An update on the state of the art (i.e., the movies)

As everyone knows (or should know) by now, 2005 was a dismal year at the box office, at least that's what Hollywood and its commentators are saying. Of course, by "slump" they mean a six percent drop in sales, though that still amounts to $9 billion. Even so, 2005 was not a good year in terms of business.

Why is that?

Well, two reasons, in my opinion. First, all the best (almost without exception) movies were low-budget, controversial, or independent. Credit to Hollywood needs to be given for their recognition of some of these films in the Oscar nominations. In my opinion, the unqualified best movie of last year was "Good Night, and Good Luck" which everyone needs to see. My sincerest thanks to Clooney and co. for making this cinematic work of art. "A History of Violence" and "The Constant Gardener" were also great, and conspicuously snubbed by Hollywood. (By the way, "Crash" for Best Picture? Puh-leeze. It simply did not deserve the award. I wouldn't have even nominated it, though the film is not bad by any means. Just not good enough.)

The second reason is that most of the films just plain outright sucked. So many bad films come out nowadays that it's no wonder people just stay home. I know it's 2006 and early in the year (when all the "leftover" films get released), but let's take a look at the current top 10 box office films and their percentage ratings as recorded by Rotten Tomatoes. You'll notice that only one of the top 10 has a positive score from critics. Only one! And this was not unusual throughout much of 2005. Hollywood should be ashamed.

All of this in mind, the latest news from theater owners is hilarious, and misguided. According to John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, theater owners may petition the U.S. government to give them permission to jam cell phones in theaters nationwide, because the assumption is that cell phone use in theaters is a central cause of low theater turnout.

Listen, NATO (interesting acronym!), I don't avoid theaters because of the hypothetical idiot who may use his or her cell phone during a film. If the film is good enough, I will go regardless. And if said person does use a cell phone, my wrath will be expressed in words that should not be repeated publicly. But I won't have the opportunity to express myself if the films suck. I'm going to stick with my Netflix, and quite frankly, I am more than happy to.

I only see a film for three reasons: (1) Friends want to hang out by going to see a movie; (2) the film is a special effects blockbuster that is good enough to warrant a viewing; or (3) the film is so damn good that to wait for its DVD release is out of the question. This year, the second reason will be the basis for my (expected) attendance at "V for Vendetta," "MI:3," "The Da Vinci Code" (yes!), and "X-Men 3" (if the reviews are solid). NATO, notice that option (4) -- people being banned from cell phone use -- is NOT one of the reasons I will see a movie.

Should the ban pass, I may conceivably see a film just to use my cell phone to check if it works.

In other news, Annie Proulx (author of the story that became "Brokeback Mountain") has written a bitter and funny commentary about Oscar night.


timcoe said…
Have you seen The New World yet?
D.W. Congdon said…
Not yet, but I would like to. It never seemed to arrive in wide release, so I think I might have to wait until it is available on DVD. What are your thoughts on it?
timcoe said…
Well, I am a Mallick groupie, so understand that I'm a little biased. But I am completely in love with the way that he works in a filmic shorthand that feels completely different from any other filmmaker-- he never allows the necessity of plot to override the storytelling elements (i.e. character, questioning, human exploration, and the profound beauty of a setting) that he is most interested in. The New World does a masterful job of portraying exactly how mysterious the American continent must have appeared to the Jamestown settlers, and various historical points are indicated, but the centeral focus is the beauty and mystery of people.

I think I would pretty closely equate Mallick's film work with the poetry of Li Young-Lee, whose sophistication and intelligence are evident alongside his wonder at the world-- both manage to convey a sense of wide-eyed awe without ever seeming naive in the slightest.
D.W. Congdon said…
Malick is indeed superb at capturing people and places. I can think of few others who can capture life with a camera more effectively that he can. He is, at times, too effective, as The Thin Red Line reveals at certain moments.

I do intend to see the film when I can. But I'm surprised it did not get a wider release.
timcoe said…
I think part of the reason the film didn't get a wider release is because that when it came out on Christmas day, Malick went to a screening and was suddenly appalled at the pace of the film and pulled it from all theaters and then re-edited the entire thing and then re-released it. So perhaps distributors are reticent to pick it up now.
D.W. Congdon said…
I didn't know that. Too bad for Malick. I guess I'll have to wait until May, when it gets released on DVD.