Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Random Thoughts About, As Yogi Bear Would Have Put It, A 'Better Than A-ver-age Year'"

In the wake of the recent Oscars nominations, I offer a handful of remarks concerning the past 2013 feature film season.  

For me, it was a wonderful year for movies.  Not “to me”, for me.  I say that because,
it was as if, in 2013, for the first time in…forever, they were making movies
specifically for me.

To which I most humbly and somewhat embarrassedly reply,

“Thank you.”

You did not have to do that, and I appreciate it.  I would say, “Keep up the good
work”, but that might create the impression that I was lobbying for more of the same, and that might sound – no, it definitely would sound – egotistical and ungracious.  Who am I to expect you to continue making movies specifically for me?  I am delighted that you bothered to do it even once.

What am I talking about when I label the majority of 2013’s cinematic stalwarts “movies that seemed to have been made specifically for me”?

Consider these Oscar nominated “Best Pictures”:

American Hustle



The Wolf of Wall Street


And Oscar contenders I believe may have just missed the cut:

Llewyn Davis

Blue Jasmine

Enough Said

Saving Mr. Banks

What do all of these worthy and watchable 2013 cinematic offerings have in common?



To which I say, once again,

Thank you. 

Take note, other filmmakers.

It can be done.


Each of the above-mentioned movies clearly speaks in its own (meaning the filmmaker’s own) unique and distinctive voice.  Now you might argue that every movie speaks in the filmmaker’s own unique and distinctive voice.  But in these movies – especially in Nebraska, Lllewyn Davis, Enough Said and Her – they do it consistently, all the way through. 

Ironman 3 sprinkles its script with wry, comedic witticisms and vague concerns for the “Future of Mankind”, but mostly the characters just throw stuff at each other, and deafen the audience.  Still other movies seem to have no distinctive voice whatsoever, unless it is the distinctive disembodied voice of the studios’ “Market Research Department’s” computer that, without benefit of human intervention, has mechanically cobbled together a screenplay, culled from the various elements the coveted fourteen year-old-boy demographic seemed to appreciate before.

“They liked it in the last six sequels.  Let’s give it to them again!

The company of a “human voice” is a warm and comforting “connector.”  A contraption assembled by a committee…?  It feels like it.


Piggy-backing on the last part of the previous point, there seem today – and it would appear to be deliberately – two distinct and different movie businesses, working side-by-side, but rarely intersecting.  I will delineate them in accordance with the invariably separate venues in which these two dissimilar types of movie offerings are presented.

We have in this town, by way of contrast, big-box AMC multi-plexes, and a “boutique” theater chain called The Landmark.  The last time I entered an AMC theater – and virtually the only time in the past year – was to see the Disney animated feature Frozen.  (Which, for the part I remained awake through, I really enjoyed.) 

Of the nine movies I singled out above (if it is possible to “single out” more than a single thing), Saving Mr. Banks, we saw in Hawaii in I don’t know what kind of a theater – the “welcoming promo” called it a “Consolidated TheaterEntertaining Hawaii since 1917”; The Wolf Of Wall Street, I saw at the Santa Monica AMC 7.   

Everything else I saw at The Landmark.

This dichotomy reminded me of the line the late, great comedy writer Jerry Belson once said, responding to the wildly disparate abilities of his colleagues: 

“There ought to be two ‘Writers Guilds’”, he explained, “a ‘Writers Guild’ and a ‘Good Writer’s Guild.’”   

For 2013, at least, The Landmark was the good movie theater. 

And as long as the studios continue to make movies, less for discerning moviegoers than for the benefit of the shareholders of the corporate behemoths that own them, that dichotomy will continue to exist. 

The studios may crow about 2013 being their most profitable year ever, but it’s easier to have a bigger box office when you keep raising the ticket prices.  If the “cost of entry” were a hundred million dollars, they would only have to sell one ticket.  And let us not even think of what they would charge for popcorn!


The Rise of Reliable, Committed and Deep-Pocketed Independent Financing. 

Yes, some of 2013’s best movies were put out by small, specialized divisions of major studios, but do the research.

Isn’t the writer supposed to do the research?

Yes, but I’m old and I’m tired.

Check out how many of – and for how long – the most honored and highly regarded films of this past year struggled to get made. 

I’ll do one for you.  I have, of late, regularly noticed the credit, “Annapurna Pictures” on a lot of movies I enjoyed – such as American Hustle and Her – so I did a little homework. 

“Annapurna Pictures” is a new – only since 2012 – film production and distribution company founded by Megan Ellison (who I believe has a wealthy Dad) intended, according to its founder to “produce sophisticated high-quality films that might (Read: would) otherwise be deemed too risky by contemporary Hollywood studios.”

Okay, Megan.  Thanks for the money. 

And the pictures worth going to.

Oh yeah, this last one, I don’t know what to do with.  Three movies – American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Dallas Buyers Club – are about either scamming or working outside “the system.”  And Nebraska is about responding to a promotion put out by “the system” and, if you are gullible enough, being taken in by it.  I think these movies – and the proliferation thereof – are trying to tell us something:

People are not crazy about “the system.”

Anyway, I am not, as regular readers will affirm, a major distributor of praise, especially when it comes to the entertainment business.  But, “Exceptional Movies of 2013” – and there were unquestionably a bunch of them –

I respectfully tip my hat to youse.

Of all the movies I didn’t write, I regret I didn’t write those kinds of movies the most.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

For the last some-odd years a friend and I have journeyed to Champaign-Urbana, IL, to take in Roger Ebert's Film Festival (we can't go this year, sadly; it will be the first for which Roger didn't hand-pick the movies). Particularly in the last few years, the festival has featured a number of movies made by tiny operations. Examples:

- SITA SINGS THE BLUES. Made (written, drawn, directed, edited) by Nina Paley, and offered for free distribution at www.sitasingstheblues.com (you can download it in a variety of resolutionsp; she now sells DVDs by popular request). The biggest expense was clearing the rights to the music.

- MY DOG TULIP, made by a husband-and-wife team, Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, in their garage, hand drawn, with voiceover from Christopher Plummer, based on a memoir by JR Ackerley about his quirky relationship with his dog.

- 45365, a documentary about their town made by two brothers, Turner and Bill Ross, who went around filming bits of their neighbors' lives. (The brothers feared they'd never be able to release the movie commercially because of the impossibility of clearing the rights to incidental music captured in these scenes.)

And so on. Ebert put a lot of effort into helping promote movies like these that he loved and that he saw in terrible danger of never finding an audience.

None of those movies is violent. If you can find copies, enjoy!