterday), but not in the league of similar fare like THE VERDICT or A FEW GOOD MEN.  

Have we really lowered the bar or is it just that Hollywood now makes so few movies without an Avenger that every one with less than a half-hour of CGI thinks they’re a serious contender?

I haven’t seen all the screeners yet and one may just blow me away, but for now, for me – THE BLACK PANTHER is the Best Picture of the Year.


Peter said...

One of the best films of the year is a documentary. Three Identical Strangers is astonishing.

I found Crazy Rich Asians annoying. It's occasionally funny but mostly it's a boring sentimental drama. And I wish Ken Jeong would get offered better roles. He's a talented actor and I'm tired of seeing him always play wacky over the top Chinese stereotypes.

I agree Green Book is good but underwhelming.

I'm sure you'd like to know my films of the year! �� So here they are in no particular order!

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Ready Player One
Assassination Nation
American Animals
Three Identical Strangers
Hotel Artemis
Creed II
A Simple Favor
The Incredibles 2
The Happytime Murders
Teen Titans Go to the Movies

BobinVT said...

Radio was the dominant entertainment medium for about 20 years. It was the only option for home entertainment (other than piano rolls). The advent of television quickly killed all radio comedy and drama series. When television came in, many also predicted that it would kill the movies. That didn’t happen. The movies did change, far fewer were made, and people went to them less often. But the movies were still a major force. Home TV screens were small, color took a while to arrive, major movie stars never appeared on TV, many of the movies still being made were sweeping epics with great color cinematography that needed to be seen on a big screen, and finally, if you didn’t see a movie during its theatrical run, you probably would never see it. A few Disney films were re-released, and some movies did show up on television, but for the most part it was the theater run was the one and only chance to see a movie. Movies also were better able to take on social issues and be more daring. Rob and Laura Petrie still slept in separate beds on TV in the early 60s! All these factors kept people going to the movies. But now I think the movies face a combination of forces that are devastating. People have huge hi def screens with theater quality sound systems in their homes. Streaming and cable present a huge array of choices for all tastes. Most of it is lousy, but even if 10% of it is good, that’s a ton of stuff to watch. Major movie stars regularly appear on cable or in streaming content. And of course, you can watch it whenever you want to. My wife and I used to to the movies a lot. We still do when we see something attractive, but often we’ll wait for the film to come out on demand, on Netflix, etc. There’s no reason to see a romcom on a big screen. Unless you need to see it right away so you can talk about it at work for example, there’s absolutely no reason to go to the theater, with it’s attendant costs and inconvenience. You can pay for Netflix and Prime and a couple on demand viewings for what it costs to go to a movie. Hollywood makes blockbuster movies because they seem to be the only movies left that gets people to the theater in large numbers. So the small, Oscar worthy “important” movies are being made less and less by Hollywood. In fact, the only reason for Hollywood to make a movie like the Green Book seems to be to be as Oscar bait.

kitano0 said...

I haven't seen all the contenders either, but for you to say "Black Panther" is movie of the year is rather shocking. If action movies are a contender for Best Picture, then "Mission Impossible 5" is far superior movie-making.

gottacook said...

I don't think this is a new phenomenon - that a movie unlikely to deserve the award touts itself as a Best Picture candidate. When I was a college student I used to pick up Variety at a newsstand (75 cents and printed on newsprint), and I remember seeing in early 1979 a two-page spread that began

The Boys From Brazil
Best Picture

This was preposterous. (It was eventually nominated for three awards, including Laurence Olivier as Best Actor, but I'd seen it and it wasn't even a great adaptation of the novel, much less a great movie.)

All five Best Picture nominees that year were less than masterpieces, and the eventual winner (The Deer Hunter) had one great scene - the wedding reception, which must have lasted nearly a half hour - but wasn't a coherent movie as a whole.

Monkeefan88 said...

What you didn't like Meg??

Unknown said...

check out Cold War. from Poland. an excellent film and by far the best i've seen so far.

Kal said...

Pillow Talk actually did get an Oscar, for best screenplay. It was nominated for four others - Best Actress (Doris Day), Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), Art Direction and Music. It wasn't a best picture nominee, but it was certainly one of the more award-considered pictures of the year. (The big winner that year? Ben-Hur.)

Mike said...

You know what would be a great movie? A movie about Hollywood.

I know, I know.... that there have been many. But a movie about the current Hollywood, the 'Me Too' movement in particular would set the cash registers ringing.

Well... till that movie is made, I will keep seeing this video. Never tires me.

Lemuel said...

@gottacook: "Lisa, don't you know the boys from Brazil are little Hitlers?? It was in that movie! whose name I can't remember!"

blinky said...

Here is a Friday question or maybe a subject for a Doctoral thesis.
You probably know about the Hero myth that Joseph Campbell distilled that gave George Lucas the idea for Star Wars. Recently I have been listening to Mike Hill talk about the idea.
He puts forth that all great stories have the same basic structure, from Terminator 2 Park to Rick & Morty. My question is do you ever use this structure in comedy? Is the sitcom too short for this framework? did you use it in any feature scripts?
Maybe the lack of understanding of this story structure is why so many movies are awful. Mike Hill compares Jurassic Park to Jurassic World and it is amazing how the underlying story structure is completely lacking in Jurassic World.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...


That was actually Mission: Impossible 6.

James Van Hise said...

I think "Can You Ever Forgive Me" is a very good movie, if a bit dark in the third act (but not as dark as The Favorite gets which killed the film for me in the last half hour and the people I heard talking after the movie ended were also disappointed by the grim turn it took). I think the only thing that will turn the ratings for the Oscar telecast around from its steep decline is if something like Black Panther wins best picture because viewers are tired of best picture going to a film they never heard of and have no interest in seeing. But I'm thinking it may go to Roma, a highly touted B&W foreign language film with subtitles about a maid. If that wins then next year they might as well just make the Oscars available on a streaming service like Amazon or Netflix because there will be no national TV audience left to come back to.

E. Yarber said...

I went to over 200 movies a year as a pup, but finally gave up on theaters when I watched two guys get into a fistfight during a showing of a Jane Austen film. (One had been too noisy with a hundred candy wrappers).

On the rare occasions that someone drags me to see something on the big screen, I realize I'm no longer acclimated to the pace of current stuff. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA could devote ten minutes to a single sequence of Lawrence going back through the desert to rescue a lost soldier, and you were so involved in the storytelling that it never seemed like a digression from the plot. Now films seem to rattle along like a pinball machine. I've seen scripts where writers are determined that the entire feature consists of all peaks, no valleys, everything right up front instead of developed in stages for a cumulative effect. I'm not sure if this is a result of the creators mistrusting the audience's ability to follow a thread, the effect of ever-briefer television episodes leading to a general speeding of pace, or even the impatience of studio executives who insist a writer get to the point at once. Nobody in the business I ask seems to know why this is or even notice it half the time, since they've been like the frog in the pot not noticing the temperature gradually rising to a boil, but I feel like the edges of the narrative are lopped off time and again.

How can a viewer respond to such blunt communication? Sometimes I feel we've gotten to the point of screenwriting by Twitter.

Elizabeth Bell said...

All the venues for watching movies notwithstanding, there is still nothing like watching a good movie (of any genre) in a big screen theatre. It’s not possible to lose yourself so completely in the story, the beautifully written dialogue, the performances, and the costumes, except in a theatre.

The British Monarchy does seem to get more than it’s share of attention, but why not? What stories are more fascinating and compelling? At a time when men really did rule the world, amazing British Queens showed that world what women were made of. For whatever reason, those movies always seem to employ the greatest actresses of our time. The current movie about Mary, Queen of Scots is no exception.

It hasn’t been a great year for movies in general, but there have been enough to make most people continue to see the value of seeing movies in theatres.

MikeKPa. said...

Who needs Best Picture nominees when you're grinding out superhero movies each year and breaking box office records?

Studios made more than $11B in 2018 and four of the top five grosses were superhero movies. If you're looking for a movie like BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, you'll have to turn to TCM.

Anonymous said...

What 'til you see "Vice". As Monty Python said: "Now here's something completely different".

Pat Reeder said...

If you're like me, you might be thinking that some really great movies came out this year and you're just not remembering them. So go to this list of 2018 releases...

...and remind yourself that, no, there really weren't that many. "Roma" was an amazing piece of film-making, but not many people could sit still through its slow pace in the early going. I'm not a fan of big, loud action movies, comic book/superhero movies or horror films, but "A Quiet Place" is probably one of the best-made pictures of the year. Many of the critical darlings that made big statements on some issue such as race, like the Spike Lee movie, I thought were overpraised because of their PC subject matter and heavy-handed and didactic as films. "A Simple Favor" was fun, but not a Best Picture contender. "Incredibles 2" was also enjoyable, but pretty much a stylish rehash of the first one. It was a year in which almost every movie I liked was a documentary since they were just about the only movies with realistic, relatable characters.

