It’s Thanksgiving today, so things are going to be a little quiet around these parts, and Hollywood is also on a bit of a break, taking a breather before the last big movie month of the year gets underway. And we’re sure many of you will be busy eating/digesting turkey between now and Monday, while spending time off with friends and family. So in the spirit of the holiday, we wanted to share with you with some thoughts on what we’re thankful for in 2012.
Not especially high on our list this year is New Yorker film critic David Denby. He’s unquestionably a great film writer, but in recent months, he’s become a sort of film criticism equivalent of Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino.” Back in September, he was one of several critics to declare the death of cinema as an artform, a statement, which as we related, has been repeated with some regularity over the last century or so. And a few weeks later, mostly out of a desire to plug his new book, he’s the latest to call time of death on movies for grown-ups, saying that all studios want to make are blockbusters, animation and genre pictures, but that “the range of films made by the studios has shrunk — serious drama is virtually out of the question.”
Such observations are, again, not new; the great Mark Harris said much the same at the beginning of 2011. And, in general, there’s a degree to which Denby has a point, but the few months since his piece was published have left him as red-faced as a Fox News pundit predicting a landslide victory for Mitt Romney.
Just ten days after Denby’s piece was published, “Argo,” directed by and starring Ben Affleck, landed in theaters courtesy of Warner Bros. And ever since the actor started directing, he has specialized in making smart, adult dramatic thrillers that are exactly the kind Denby laments as being long gone. “Argo” focuses on a subject that’s hardly the kind of stuff that has Hollywood executives clamoring to give the green light — the Iranian hostage crisis — and stars Affleck, under a hearty beard, alongside a host of character actors in three piece suits and interesting facial hair. And yet the film’s been an enormous hit, with both critics and audiences (read our review here), and is closing in on $100 domestically with Oscar in its sight.
Then there’s “Flight” (our review), exactly the same kind of mid-budget, star-laden, R-rated, character-driven drama that many claim never get made these days. On a modest number of screens, the film opened excellently, has held up well, and has taken $60 million after three weeks in theaters. And more recently, there’s been Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln,” a two-and-a-half hour, talky drama about politics, which took more than $20 million this past weekend, on a mere 2000 screens. Let’s not forget the strong performances of films like “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Anna Karenina” and others in limited release. There’s plenty more to come before the end of the year, like the firmly R-rated “Django Unchained” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” or even the minor key “Promised Land.” You don’t have to adore all these films, but they’re certainly not aimed at 13-year-olds.
Of course, the top grossing films of the year are the usual mix of sequels, superheroes and 3D animations, with “Magic Mike,” at number 21, the closest thing to an adult drama among the year’s biggest hits. But to a degree, that’s always been the case. The ten top grossing films of the 1950s number four Disney animations, three Biblical epics (the post-war equivalent of the superhero blockbuster), a musical, the all-star “Around The World In 80 Days,” and the lone outlier, “From Here To Eternity.”
The 10 biggest hits of the 1960s include three Disneys, three musicals, a Bond movie alongisde “The Graduate,” “Doctor Zhivago” and “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid,” while in the 1970s, “Grease” “Superman,” “Smokey And The Bandit,” “Animal House” and “Blazing Saddles” (the latter two the equivalents of today’s Apatow or Todd Phillips comedies, with the negative reviews to match) sit alongside “The Exorcist” and “The Godfather.”
The treatment of movies as product, the endless cranking out of sequels, might be more pronounced, but we’re not sure that when judged within their genre, “Funny Girl,” “The Robe” or “The Towering Inferno” are inherently superior to “The Avengers” or “The Dark Knight Rises.” And for all the kicking against the studio system, there are still people on the side of the angels. People like Scott Rudin, who has new films from Noah Baumbach, the Coen Brothers, Paul Greengrass and Wes Anderson coming in 2013. Or like 20th Century Fox chairman Jim Gianopolous, who explained his decision to back the risky, $120 million “Life Of Pi” by telling the LA Times: “It can’t always be about the bottom line. It has to be about the art and the value of cinema that we all got into this business for.”
So we’re thankful to them, to those like them working within the system to get good movies made, and those that work within the independent world, companies as varied as The Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Classics, Focus Features, Oscilloscope, Music Box Films and Kino Lorber among many others, who want to ensure that great movies not aimed at teenagers actually get seen. And we’re thankful to the filmmakers who continue to pursue projects that aren’t based on comic books or video games, who refuse to patronize or condescend to an audience.
And this year, most of all, we’re thankful to you, the audience, for actually showing up to these films. We cover most sides of the cinematic equation here at The Playlist, but we know that the films you care the most about tend to be the ones we care the most about too. For all the crap that reaches cinema screens, it’s rare to find a week where there isn’t something worthwhile in theaters — whether at the arthouse or multiplex — and while stuff falls between the cracks, it’s people like you that show that there is an audience for mature, thought-provoking films for grown-ups. From all the movies mentioned above to foreign films like “Holy Motors,” “Amour,” “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia,” to indie movies like “Bernie,” “Take This Waltz,” “Beasts Of The Southern Wild,” and more, they are finding, surprising, challenging and entertaining audiences. Films like this might not make a billion dollars, but they are proof that cinema is far from dead, and there are plenty of stories left to tell.
Thanks for reading this year and have a great Thanksgiving. Let us know what you’re thankful for in 2012 below.