A Pretentious Takedown of Middlebrow Cinema

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This is going to be pretentious.

The end of the year usually produces a swarm of movies as studios throw out everything that could possibly win an award. The summer is known for its blockbusters–large and loud movies, with big time actors attached to them–the end of the fall to the winter emphasizes darker stories with artsier and riskier looks and content. This is an exciting time for me, usually overwhelming (I literally make long lists of notes of which movies I should see, where I will–and can–see them, and how I can afford to see so many movies without breaking the budget) and filled with a lot of great movies. But the studios aren’t dumb, there are strategies in place–why and when a movie should get released. The awards ceremonies are usually more generous to give out awards to those that come out later in the year–they have a strange sense of film amnesia where the first seven months barely count and so studios release films accordingly. Studios don’t really want awards though, I’m sure there is some sense of pride for a studio releasing an award winner, but the sense of pride does not outweigh their number one motivator: money.

The studio system’s whole purpose is to make money, thus they try to find films that will win the awards, because movies that win awards, particularly the big ones, attract a bigger audience even if they tend to be edgier. The ads show this all the time, big golden text lines the top of the film saying “nominated for seven Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Independent Spirit Awards, nine BAFTAS, and the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss”. Awards are the reasons why studios push for artsy movies, not for artistry’s sake, but to gain a large crowd on a smaller budget.

This is fine, it’s going to happen, but when this is the case it creates the need to mimic what has come in the past. There is a certain style of Oscar movie usually involving some sort of liberal, edgy topic, an actor losing a lot of weight for the role or an actress not wearing any makeup. These are sort of emulated year after year in hopes that people will jump on board.

That’s the thing, these movies are created to fit into a certain sort of mold, when they are actually quite safe and seem methodologically produced to trick people into thinking they are seeing something important. These films come off as being really out of the box, creative, and dramatic, but really they’re not. This year’s version of these movies are two British biopics about important historical figures–The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game–both are period pieces, have lower budgets, and a good cast, but also seem to fall into every trope you can imagine for these films. In year’s past The King’s Speech, The Artist, The Help, The Blind Side, and Dallas Buyers Club all gave this vibe–important movies about history, race, or some other marginalized group. Most of these films are actually fine, they are pleasant tales and I would be fine with this if people didn’t feel like they had done some sort of cinematic duty by seeing it.

People know that I like movies, so I often get asked about which movies are good and whether I’ve seen [blank]. But the movies that often rise to the top as being depictions of cinema or indie films or whatever are these middlebrow, faux-artsy films that seem to somehow suck in people whose last movie in theaters had been the fourth Transformers movie. There is no challenge to them at all, but they are advertised as life-changing cinematic experiences.

Alright, enough of the complaining–people are gonna watch what they are gonna watch and I’m not very likely to recommend Under the Skin (my favorite movie of this year) to very many people, because I truly believe they will not like it. Let’s just not let the studios do this to us, we’re manipulated enough already. If you want to see something to impress people who like movies or those at your Oscar party make sure you see Boyhood (likely the best picture winner and a fantastic portrayal of a boy’s life), Selma (one of the best biopics ever probably), or Whiplash (an intense movie about a drummer that I think has the potential to be a real crowd please and features future best supporting actor winner JK Simmons).

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