I used to write a lot about movies. In fact, The Next Phase Blog has a whole category for movies. Also, I used to try and see all the Academy Award nominees so I could make up my own mind.
The Covid Pandemic ended all that. The coronavirus closed the curtain on moviegoing first by shutting the theaters and then by making it dangerous and unpleasant to sit in a huge room with hundreds of other people for two hours or more.
Last year, I saw exactly none of the Academy Award nominees. No surprise there. We have seen just three movies in a theater in the past two years. And we did that in mid-afternoons when the theaters were almost empty.
Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 2023 Academy Award nominees and my reaction was “WTF?”
A Watery World and a Star Wars Ripoff
My first surprise came in realizing that we had seen two and a quarter of the nominated films. The second surprise was wondering why they had been nominated at all.
- We caught Top Gun: Maverick on our small, failing, substandard television at home. I thought it had a fifth-grade script full of cliches, a saccharine and reverential attitude toward Tom Cruise’s Maverick, and a cheesy, overused plot. I saw Star Wars a long time ago and I know when a new movie is ripping off an old one. Does running the Death Star’s trench sound familiar?
- We saw Avatar: The Way of Water on a Thursday afternoon in the theater. It’s visually stunning and, if you plan to see it, definitely go to the theater for a 3D show. But the dialogue was stilted and the plot unoriginal. It uses multiple shopworn tropes, so you know what’s going to happen before it appears on the screen.
- And we watched about a half hour of Everything Everywhere All at Once at home. We love science fiction movies and time travel doesn’t faze us. But this movie struck us as a silly mish-mash involving an unlikable woman who yells at her family and bullies her husband. Then she gets really confused. We turned it off after a half hour.
Grumpy Men / Abusive Woman
With a couple of exceptions, the rest of the nominees hold no interest for me. The major theme of this year’s awards seems to be unlikable people. Consider:
- The Banshees of Inisherin: “Two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them.”
Translation: Two grumpy codgers spend two hours yelling at one another. I suppose this is the logical extension of the buddy movie—when the bromance ends and they get divorced. The movie stars two men and is directed by a man who also wrote it. Count me out. I would pay money not to see that.
- Tár: “Set in the international world of Western classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tar, widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and the very first female director of a major German orchestra.”
Well, that sounds promising. Except that Lydia Tár is a brutal, abusive authoritarian who treats the people around her and the orchestra members who play for her very badly. That makes it like a musical version of “The Menu,” with concerts instead of dinner. It also gives us another unlikable character. I have spent enough time with difficult, abusive, and offensive bosses to avoid spending money and two hours of my time in the presence of another.
- All Quiet on the Western Front: “A young German soldier’s terrifying experiences and distress on the western front during World War I.”
That gives us another war movie and two hours of PTSD. I don’t know who decided we needed a remake of a WWI movie based on a 1929 novel about extreme physical and mental trauma but I decline to participate. No, thank you.
And so it goes. The only other nominees that even vaguely interest me are The Fabelmans and Women Talking. Neither requires going to a theater. With a little patience, I’ll catch them on TV down the road a bit.
Blockbuster Academy Award Nominees
The pundits are all making a big deal about two blockbuster movies among the nominees. I understand why they were included and it had nothing to do with quality. These are the movies that actually drove fans into theaters and racked up enormous profits. In Hollywood, box office results count for a lot.
As of this Monday, the global box office grosses for these movies total:
- Avatar: The Way of Water — $229,731,601
- Top Gun: Maverick: $718,732,820, making it the fifth highest-grossing movie of all time. And it’s likely to go much higher
Get the picture? The only movies raking in big bucks these days are blockbusters and superhero epics.
The Future of Movies
What do we make of this? How does it affect the future of movie theaters and Hollywood? Looking at the Academy Award nominees, one might conclude:
- They should make only blockbusters and superhero movies from now on.
- Television streaming offers the best outlet for small, art-house “Oscar-bait” movies.
- Hollywood needs to come up with another model for drawing viewers back to empty theaters.
They could start by putting their production dollars into movies that aren’t about nasty, abusive, unlikable characters. People buy tickets to see good stories. Let’s start there.