Volume 19, Issue 8
Sadly, not every film can be the first Shrek – Not every film can be widely popular and beloved. It’s an immensely difficult task to accomplish, and to me is achieved through finding the perfect balance of artistic quality and commerciality. Raw filmmaking quality and the inclusion of advanced film techniques often creates enjoyable films, however enjoyable films that nobody bothers to see. On the flip side, extreme commerciality without real quality might achieve the $$$ at the box office, but nonetheless doesn’t translate into must-see events.
This particularly struck me watching this year’s Academy Awards, where it dawned on me the average person has arguably never even heard of many of the nominated films. This is especially noticeable in comparison to last year’s awards, where the nominated films were widely discussed, enjoyable, must-see events. In my own experience, many people recommended or wanted to go see films like Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker, and 1917. I can’t really recall anyone having recommended films from this year’s field of nominees to me.
It goes without saying the dreaded COVID is greatly to blame. Cinemas were shut and movies were delayed out of this awards season, leading to a depleted field of nominees. It could also be said that there is a shift occurring away from movies and towards TV/streaming. It is undeniable that these reasons contributed, but I don’t think they are entirely to blame either. Many of the nominated films were available on streaming services, and for us in Melbourne cinemas have been open for many months. I’d also argue that while this was a depleted field of films, the major delayed films were probably unlikely to meaningfully compete and dramatically alter the field of nominees. Finally, while there probably is a general shift towards TV/Streaming, I don’t think it is sizeable enough to have established this degree of ambivalence for movies so quickly.
It could also be argued that perhaps these films were simply not as good as those of previous years, and this is what caused the drop in popularity. Did the Academy slap the ‘Oscar Nominated’ banner on undeserving films? I would say probably not. To me, these films were of the same quality and as worthy of seeing as previous years. In my humble opinion, the explanation we are looking for lies in this balancing act required to generate a popular film. It is arguable that this year’s nominees tilted too far towards the artistic quality side of the scale, and thus much further away from the commerciality side, culminating in this complete lack of care and low popularity. Mank, Sound of Metal, The Father, and even Nomadland are all examples of this.
All irrefutably great films, but great films that the average person has no real interest in bothering to pay money to see at the cinema. I’m beginning to think that the reason these films were not popular is that the content we desire, both generally and post pandemic, has started to shift. Having lived through, and sadly even still living in, one of the strangest and most surreal times imaginable we are looking for whatever will entertain us the most. In seeking this content I’d say we are far more accepting of lower artistic quality but highly commercial and enjoyable works. Movies and shows that are less serious, easy to view, and capable of watching while on the phone. This is what becomes popular today, this is what becomes the must see and widely discussed content. The surrealism of the times means we want things to distract us, and the more commercial a film or show is today the greater the chance it will provide light or easy entertainment, and thus achieve this enjoyable distraction we so desire.
With a lack of movie releases both now and during the pandemic, viewing pushed towards streaming and TV, effectively towards consumed time the most. What are the most watched, most discussed shows? Tiger King, Bridgerton, Emily in Paris, Umbrella Academy, MAFS, WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, the US College Admissions one, the list goes on. To be clear, I’m by no means saying that you are of poor taste if you watched any of these, I watched almost all of them and my taste is impeccable #tastemaker #coolkid. The point is that it’s not controversial to say that while enjoyable and popular, none of them are attempting to be high-art worthy of awards.
Whether this potential shift towards lower quality but highly enjoyable content is only pandemic related, or representative of a greater societal shift is yet to be completely seen. However, with streaming already having dramatically reduced the movie business, and with the arrival of culture dominating Disney+ Star Wars and Marvel TV Shows, I think this shift is only going to increase in the future. Furthermore, the films that were delayed in the pandemic were generally the big commercial blockbuster types, exactly the types of films I’m talking about here, meaning cinemas over the next 12-18 months are going to be heavily populated with these types of films – Marvel alone has four films coming in 2021. For the discussed reasons I think it’s likely we will all heavily embrace these films, encouraging studios to shift their resources more substantially towards them in the future.
Then again, who really knows. At the end of the day if we get more Godzilla v Kong movies (#teamkongforlife) I’m happy. Whether I’m willing to make that trade at the expense of resources going towards ‘high-art serious films’ is another question.
Tim Irving is a first year JD student.
The views in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of De Minimis or its Editors.