Why Did 2010 Suck So Much? (Part 1 … err, 2)
2010 was a bad year for American movies. A very bad year. On the other hand (the left), 2009 was a very good year, which only makes the amount of garbage that’s been put out this year even more pointed. Why is that, I ask? Why was 2010 so fucking bad?
Just to take care of this now — every year there are going to be outliers. There are films that are clearly against whatever trend you’re trying to argue. And this year, thank god, the outliers are more pointed (and firmly placed within a specific category, mostly). Which does three things. One, it goes against my point. Which is my point. Right. Also, it serves as a relief. Because without those awesome films (and believe me, they were awesome), the rest of the year would have been unbearable. And the third thing it does, is prove my point. What is my point? Well, I’ll figure it out by the end of the entry. I really haven’t thought past the title.
Hey, look at me, I’m just like Hollywood.
My goal in this entry (remember when I said there was going to be a goal? And now there is one. I look all professional-like now. It’s a shame I’m going to go and eventually do something stupid like take my dick out and ruin it. And you’re gonna be like, “Goddamnit, Mike, this is why we can’t have nice things!”), is to figure out why this year seemed as though it was one of the worst movie years in a long time.
Now, I know last year wasn’t exactly the greatest year either, but at last year seemed like a lot of good shit happened. What I think the big difference is, upon first glance (because you really think I’m going to look further into this if I can solve it in one glance?), is the fact that a lot of indie movies (and by indie, I mean films that got limited releases. It’s hard to get at what a true indie is anymore, but here I’m drawing the line at the films that weren’t endlessly shoved down our throats by countless advertising and such) were really good. My farmer’s almanac, if you will, the guidebook I’m using here, my handy dandy notebook, is the wonderful article Wikipedia has of the year in film. It’s great. It tells you what were essentially all the films that were released in theaters that will be even remotely germane to the discussion. Films from Europe and Asia are not germane or ukraine to the discussion. Sorry, Europe. Your consolation prize is a better exchange rate.
Now, before I do any form of research (which,implies a lot more than it’s actually going to be), I’m just gonna throw out some theories as to why this year sucked (before I even explain the specific definition of sucked. Also, throw out means throwing them out there and literally throwing them out. Just checking.):
1. It’s all James Cameron’s fault.
Seriously, look at the amount of 3D and faux 3D movies that have come out since Avatar dropped. It’s sickening. Look at the amazing amount of special effects in movies nowadays. Everything looks like it was shot on green screen and nothing looks real anymore. Wanna know why Inception works? Set-pieces. Scale models. We can tell when that shit’s fake. It looks fake. This whole advancement in technology seemingly made Hollywood think that just because they can use all this computer stuff to create shit that has never been seen before, they have to go full throttle and abandon all the makeup and special effects that paved the way. Wanna know why T2 and Jurassic Park were so awesome? Because everything aside from the CG was totally real. The CG was both a major, and minor part of the overall product. And, it was seamlessly integrated in the fact that it was the only thing created. But it was done in such a way that nobody noticed (or nobody cared). So, we blame Jim Cameron for being so successful that Hollywood thinks they can just do what he does. But he’s so far ahead of the curve and so far advanced that Hollywood is left just using whatever they can decipher from his notes and tracks. The result is this:
Not quite revolutionary, is it? Also quite dim, too.
That was a pun. But really, you can’t just shit out a 3D movie.
2. The year in movies is always the same. It only seems good or bad based on how your year was.
Incorrect. My year was awesome. I had good shit happen to me all year. Except for a couple of weeks there in the middle. We call that Knight and Day.
3. These films were the first complete post-writer’s strike batch.
Last year’s movies were already in development when the strike happened, so all that really got affected with them were rewrites for a short time and when directors tried to write the films themselves. This year’s films are the ones the studios green-lit and produced post-strike. Maybe they played it safe.
I don’t buy this theory, but it is a theory. What’s more likely is this next one.
4. Seeing the downturn in attendance and profit from all these sequels and remakes, Studios tried to use “more original material.”
I buy this to an extent. I buy it as long as we have a warranty. So it can be returned once it proves defective.
It’s obvious the studios are looking for an answer. Despite their calm on the surface, shit’s going wrong. The movie pirating is just a scapegoat. Because if a movie is worth the money, people will go. They’re losing money because there are so many DVD editions out there (looking at you, Peter Jackson) that people aren’t even buying those anymore. Remember when studios would release barebones DVDs as soon as the window opened up and then wait to release all the special features and shit until like 8 months later? Yeah, that shit don’t fly no mo. Now they have to deal with this VOD shit and people watching movies on iPhones. And that’s just the ancillary market. Add this to the downturn in overall attendance (you know those numbers they pull out each week? Box office attendance up 4.7% from last year? All bullshit. Because inflation and rising ticket prices mean nothing when overall attendance is dropping — how long before that formula gets them in trouble? This isn’t similar to what happened to our economy at all, is it? (Is it? I really don’t know. Because if it is, I just said something really intelligent)), and you’ve got some nervous fucking studios.
