Are the Movies Getting Worse?

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If it was premature to call Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives one of the best films of the 2010s upon its release in 2010, I think it’s fair to say that it’s shaping up to be one of the decade’s defining masterpieces. Most haven’t seen it and I was lucky enough to catch it while it was available on Netflix Instant. Since seeing it those two times (yes, I watched it twice in the same day), there have only been a few new releases which have, for me, matched or topped the experience.

The most significant one may be Malick’s The Tree of Life, which touched me profoundly and quite simply, is just an all-around beautiful film. For me, the prize of Best Film of the 2010s currently sits between it and Uncle Boonmee, but I’m skeptical of the significance of that considering that we’re only 2 and 1/2 years into the decade. Of course, there will be more great films in the next 7 and 1/2 and I’m sure there is a wealth of wonderful cinema that I’ve already overlooked or haven’t yet acknowledged.

And then there are the movies that I have seen and enjoyed, but will grow better to me as time goes by. Perhaps Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Perhaps The Social Network. Perhaps The Turin Horse (though I really doubt it). In fact, I’ve already become a great deal fonder of The Artist during the past year. On the other hand, I’m sure some movies will prove to be less significant down the road than we may have suspected initially. For example, Holy Motors may disappear into the shadows by 2019, Looper may become a staple on the discount racks of our local video stores, and Drive a nearly forgotten film that we recall during some sort of trivia game. I certainly hope not but with the Internet, instant streaming, etc. the chances of recent films disappearing completely are diminishing.

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What will we come to view as the best films of the 2010s? At the moment, the closest we can come to answering that question is to consider what recent films we love the most. For me, the list would look something like this (in no particular order):

-The Tree of Life
-Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
-The Social Network
-The Master
-Amour
-The Artist
-Take Shelter
-Inception
-The Descendants
-Moonrise Kingdom
-Beasts of the Southern Wild
-Certified Copy
-Melancholia

From these films, it seems to me that cinema is still in a positive place right now. We’re paying tribute (The Artist). We’re ruminating on our past and future (Uncle Boonmee, The Tree of Life), our fragile existence (Amour), and the things that hold us captive (The Master, Take Shelter).

There is a lot of talk, from critics, bloggers, and some popular audiences, about a recent decline in quality films. We look at Hollywood and the projects that it funds, very many of which are questionable when considered as necessary, significant, or even moral works of art. Not every movie has to be a sweeping, auteur-driven work of art, but even Hollywood entertainments should have a hint of something new to say or show us.

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And then there’s the issue of all of the remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, and trilogies, which to me, is less of an indicator of the studios’ laziness than their refusal to invest in anything that isn’t a sure bet. The apparent laziness we detect is rather that of the filmmakers who relentlessly recycle material from other films. It’s easy for cinephiles (and I’m no exception) to point at Hollywood and claim a cinematic recession, but if there is one, I do think it only applies to Hollywood.

The list above is proof that there are great and unique films being made inside the studio system and all around the world. If you are still skeptical, open an issue of Sight & Sound or Film Comment and skim through the pages. Each time that I read either one, there are many films featured which I have never heard of. Those movies embrace ideas that haven’t been filmed before, so it may be unfair to denounce all of world and independent cinema when there actually are plenty of original films being made.

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Finding quality movies to watch is simply a matter of knowing where to look. For ages, we have all relied on Hollywood to provide and that makes sense. Those commercial films are more readily available and more heavily promoted than most others anywhere in the world, but there are alternatives to them. Perhaps it is time for us to look elsewhere. Independent cinema in the United States is growing and improving; in my opinion, it is becoming a worthy successor to the traditional Hollywood. In addition, foreign films are more accessible than ever before.

I suppose my message here is that the movies are not getting worse. Hollywood may be in a slow decline, but cinema is not. As the decade progresses and as low-budget and imported films become easier to view, I suspect we may see a slight shift of public interest away from the cliches, the sequels, and the remakes. In that case, it seems to me that a cinematic revival is just around the corner.

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47 responses to “Are the Movies Getting Worse?

  1. My list would be somewhat likes yours with more mainstream popular culture films. Django and such, and Possibly Skyfall. However, I do feel there’s been a general decline in film making. I think this really shows when it seems at every recent Academy Awards even the big generic blockbusters are starting to be considered in that same kind of scope due to sheer lack of deep meaning and artistry.

