Samuel Brace thinks movies are getting worse, and its all our own fault…
My friend and I went to see Bridge of Spies, the new Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg movie. It was a Friday, a Friday night, the end of a long day and an even longer week.
“Is this supposed to be good?” she asked as we entered the cinema.
“Yeah, it’s supposed to be great”.
On our way to our seats — grabbing a bottle of water before hand — we chatted about our days, our weeks and our christmas plans, we filed into the dark cinema, the previews already under way and found a couple of spots in the middle of the theatre. The film began, not as soon as I would have liked, but eventually it began and then it ended and then we left.
“That was fun”.
“Yeah, we should see something else soon”.
That was my night with Bridge of Spies, a film that looked just right on paper, a film set during an important historical moment, directed by a legendary director, starring an actor respected the world over, all coming together to release a movie in November. Bridge of Spies looked very good on paper, in fact on paper it looked great. I love history and the cold war has always been fascinating to me, I should have loved this movie. Unfortunately I only liked it. Unfortunately the film wasn’t great, unfortunately it was only good. Bridge of Spies is a fine movie, it’s a well made and nice looking movie. A great one it is not. We were misled. This is happening more and more. Films, more and more, are being billed as something they are not. The word ‘great’ has lost all meaning, thrown about far too often regarding films that are merely excellent or in a large number of cases, just fine. There is nothing wrong with excellent films, with fine films, but calling something great when it is not, is damaging.
Why does this happen? More importantly, why does this happen more and more every year? The simple answer is because we let it. We, the people, the audience, drive the market. We as consumers tell the content creators what we want, and we set the standard that films are measured by. It’s our fault movies are getting worse and worse every year, and it’s our fault film like Bridge of Spies, and to a larger extent The Martian, become standout features.
We used to want great movies, but we don’t anymore. We haven’t for a very long time and things are only getting worse, year by year, now decade by decade, things are only getting worse. They won’t be getting better any time soon, simply because we don’t care anymore. Greatness is not something — clearly — that we are intrigued or excited by. We have become content with the ‘okay’, with the average. Good movies exist; sometimes excellent movies exist, in a very rare instance something beyond that appears, that is now an extraordinary sight indeed. We used to want great movies, but we don’t anymore.
It’s our fault because we accept the hyperbole that today’s films innately come with. We don’t speak up when it comes to quality. We don’t call out lies and liars. We don’t say anything. We are drinking the Kool-Aid, happy to lap up posters smeared with stars that don’t mean anything and happy to accept promotion that spits out actors names at us like we are supposed to know or care who they are. It’s our fault films are getting worse because when we see mediocrity we remain silent, we don’t call out those that label these ‘okay’ films as great. By accepting the average we have created this mess and now that’s what we get. The ‘great’ films of 2015 are not great films but we don’t care, most of us can’t even recognise the problem.
We have a cultural issue as of 2015, we all know this, and it’s impacting the quality we get in cinema. We live in a society where third place is championed, where finishing in the middle of the pack receives praise of greatness. In a world where everyone gets a gold star, where everyone wins, where everything is great, any scale of what’s premium or not goes out the window. There is no gold standard anymore, there is nothing to achieve, to aim for, no stars to reach, the apex has become the middle. We have become okay with mediocrity and now those movies, those well made but unexceptional movies, are called great when they are simply are not. We’ve lost all prospective.
Taste is subjective. Subjective is a perfectly acceptable term when it comes to movies and indeed all entertainment. Whether you like or dislike something is of course subjective, but greatness? That is not subjective. That is unequivocal, undeniable, greatness is obvious. Well, at least it used to be. You can love a bad film, I love many bad films, many okay films, but what we must be able to do is recognise greatness when we see it, and not dismiss its quality if it doesn’t jive with our personal sensibilities.
Someone recently asked me, “What are the great movies of this year?” I was stuck for a response. I changed the subject. What was I supposed to say? The truth is 2015 has been a terrible year for films. This isn’t an anomaly but a trend, a downward slope of which movies have been sliding. Among this year’s supposed ‘great movies’, among the award contending films, are pictures like Bridge of Spies and The Martian. These are not great films. These are good films. These are competently made films. But great? Not a chance. There is nothing egregiously wrong with these movies and that is exactly why they are spoken of with such affectation. They don’t offend anyone as they have nothing to say. We don’t want to be challenged by movies anymore. We want our films to fit into the guidelines and parameters of our PC culture. Today everyone is offended by something so when films come along that are safe and warm and cosy to us, well, that’s an extra two stars right there. It has gotten to a point where any film that doesn’t want to make us puke our guts out at how awful it is or how ‘controversial’ it is, automatically gets put into the prestige column. It all it takes is a Q4 release date, perhaps a historical setting, and the hyperbole begins with unrelenting force.
There is room in the world for films like Bridge of Spies and The Martian, for good films that provide a couple of hours of entertainment, but don’t tell me that these are great films, and don’t tell me the performances contained within them are anything to shout about. We don’t need to be a marketing machine for films and studios, especially when they don’t deserve claims of greatness.
What are the great movies of 2015? Can you answer that question? Can you truly answer that with a response worth taking seriously? Can you answer the question not with good films, or with excellent films, or a film you liked or loved but a clearly undeniable great movie? I certainly can’t. These films don’t exist this year and are arriving less and less, because we haven’t provided the incentive for filmmakers to make them. We’ve set the bar so darn low that the phoned in Oscar movie has become standard affair. Greatness can still be made, it can still be found, but we have to be open to seeing it, we have to create the environment for greatness to exist. Most importantly of all, we can’t hand out the term in asinine amounts each and every year to run-of-the-mill films. I’m taking greatness back. 2015 doesn’t deserve it. So when you ask what are the great films of this year, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.