This is as obvious as a sledgehammer to the face, but movies simply aren’t as good anymore. There’s so many reasons why that is the case, and this Twitter thread breaks it down quite nicely. That graph signaling the rapid expansion of sequels and IP is dystopian if you care about mid-budget cinema. As the studios became fatter in money, anything that isn’t Star Wars or in the realm of The Avengers is seen as a financial risk. The likes of David Chase and Vince Gilligan, who are clearly inspired by film, migrate to TV to tell their stories, and that’s why everyone in my life only talks about TV rather than movies.
As someone who never has any priorities to manage, I can speak on the matter of how to spend your free time. During peak quarantine activities, people were watching, let’s say, five T.V shows consecutively. For me, I see that window of time and see 60 movies that I can bang out. It’s stitched into people’s brains now to stick with TV instead. I remember people were disgusted that Martin Scorsese would have the NERVE to film a three and a half-hour epic when all I ever hear is “yeah, it gets good around season 5 so just be patient!” about some show on IMDb TV. Unless there’s a Marvel or DC logo before the credits, forget it, movies are an old man’s game. I think it’s bad when the 16th reboot of Batman that’s coming out in March is treated like the highest form of art. People say to me “oh, you hate Marvel. This is the anti-Marvel!” No, no. We can do better than this.
Anyway, I digress. My top 5 of 2021 (as it usually goes, I still haven’t seen everything) goes as:
5. Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson) – I was ready to give this 6/5 stars when the trailer dropped in September. The lofty expectations hurt this for me in the long run. In a vacuum, this is a solid movie, no doubt about it, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Punch-Drunk Love, Phantom Thread, or the best of PTA’s ability. This movie represents the side of PTA as a person that I have no use for: the one who praises Marvel and acts like Spider-Man is good for the business for the Twitter applause, signaling “I’m not an old pretentious dickhead like Scorsese or Ridley Scott.” Please, be pretentious about it. You’re better than Kevin Feige. I didn’t really need to see a hangout movie from PTA either. Having said that, I can see myself fully loving this six months from now.
4. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion) – Coin-flip between this and Licorice Pizza, but I was slightly more interested in the direction of Campion more than Anderson. This is not for everyone, which is fine, but nothing pisses me off more when people who clearly wouldn’t connect with a slow-burn western about perverse male bonding review the movie saying “what the fuck was that bullshit!” Opinions are fine (I guess), everyone’s gonna have them, but sometimes, as I’ve learned, maybe the problem is you. This isn’t perfect by any means, but I have to think there’s a universal acknowledgement of its craft.
3. The Last Duel (Ridley Scott) – Why on God’s green earth wasn’t this marketed with the angle of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reuniting? Fucking Disney… It’s as if they want to sabotage 21st Century Fox…. This was certainly worth a re-watch on HBO Max. I initially saw this in theaters solely as charity, irrationally thinking my $11 ticket will help cover the $100 million it lost. I didn’t REALLY want to see it. Ridley Scott and medieval period pieces are not draws for me. My mind really wasn’t in it when I watched it with two other people. Turns out, movies are better when you are committed to watching them.
2. The Card Counter (Paul Schrader) – There weren’t many surprises (maybe except for the U.S military torture program, conveniently left out of the marketing), but this hit all the spots I was looking for. If cinema is ever going to be redundant, it should be from Paul Schrader’s Lonely Man protagonist. It never fails. Has Oscar Isaac perfected downer energy between this and Inside Llewyn Davis?
1. West Side Story (Steven Spielberg) – The fact that this isn’t the easiest $100 million box office earner is tragic. This was an emphatic reminder that movies can still be great. The musical numbers and emotional weight and scale are why you go see movies in theaters. If you read anything about how Spielberg topped the 1961 Best Picture winner (building miniatures, recording the numbers live, emphasis on placing the camera inside the famous numbers), you should be slapping yourself for giving a damn about Marvel. But I shouldn’t be so callous, because getting to see this on the big screen was such a joyous experience.
Before I bore you with how evil Disney is, let me play this blog out with the only two things I watched this week:
Marathon Man (1976, John Schlesinger) – Not bad, but underwhelming from what I expect from 70s paranoia thrillers. Maybe it’s just me, but Dustin Hoffman seems incredibly miscast in this movie. He’s bringing his nervy method acting to a role that needs more of an everyman (i.e. his co-star Roy Scheider who drives the first half). This famous quote from Laurence Olivier to Hoffman was ringing through my head the whole time watching this: “’My dear boy,’ replied Olivier, ‘why don’t you try acting?’”
Popeye (1980, Robert Altman) – Everything you heard is true. The guy who directed M*A*S*H and Nashville turned a cartoon into New Hollywood. I get why this flopped, but it doesn’t make it right. No matter if you like it, Altman makes movies that are unlike anything you see anywhere else.