    • Django and Skyfall are both solid picks; I wonder if there will be a better Bond or Tarantino film in this decade. The Oscars could be an indicator for a decline, though I think that they did pretty well this past year when it comes to Best Picture nominees.

  2. I’m always happy to find someone who likes Uncle Boonmee as much as I do. Also, you are exactly right in that movies themselves are not going downhill, but Hollywood might be. The average moviegoer needs to get on board with the cinephiles and realize that good movies do not necessarily have to come from California; it would help if world and independent cinema received wider releases theatrically than they do now. I hope you are right about an upcoming revival.

    • So glad that you like Uncle Boonmee too. I haven’t gotten to talk to many who have seen it and it is an excellent example that, like you said, world and independent cinema should be getting wider releases than they currently get. Meanwhile, film bloggers should do our parts and promote some of these under seen films.

      “The average moviegoer needs to get on board with the cinephiles and realize that good movies do not necessarily have to come from California.” Exactly. Hopefully recognition of movies such as Beasts of the Southern Wild that are small and regional will make the average moviegoer more aware of these types of films.

      I’m doing my best to remain optimistic about the upcoming decade and I really, really hope such a revival happens.

  3. I agree with your conclusion that Hollywood is getting worse but that cinema in general is not. (It’s really impossible for any art form to get better or worse over time if you think about it.) However, I would’ve gone a step further and said that while Hollywood is getting worse (because of the endless sequels, remakes, reboots, etc.) AMERICAN cinema is still pretty rich. I recently wrote a blog post about how three of the best films I’ve seen in the theater this year have all been extremely low budget American indies:

    http://whitecitycinema.com/2013/05/27/a-golden-age-for-the-microbudget-indie/

    And since you offered your 13 favorite films of the 2010s so far, here’s mine (also in no order):

    Bernie (Linklater, USA, 2011)
    Certified Copy (Kiarostami, Italy/France, 2010)
    Film Socialisme (Godard, France, 2010)
    Holy Motors (Carax, France, 2012)
    Life Without Principle (To, Hong Kong, 2011)
    Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami, Japan, 2012)
    Mysteries of Lisbon (Ruiz, Portugal, 2010)
    Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Ceylan, Turkey, 2011)
    Shutter Island (Scorsese, USA, 2010)
    The Social Network (Fincher, USA, 2010)
    The Strange Case of Angelica (de Oliveira, Portugal, 2010)
    Tabu (Gomes, Portugal, 2012)
    Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, USA, 2012)

    • Those are some great points. Without a doubt, there are still many great American films being made. In fact, the majority of my favorite films of the decade so far are American. When writing this, I considered going more in-depth into indies, but eventually decided against it. I actually had your post bookmarked, so I’ll definitely read it soon.

      All of the films on your list which I have seen are either on my list also or almost were: I considered Holy Motors, but I saw it recently and I feel that the film hasn’t really sunk in yet, though I really liked it. I loved Shutter Island and Zero Dark Thirty as well. Your list also has several films that I would love to see, but haven’t gotten a chance to see: Film Socialisme, Mysteries of Lisbon, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, and Tabu especially. As for Bernie, I have no excuse and I really should see it soon.

  4. Great question. I would say that Hollywood making more bad movies. I think the great films today are still great, and the past two years were very good for film. But there’s plenty of bad contemporary films as well. Here are my top 10 of the current decade so far.

    1. The Master
    2. The Tree of Life
    3. Amour
    4. A Separation
    5. The Descendants
    6. Take Shelter
    7. Zero Dark Thirty
    8. Drive
    9. Inception
    10. The Social Network

    • The past two years have produced tons of great films. It seems that we have many of the same favorites. I completely forgot about A Separation when I was putting my list together, but it would definitely make it. Thanks!

  5. This is a great topic and one that is certainly relevant. I am more into niche genres like horror and exploitation and, from my perspective, these genres are pretty much dead today as horror cinema is consumed with uninspired, vacuous remakes and exploitation film is essentially either hardcore pornography or nonexistent. There are certain directors that I follow – Cronenberg and Korine, for example – and I feel that guys are still releasing challenging and relevant material.

    • That is another interesting aspect of this topic. Certain genres have declined more than others and horror and exploitation are definitely two that have declined very much. Unlike some horror directors present in the 80s, I think Cronenberg has been fantastic recently at creating films that are unique within his filmography and as you said, are challenging and relevant.

