2013 turned out to be a pretty bad year for me from a personal standpoint. My pleasant experiences have been marred and tainted by many displeasing ones, including job losses, suicide and relationship worries. It’s nothing that many others have faced, but for the first time in my own life, I’ve found it more than a little overwhelming. Mostly due to the intense timeframe of when these things occurred. It is times like these that make me happy that I can still lose myself in the glare of the screen.
On New Year’s Eve, I once again found myself talking to some old friends about movies, with more current features gaining much of the focus. “I just want to watch silly, stupid things” said a old university friend, who quit film studies during the first year as he felt the course sucked the fun out of the actual watching of movies.
Another friend (who completed film studies with much displeasure) appeared to nod in agreement. This isn’t new to me. I’ve seen a few old friends both in college and university, become disinterested in film, due to having to study it.
As usual, I opened my big mouth and nearly killed the conversation with my belief that when it comes to film, there must be a decent balance between easy entertainment that most audiences appear to crave and of course films which look to enrich the viewer with what it considers intelligent discourse. While it’s great to crunch the corn, slurp the soda and zone out to the often stated (by critics) “mindless spectacle”, I do believe there should also be room for something else. Something that can be savoured without the need for a second or third part to rectify all that was “missing” from the film you just spent XX amount on. What frustrated me with a lot of this year’s viewing, looking back, was that I really noticed that balance starting to slip. Not just from film to film (just speak to Mark Kermode about the false belief of choice at a multiplex) but within film themselves.
Many complained about how disappointing the summer blockbusters were and there are some interesting theories behind that. For me what I found was a lack of risk, ambition and that very balance that we used to find in films before. Three of the biggest films; Iron Man 3, Star Trek into Darkness and Man of Steel were all different franchises at different stages in their cycles, and yet every villain was a typical terrorist and their schemes had very little to differ them. All had lengthy running times, but plots that couldn’t really sustain them. All were shinny enough for brief amusement but did little to cement them within my mind. I couldn’t tell you anything about Star Trek in Darkness now, and I only watched it in the summer. I warmed to Man of Steel while I wrote about the film, but after a week I felt I lied about what I had scribbled down previously. There are other entries that I would like to re-engage with, but I know that deep down those titles can wait. Honestly; it’s not usually like this.
I think part of the problem is this the continuous arrested development which is taking place in mainstream movies. These features are becoming more and more impersonal with the only thing connecting them being the knowledge of the brand itself. The Benidict Cumberbatch’s twist that wasn’t a twist in Star Trek into Darkness was a very clear example of this. The reason this character exists in this film universe is only to remind you that he does. The same goes with the vague and needless nods that littered Spike Lee’s oddly limp Oldboy. The words cut and paste has never felt more apt. But then again it is said that they’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.
With that in mind, I found it harder to gain that inmate connection I often get with movies. I’m now even less surprised by the continuous rise of the television golden age. The Walter Whites and Dexters of the small screen, present character conundrums that seem to appear less and less as brand recognition and franchise entries strengthen their hold. Let’s not lie to ourselves as if the era of Don Simpson didn’t exist and that all mainstream, populist films gave us intellectual sustenance. Broad is broad. But you only need to watch the first 30 minutes of A Good Day to Die Hard to notice there’s been an uncomfortable shift somewhere. As these characters and narratives are given less nuance, the warm feeling I enjoy has dimmed slightly.
The rabid internet culture hasn’t helped things, nor has the transitional state caused by technology dismantling the business model as we know it. Now we have an audience that want original and new product that doesn't stray from whatever source material it’s from and they want it at decent quality... for free. A quick glance at a film forum, comment board or twitter feed has reminded me just how all consuming the internet as become.
Normally I’m more critical of the idea that the quality of films are going down and often mention that we, the audience, are masters of our own cinematic destiny. Yet as 2013 wore on, I found myself becoming wearier of things I usually found easier to ignore. I’ve moved back to a town which has two cinemas, and yet both still show signs of only chasing the same audience to compete. It becomes maddening to know that certain films play at both while others (that could possibly do ok business) play at neither. I’ve upped my streaming options at home by signings on Netflix, but as this article illustrates, Netflix isn’t as welcoming to certain types of film lover as you may think. Issues I’ve found problematic in the past have improved their voice and learned to shout a little louder.
I shouldn’t complain too much, because as always, I still had some great film experiences at the cinema as well as at home. I still managed to struggle with picking ten favourite films out of a fair few that really hit the mark and I still enjoyed more than I truly hated. I’m just in the minority that’s seeing a bit too much of mould, and wouldn’t mind it being broken a bit more. Silly stupid films are fine, but there used to be a time when they felt smarter than that.
As always; these are my favourites and you shouldn’t complain if you don’t see yours (No order):
What Richard Did
Damn Fine Honorable Mentions: