Revisting the Collective: Debunking Criticisms Against Modern Cinema


(I haven't reposted an old Collective Publishing column in a long time and I do still have the goal of getting all of these up on the site at some point, so this seems like a great day to get another up here.)

Being a film writer and lover of cinema means I end up following many film critics and buffs on social media. This also means that I get to hear the same complaints on an almost daily basis. Modern cinema definitely deserves its fair share of harsh criticisms, and major studios’ current strategies can be infuriating for someone who love movies as an art form. But I’m also aware that the majority of backlash against the movie industry are often fueled by nostalgia induced blindness and overreactions. Modern movies have their problems, but it has never been perfect, and most of the current criticisms are deeply flawed. 

Here are some of the most common shots aimed at the modern movie industry along with my explanations of why they’re completely wrong. 

1. They don’t make movies for adults anymore. 2014 movies like Boyhood, A Most Wanted Man, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Grand Seduction, Joe, Chef, and Run & Jump would contradict the most common of all complaints. I’ll totally agree that a mature character-driven drama is a rare creature at the multiplexes and outside of the Oscar-bait fall season it is rarely released by the major studios that are now seemingly completely focused on teenage boys and the international market. We will likely never again get big budget and grand sweeping pictures focused on telling complex and nuanced stories for adults, but that isn’t the same as all adult-centric movies being completely extinct. 

The budgets are tighter and big stars may need to take salary cuts, but there are many independent film distributors looking to satisfy the hunger for mature pictures. With the exception of Boyhood, which is an incomparable and intimate picture that is truly unique, all the pictures above have beloved elements from cinema of past decades. Actually, the rise of video-on-demand and streaming services has not only increased accessibility to independent and international pictures but has also given filmmakers more opportunities to tell creative and daring stories with minimum of studio interference. Mature and intelligent stories have been in abundance in recent years, and the movie lover just needs to look in more places than the local multiplexes. (CS: To be fair, I think the criticism was mostly aimed at big studios not releasing these kind of movies and the mid to big budget movies aimed at adults being an almost extinct animal. It has probably even got worse now and with Covid, these type of movies are likely destined for streaming services.)

2. All Hollywood does now is adaptations, remakes and sequels. The argument is claiming that all modern movies are unoriginal and at some point the creativity has been squeezed out of the movie industry. The problem is that one is working on the assumption that this is actually a new phenomenon and all past classic works were wholly original. The act of adapting or remaking a work of fiction is actually older than movies. The most famous playwright of all-time William Shakespeare adapted almost all of his plays from previous productions and works of fiction. This includes all of his most iconic works like Hamlet, King Lear, and Romeo & Juliet. It was common practice for playwrights to adapt well-established stories, because it typically drew much larger audiences (hmmm. . . that sounds eerily familiar). 

Most of the all-time highest revered pictures are based on other works including Godfather, Casablanca, Vertigo, Gone with the Wind, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Each of those movies I just mentioned either has had a sequel or remake created in some type of medium. Before the very popular 1939 The Wizard of Oz, there had already been several cinematic versions of Frank Baum’s classic novel series. Two of the biggest cult classic horror movies from the 1980s, The Thing and The Fly, are both remakes of 1950s movies. The reality is that for many of the complainers they’re now just aware of original works that are being remade or adapted rather than this becoming some new and awful trend. 

If anything it has proven that adaptations and remakes (and even sequels) can be wonderful works of art, and it is just filmmakers using their talents and vision to create a new telling of a (sometimes) classic tale. (CS: I think it has definitely got worse, but the unfortunate thing is that the fully original ideas like The Nice Guys bomb at the box office, so studios return to the 'sure things.)

3. TV series are way better than movies now. The rise of cable has led to a new golden age for television, especially dramas. The success has motivated many established movie stars like Matthew McConaughey and Billy Bob Thornton to star in their own series and for several critically acclaimed filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and David Fincher to direct some episodes (and produce series as well). Series like Fargo and The Americans deliver rich and complex stories that feel cinematic and bring back memories of the subversive and counter-culture pictures of the 1970s. 

There is no denying the high-quality of these shows or the fact they tackle subjects that are now often absent from mainstream movies. Even the best TV series don’t quite compare to the cinematography, aesthetic, musical scores, and overall big event feel that motion pictures can offer. Movies can still lay claim to the most memorable moments and stirring performances, because they have a budget and shooting schedule that is only concentrating on two hours of storytelling while television has a smaller budget and tight shooting schedule for 13 to 22 hours of programming a year. Even though I do still prefer movies over television, it is important to establish that despite both being visual presentations that they’re very different mediums. 

Television is long-form storytelling that is trying to hook viewers over several years while movies are largely designed to be major stand-alone events (even sequels tend to largely be isolated storytelling). It is just as unfair to compare movies to television, as it would be comparing either to novels or stage plays. The form, style, and aspects of each medium are drastically different. 

2014 has actually turned out to be a pretty good movie year, both in the independent and mainstream scenes. Sure, there has been stinkers (it was a Transformers year, after all), the box office has tanked, and there are some major annoyances (why does every other movie have to be in 3D?), (CS: Thankfully, 3D seems to have faded some) but there has also been many magical moments on the big screen too (you really need to check out Boyhood). The cinema is still a place worth visiting, and hopefully, the final few months of 2014 will have lots to back up that statement. (CS: I think this may be one of my last columns as Collective Publishing closed up shop unexpectantly in November.)