  6. In the 15+ years I’ve been really into movies and reading all the magazines, there’s always been the steady belief that things are worse than they used to be. I’m glad to see you don’t conclude that this is the case, but yes you have to look a bit wider than Hollywood. There have been good years and bad years, and sometimes it takes time to realise in retrospect what was really good. I certainly don’t feel I’ve really caught up to what’s come out in the last few years yet (have only rededicated myself to going to movies again recently…). I may, however, be in a minority for not properly appreciating Uncle Boonmee.

    Since others are compiling lists, here’s my top 7 of the 2010s so far (alphabetical order):

    Bernie (2011)
    Margaret (2011)
    Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
    The Muppets (2011)
    Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)
    Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
    Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

    • That’s too bad that you didn’t care for Uncle Boonmee. It’s obviously early to be making final statements. We will just have to wait and see.

      Zero Dark Thirty barely missed my list, but I still thought it was great. It’s awesome that you included The Muppets as well; I loved it too. Bernie, Mysteries of Lisbon, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia have been mentioned by others as well. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten the chance to see them yet. Thanks!

      • Yeah, there’s a few films on other lists that I really need to check out (like A Separation and Beasts of the Southern Wild for example), and even the ones I have seen I need to live with for a bit, maybe see again some day. It wouldn’t be unheard of for me to change my opinion on Boonmee. Give it a few years!

        • That’s understandable. I change my opinion on films on occasion (The Master is a great example of that) and it can take a while before I see merit in some of them. Like you pointed out earlier, retrospect helps a lot in deciding these things. Do watch A Separation and Beasts of the Southern Wild when you get the chance though. They’re both great!

  7. Less comic book movies would be ideal- it’s a sub genre of blockbuster film that is stifling creativity IMO.
    I’d have The Innkeepers on that list, maybe Hugo, and possibly Senna. We loved Looper but don’t think it’s gonna have the staying power of Brick!

    • I’m with you on that one. While I actually enjoyed Dredd last year, I can’t say that it was a great film.
      Hugo and Senna are both great ones. However, I didn’t like The Innkeepers too much. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that one.

  8. Funny, as I was reading this movies started popping into my head. Then I kept going an notice you mentioned them. I LOVE Inception, Amour, Take Shelter, Moonrise Kingdom, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Not a big fan of The Master or Melancholia but it will be interesting to see how they are viewed down the road.

    Great post!

    • Thanks, Keith! Sounds like we’re on the same page for the most part with our picks. Both The Master and Melancholia have certainly brought mixed reviews from people, so it will certainly be interesting what audiences will think of them in the future.

  9. Love your list and admire the question. I’d like to add Flowers of War to the list. I thought the contrasts made the film remarkable, such as horrific acts/ noble acts, the contrasts of color/gray, the Greek Chorus of foils–the virgins and the courtesans, and the blending of west/east cultures. Christian Bale, the acting, cinematography–all marvelous.

  10. Great post. It feels as if films are generally getting worse, whether it’s true or not. Foe me, that’s primarily down to studios having very little faith/trust in original story ideas.

    My favourite (or least favourite!) example to highlight this comes from Universal Pictures. Ted was their biggest grossing film of last year. Whether you love it or hate it… it was an original story, not from a book or TV show or a re-make or a franchise. However, instead of using this as an example to promote the idea that they needed more new stories, the head of the studio (in his annual statement) said that their priority was to concentrate on building existing franchises and properties, including the development of Ted 2 and Ted 3.

    And there you have it.

    • Wow. Come on, Hollywood.
      It’s a perfect example of Hollywood’s lack of creativity. I hadn’t heard that story before but sadly, it doesn’t surprise me. Thanks!

  11. Excellent post Garrett and I believe we’re still getting some very fine movies despite some corners claiming that adult themed movies are no longer getting made. You mention a lot of my favourites of the last couple of years: The Tree of Life, Drive, Melancholia, The Master. I’d also include Shame and I’m desperate to see Uncle Boonmee.

    • You really should try to see Uncle Boonmee if you can, I do think you’d like it. I am surprised that no one has mentioned Shame yet. Thanks, Mark!

  12. Good cinema is always out there, you just have to know where to look and learn not to waste your time with the dreck (like really why even bother discussing the Fast and Furious series or a Michael Bay film? – they are what they are, let’s move on and talk of something with substance). Boonmee and TTOL are tops for me so far, too, and we admire many of the same works from this still young decade…though I don’t think Drive will be soon forgotten and I noticed an absent Winter’s Bone from your discussion. I found The Artist a gimmicky trifle and found Holy Motors a holy and pretentious bore. BUUUUUUT….for the most part, in your overall sentiment and taste…we are on the same page here.

    And this year is shaping up nicely (more so than last year) with films like To the Wonder, The Place Beyond the Pines and especially Mud (which I feel will find its way to the decade’s best list when all is said and done).

    • It’s nice to hear from somebody else who holds Uncle Boonmee in such high regard. Unfortunately, I really know very few who have seen it. I did think Winter’s Bone was good, but it doesn’t quite make it on my top list. Though we don’t agree on The Artist and Holy Motors, I am happy to know that we share the same feelings for many of these films.

      2013 does indeed seem like it is becoming an even better year for cinema than last year. Jeff Nichols is becoming a very exciting talent. Having already made Take Shelter and Mud in this decade, it seems inevitable that one of his films will make the best lists once the decade is over.

  13. Great writeup Garrett and I think we cinephiles share your dread about all those reboots, sequels, etc., basically the creativity well has run dry in Hollywood. But like you said though, I don’t think movies are getting worse and you’ve mentioned that the key to finding good movies is knowing where to look. I mean, we get Die Hard 5 this year but there’s also movies like The Hunt. Also, not every sequel or reboot is crap, I mean one of my most anticipated movie this year is a reboot ;)

    • Very true, Ruth. I am truly looking forward to Man of Steel and it may just be a great reboot. Reboots/remakes can be good, my main problem with them is the fact that they seem to be being made instead of many new, original films. And of course, they generally aren’t nearly as good as the films they are imitating. I’m certainly glad to hear that I’m not alone in thinking these things though. Thanks!

  14. Great post, Garrett! I don’t think movies are getting worse either. It’s just that the amount of movies being made every year gets bigger and bigger, and finding the gems among those is what’s getting harder.

    Among my favorite movies of the decade I’d include Biutiful, Midnight in Paris, Tree of Life, Bridesmaids, A Separation, Somos lo Que Hay and Rust and Bone.

      • Very nice point. I hadn’t thought about the growing number of films made each year, but that does factor into this conversation as well.

        The Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris, and 50/50 are definitely good picks and I really need to revisit Biutiful. A Separation was one that I forgot to put in my list, but would definitely be on there. I had to look up Somos lo Que Hay, but it sounds intriguing. I never did see Beginners, Rust and Bone, or Bridesmaids, but I know you aren’t alone in loving those. Thanks!

  15. When I was a kid growing up in the 1980′s I was spoiled for great Hollywood movies, at least compared to nowadays. Star Wars (the real Star Wars movies I mean), Back To The Future, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, ET, Gremlins, The Terminator, Fright Night, Poltergeist, Robocop, Lost Boys.. wow, it was freaking awesome, and then there were all those old movies from the 1930′s to the 1970′s I loved too, everything from Tarzan to Dracula to Jaws.

    And then the 90′s happened, and Hollywood stopped making movies and started making money instead, and what better way to make money than to play it safe and churn out a procession of safe-bet movies with a predictable profit margin. There have been some high points, LOTR was great, not as great as people like to pretend it is but I loved it, Apollo 13, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, all good stuff, and there have been lesser hit movies like Signs and Ironman – good movies, no complaints here. But the last movie to make it really feel the movie experience like I did when I was a kid was Lord Of The Rings. Well that was over a decade ago now. It’s not enough.

    We have more access to World cinema these days, which is great (back in the old days you’d struggle to get your friends to even sit down in front of any movie that had subtitles unless it was Emmanuelle) but tbh I really miss old-fashioned leave-your-brain-at-home fantasy Hollywood movies.

    Will we ever see the likes of Invaders From Mars again? God that could be the most amazing remake if they just made it a little spookier and darker but stuck to the innocent kitsch fantasy style of the original.

  16. Pingback: Is Cinema Dying? | Cinematic·

  17. I think the quality of films declined a bit, but not substantially, and this may be the result of true talent (acting skills)’s standard going downhill and special effects rising. There was a time when you can get 12 men into one room (e.g. ’12 Angry Men’) and make a film classic, now I don’t think it is possible.

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