Samuel Brace on the rise of VOD…
Sometimes you have to go off the beaten path to find quality films these days. Gone is the time where you could solidly rely on what was top billed at your local cinema to be the cream of the crop. Those days are well and truly over. If you are only looking at what’s in front of you, you will more often than not end up disappointed. This isn’t just a choice of the type of films big studios make, it also results from the power critics have over audiences. Some of the worst reviewed films turn out to be the best ones. Films that don’t rely on prestige, or important subject matter, or the right release date, are often smacked with a 50 metacritic rating and left to die. Well these are the films you should be seeking out, and you will sadly miss most of them in cinemas.
A lot of the time critics just get it wrong. It’s true that you can trust them more pre October than you can afterwards — you know, once they become gripped and riddled with Oscar fever and start conflating quality with importance — but increasingly often they miss the mark no matter the month you look at. Take this little gem I stumbled upon last night, a low budget space flick about a one man mission to Mars named Approaching the Unknown. I was bored, looking for something to watch so I ended up scrolling through Amazon Instant Video and just happened to click on this one, watched half of the trailer, and decided to give it a go. I was left with no regrets. It was thoughtful, clever, set in basically one location and had a beautiful melancholia that reminded me of the sublimely dream like Solaris (2002). It was excellent and all achieved with the lowest of budgets. Any fan of space or sci-fi or just good film making, should give it a go.
It was only afterwards, being curious of how well it was received, that I visited metacritic and noticed the review scores — it didn’t do well. The reality is if half the critics don’t like your film, it probably means it was pretty good. But because this film didn’t have a resounding message of heroism, because the protagonist didn’t make the decisions he ultimately made for noble reasons, because he was selfish, because the film doesn’t flirt with resolution or grandstanding or tackle themes that are deemed to be important, this film was scored badly and no one saw it. But make no mistake, this film is fantastic, not great, not a world beater, but it’s one of the better film experiences I’ve had this year — not saying a lot — and surely deserves a little recognition. But this all just goes to show that the cinema going experience, that finding the best of what film has to offer, is no longer as straight forward as it used to be. Those lavish palaces where we all sat in silence and consumed a movie, are slowly going away, and when we do go, most of what we see is senseless rubbish. The sad facts are that many of the best films are not being made for theatres anymore. Yes, this is where most of them still debut, but they actually get viewed on VOD.
The best films of 2016 will be seen by most on the small screen, on laptops and iPads, not on giant screens inside of theatres, but alone in your bedroom on Amazon and Netflix and iTunes. This is tragically sad but this is where we are now. TV has had its impact, the binge craze has transformed not only the way we want our content delivered, but also how films are presented. Some of these small scale, independent films are indeed cinematic, there were moments in Approaching the Unknown that I wish I could have seen on the biggest screen possible, just like there were moments in Green Room and The Invitation that would have been enhanced by the traditional movie experience, but these films, for the most part, all resemble that small intimate nature of a HBO drama, of the TV that, let’s face it, just does a better job than major modern day movies. And if this is how we are going to find the gems that are out there, if this is how we are going to uncover the year’s finest films, then so be it.
By 2016’s end, you will be told that the Oscar buzzed, prestige films of awards season are this year’s best, you will be told that these are the films of the moment, but the truth is that maybe only one or two of these films will be anything more than okay and also that no one will have seen them. The critics can be blamed for that as well. More and more people are starting to realise a lot of the pandering and lavish affectation these films receive, is plain bull and people just aren’t falling for it as much anymore. There are of course good film critics out there, that know a good film when they see one, many of whom write for this website, but there are a lot who just want a pat on the back and to be accepted into the ‘look how much everyone loves this really important film’ club.
I have long railed against the death of the cinema going experience and protested at the rise of VOD watching, but perhaps this is all for the best. Once films have lost the power they used to have over us, the power to shape culture and opinion, once films have been relegated entirely to the vast catacombs of Amazon’s movie library, maybe then movies will start to be great again. Of course that will mean the genuine heroes of big budget storytelling like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino will lose their cinematic tools, which is horrifically depressing, but if all films — not just Oscar Best Film winners — become made for TV movies, at least the good ones might rise to the top.