What is it that makes movies great? Or let me rephrase, what was it that made movies great? Actually, according to several film critics, in terms of quality, not much has changed in the last decades. By looking at most of the reviews they so vividly write, one would say we’re in the golden era of movies. Far from it. Not to mention, attributing a certain, irrelevant number, the movie score, given by certified, accredited, awarded, experienced and respected experts to the movie itself is the supreme fallacy. Even so, had this widely used hypocrisy been done truthfully and according to real and not invented values, it would have still been acceptable.
The problem is, obviously, that it is not. Lately, it appears that one only needs a renowned cast, decent acting and some “sensible” themes, such as the nightmare of being part of a highly individualistic society or (even worse) the struggle of becoming famous in today’s film industry. Also, if you throw in a superhero or two and conjure a funny trailer you’re all set, the movie is already a certified blockbuster Let’s say this is all fine (although it’s not!).
But now we turn to “la crème de la crème”. The absolute best movies of the year. They promote cinematographic excellence, allow the viewer to transcend into the 25th dimension and feel something that was never felt before, by being connected with ideas that are higher than themselves on so many levels they can’t even count and by raising interest in a wide variety of ambitious, exalting, noble themes. That’s what one might think when watching the annual award ceremony and witnessing all preparations, fancy dresses, red carpets and all that pretentious nonsense. Unfortunately, that’s what the Oscars have become in the last few years; a nonsense.
Among most of the fallacies that were nominated for last year’s awards (or even worse, managed to win an award), most of them are not worthy of any comments. However, there is one particular movie that I would like to comment on; namely A Fantastic Woman. Without any shadow of a doubt, this was the worst movie I had to sit through in my recallable movie-going experience. I did not, however, despise it because of the approached subject: the struggle of transgender individuals in a society who just does not accept them.
But when a movie that only impresses the viewer by the insurmountable chunk of clichés, terrible acting, cheap dialogue and non-existent cinematography is then considered as “an important step in the development of cinematography” and is even seen as “a small masterpiece”, this gets too hard to endure. By the way, it won the Oscar for the best foreign language film. Looking at the way the golden figurines have been awarded throughout recent years, you would definitely not be surprised.
I can, however, take a wild guess about the Academy’s reasoning: “So, listen up people, we cannot really hand in the Oscar for best picture or best actor/actress in a leading role to Call me by your Name because that would raise a rather huge controversy since those particular subcategories raise most of people’s interest. So, to show our support for minorities, we should hand in the Oscar for the best foreign language film to A Fantastic Woman. Even though it’s a really bad movie, we want to show some political correctness. There won’t be any controversy, since the audience does not care about foreign language films anyways, and we’re going to be perceived as nice humans.”
Not to mention, the other nominees were quite decent and definitely infinitely better in terms of promoting cinematographic excellence. Thus, if you beg for an Oscar, at least do it in an honourable way, bring something to the table, rather than expecting the Academy to just crown you for the sensibility of the approached subject alone.
Again, I am not against promoting movies that propose such themes, but quite the opposite. Consequently, I would enjoy seeing a movie which does so in a principled and respectable manner, rather than being pathetic and begging for awards in such a pitiful way.
I get it, the Academy cannot always hand the awards to the best actors, best movies and so on, because of certain social, political, and other pressures. For instance, there is an (ongoing) scandal about the voting members of the Academy (surprisingly), which will probably continue for a time now and that will probably influence future editions. While this is, let’s say, understandable (although it’s not!), the extent to which it is being done is becoming a little annoying, to say the least. An important question to be asked is when will it stop, or better, WHETHER it will stop.
Unfortunately, we got to a point in time where it seems that the large public is not interested in actual quality in terms of movies (or just doesn’t care or can’t recognize it), but rather sees movie-going or watching as the perfect opportunity to chill and to catch up with their friends’ activity throughout the past week. Not to mention, what better occasion to post an Instagram story with the screen, the drink and eventually the popcorn clearly visible, so that it can be clear-cut that you are a movie goer?
But let’s get back to the discussion about Oscar movies. It’s not that the winning and nominated movies are necessarily bad, but rather that standards have decreased vertiginously in the last decade, and a lot of mediocre movies are being unjustly praised. Think about a basic fact; in 1995 among the nominees you could have encountered movies such as Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, or even The Shawshank Redemption. Unfortunately, only one won the Oscar. While it is true that even now, some of the nominated and winning movies are actually worthy of such an award, the majority is still constituted by a timid shadow of what cinematography was. In recent years modest movies keep getting Oscars and ratings similar to those received by legends in the past, but the only memorable thing they promote is… well, nothing.
For that matter, there was one dialogue between Quentin Tarantino and some irrelevant TV host, where the latter was trying to convince the former that his movies are bad for the society as a whole and especially for young people, since they promote nothing more than pure and unjustified brutality and bloodshed. The director, when asked why he would create such a movie like Kill Bill: Vol. 1, notoriously said: “Because it’s so much fun!”. Although this case only emphasizes the stupidity of that particular TV host, I’m quite certain that there are other Kill Bills that are criticized for their violence, while a way greater number of billboards (in different shapes and forms) are being unscrupulously praised.
So you might ask, how can we identify and watch those recent movies that promote cinematographic excellence and are actually great? The answer is that you can’t really do that easily. Unfortunately, on the one hand, online streaming platforms are not helping users to do that. In fact, why would they if they’re making such hefty profits in the current situation? My advice is just sticking to the oldies.
On the other hand, the death of independent cinemas, at the expense of huge, commercial cinema chains has also affected this supposedly novel experience of movie-going. Accordingly, we get bigger cinema theaters, worse movie quality (a lot of bad commercial movies and very few movies that actually have something to say) and an increasingly diminished sense of community between the people in that room. Taking part in a screening was supposed to not only mean a passive engagement with the ongoing movie, but rather an implicit spiritual pact that all viewers accept when stepping foot into the theater.
It involves an active channeling of thoughts that one is supposed to undertake, a special kind of bond with the characters themselves, anticipation of future actions which would supposedly intricate and yet fascinate one’s mind. As a result, while the film unravels, everyone comes up with a different perspective on the same ongoing chain of events.
Those active reflections are part of every particular theater now, and will only leave along with the watcher, after the movie concludes. But until then, there is a continuous clash of ideas, attitudes, viewpoints, angles and, most importantly, enthusiasm into the air, which one cannot see, but feel. That is what I experienced not long ago, at one of Amsterdam’s independent cinemas, during a screening of Pulp Fiction. Unfortunately, with the emergence of cinema chains, this has greatly diminished, with isolated cases persisting but only in a few communities.
Coming back to reality, the film industry is nothing but a shadow of its past. The worrying aspect is, however, that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s only darkness.