Looking over that list, I'm surprised that the non-documentary film I actually liked the most of everything on it that I bothered to see was "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" At the very least, Melissa McCarthy deserves a Best Actress nomination for that.

Bryan said...

My favorite picture this year was Eighth Grade. Funny, painful, and right on the mark. Surprised to see that no one else mentioned.

Henry said...

I thought Green Book was fantastic -- better than the Best Picture winners for the past ten years.

Not sure why you would say it was factually inaccurate when it stuck far closer to the real story than almost any movie of it's type

"Screenwriter Nick Vallelonga says that shortening the trip so much for the film is the only major creative license that the filmmakers took. In doing so, certain events in the film don't happen in the same cities or dates that they did in real life. -TIME"

Kit said...

So go to this list of 2018 releases...

...and remind yourself that, no, there really weren't that many

Without going to the list, and excluding festival-only: Sorry To Bother You, Burning, Shoplifters, Gräns [Border], Nancy, Support The Girls, Mandy, Spike Lee's first really good fiction film in decades (if you don't want a LITTLE didacticism, don't go to a Spike joint), Eighth Grade, Leave No Trace, Blindspotting, Three Identical Strangers, First Reformed, Tyrel, Mutafukaz, Thoroughbreds, Annihilation, The Green Fog, Mom And Dad. Not counting various highly entertaining action, horror or comedy movies.

Phantom Thread was only released in two cities worldwide in 2018, so effectively stands as a 2018 film for most viewers.

These earlier releases all saw their first cinema release in the US in 2018: Sweet Country, The Death of Stalin, Paddington 2, Happy End, The Party (Sally Potter, not Peter Sellers), The Road Movie, 36.15 code Pere Noel (from 1989!).

I moved to the US in late 2017, and got seven useful months out of Moviepass; any American who complains that 2018 was an underwhelming year for movies straight-up does not go to the cinema. (I also saw at least a hundred repertory films in theatres this year, dating from 1929 to 2007; I'll allow that the hitrate was higher in that selection.)

Johnny Walker said...

I saw Cold War, I found it OTT. Nothing has really grabbed me this year. Now I think about it, I don’t know if it’s because nothing could be as engrossing as the news. Or maybe it just genuinely has been on off year for movies.

Johnny Walker said...

Barack Obama had the following at his best of 2018. I've only seen Black Panther. Maybe all the good movies slipped past me...

Black Panther
The Death of Stalin
Eighth Grade
If Beale Street Could Talk
Leave No Trace
Minding the Gap
The Rider
Support the Girls
Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Tom said...

You really have to settle in with a patient, open mind and let "Roma" come to you, especially in the first half hour, but it is so worth it. Dethroned "Black Panther" as my top movie of the year.

DARON72 said...

"Three Identical Strangers" was the most on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller of the year...and it was a documentary. The film just kept pulling back layer upon layer of what really happened and then, like "Oz", they showed us a peek behind the curtain and my mouth just dropped!!! Both the Mister Rogers and Pope documentaries really got to me and I'm not even Presbyterian or Catholic. "Leave No Trace" was fantastic, Christian Bale embodied Dick Cheney and I'd give Christopher Plummer an Oscar even if he just strolled into my theater with a flashlight and told me to get my feet off the seats.

Breadbaker said...

I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians. I saw it on the way back from Honolulu where we were living right by Ala Moana Mall, so we saw a lot of the title characters, so to speak. It's a fun movie and the fact that the only non-Asian characters in it are bit parts for staff and strippers is a plus. It doesn't develop a lot of its characters, but what romcom does? But it is fun to watch, without being Oscar-worthy in any sense.

Dave H said...

I thought the Green Book was well made and well acted but I am tired of the likeable racist routine or the racist with a heart of gold. he is a bigot but he is a great father and husband, friend etc.. at the screening I went to people were laughing at his racist attitude. and I thought the portrayal of Italians was a bit much. I realize it was "based on a true story" but I thought that was over the top. I think the source for the story was Viggos characters son so that would explain a lot.