So, seeing how audiences didn’t give a shit about all these diminishing returns sequels, or worse, sequels that got “bigger” and “better” in order to try to top the first ones (They see something works and think the formula to repeat success is to “do that again, just add more.” And in return we get these loud, incoherent messes. This is because studios don’t understand that they don’t need to outdo themselves after an initial success. The key for the second one is, instead of adding more, stripping down everything and giving the audience more story, with specific, isolated, awesome bursts of action. Examples: Two Towers. Here’s a movie that is entirely predicated on expanding the elements of the first film and bridging the gap to the third. They don’t give you anything but story and character development for the first two hours. And then, boom, huge fucking 60 minute battle. That’s how you make a sequel. Also, Empire. Nothing happens in that movie. There is one battle at the beginning and the rest is story development. That big Vader/Luke fight? More character development than actual fighting. It’s not about the action. There’s a reason that’s considered the best one. What was Transformers 2? Anyone? Anyone?), studios are left holding the bag, wondering, “what did we do wrong?” (Or, what is more likely the case, they don’t care what they did wrong, they just want to tweak the movies they did put out so they make that extra $60 million they’re not making. Which will only provide slight changes but still mediocre overall product. But I’m Pangloss-ing this situation. I’m assuming the best of all possible worlds.)
So, studios, seeing that name product, emotionless decisions (“That worked. Let’s do that again, but more”) and money won’t solve all the world’s problems (except AIDs. Magic Johnson seems to have figured that shit out.), resolved (finally) to go with more original material, treating their audiences as people who do actually want some story and plot with their explosions and (whatever the fuck studios think we want). Or, more likely, consumers who want more bang for their buck (and for once, “bang” does not actually mean “boom.” Bang actually means, “effort”).
However, like most Hollywood decisions, I think it became corrupted along the way. I think, in getting their original material, they got hesitant, thinking audiences wouldn’t respond to it (stuck in their old ways), so they then added the shit they’d normally put in, all those stock situations and caricatures we love so much. That’s why there are so many films that seem like they came from good ideas (or actually did come from good ideas. I’ve discussed what happens when you fuck with good scripts), only to be diminished by studio-imposed moments. It was like the studios saw something like Going the Distance, and were like, “No one’s gonna go see this movie unless we have a hi-larious moment where Justin Long tries to get a spray tan!”, a moment that has nothing to do with the movie and was clearly thrown in for no reason other than the studios wanted another “laugh.” It’s like they’re scared shitless of filmmakers’ abilities to tell stories like they were afraid of the stars getting too much power back in the 30s, and they reacted by signing them to those indentured servant contracts that essentially let them control everything the actors to the point where they were told who they fucked (I remember one story where a rumor started spreading that Jimmy Stewart was gay — “Say it ain’t so, Clarence” — also, tabloids were just as prevalent then as they are now…except then, there was no photographic proof a lot of the time, so everything was just good old-fashioned libel. Hard to tell which era was better — and, I believe he was working for MGM at the time, so Irving Thalberg, hearing these rumors and thinking they would hurt Jimmy’s box office standing, took Jimmy out to a high-profile party, sat him down at a table with two nearly underage women, and essentially told him, “I don’t want you leaving this party until you’ve had sex with either or both of them!”). Studios seem to think that audiences aren’t patient enough to sit through a developing story, and need things they recognize (bursts of “action,” “humor,” all of this alleged, because what the studios see as action and humor is about the equivalent of baking something using the exact ingredients prescribed, with the exact amounts — sure, you’ll get it done, but most experienced cooks know that a dash more of one ingredient while holding back on another can greatly enhance the overall flavor. It’s bland and whitewashed, is what I’m saying. Like Tom Sawyer’s fence) in order to get through it.
The end result of all of this are movies that are mostly good that are bogged down with unnecessary baggage or movies that were completely torn apart by the forced entry of studio interference. I call it the “Fat Guy in a Little Coat” dynamic. It’s a lot better than the rape analogy.
2010 seems to me like a year full of movies like this. Movies that are heading in the right direction, but are too weighed down by all the baggage from the old direction.
Hopefully, what we get out of 2010 in the future is that it was a year of transition. Which would be awesome, because that was the year I graduated, and it would tie into my life too, and then I can feel all happy even though no one else would give a shit but I’d be all, “look how cute I am,” and then genocide will still occur. But what we should be getting out of this year is that, it’s (hopefully) a year of transition from a firmly studio-controlled, by-the-numbers environment, to a more open one, where people will be given (even a little bit. I’m not asking for much, but enough) freedom to try things and show these studios that it’s okay to love again. I’m looking for something not quite the 70s (I don’t we’ll ever get that lucky again), and almost 90s (all that independent stuff popping up…boy, those were the days, weren’t they?), where there’s a nice mix of huge franchises and original material being put out. That would be a compromise both the studios and I would be happy with. I’m hopeful that this is the case, because the last time we had a swing this harsh was the 60s, when all those big budget musicals and epics that the studios were banking all their money in were flopping, and it brought us the 70s, where all the executives were like, “Go ahead, try it.” Bring back the cowboys. The 70s brought us some weird, awesome shit. I want me some more of that. Christ, I miss the Cold War.
What I’m saying is, this is a point where, I think, we can go either way. The studios can let the leash out a little bit and then yank it right back once they get a handle on it again, or they can let the unruly beast that is freedom roam around a bit and see what happens. The business isn’t going anywhere. All I’m saying is, when the Coen brothers can have a $100 million movie, there’s clearly an audience willing to sit through something that doesn’t have explosions and action beats every five minutes.
However, this doesn’t answer my question. This answers “What exactly was 2010?” Aside from a year, which was the obvious answer. My question was, “Why did 2010 suck so much?” Because it still sucked. So, what we’ll do now is take a break, come back tomorrow, recoup a bit, and then I’ll both define exactly what I mean by the word suck, and also come up with what I think is the reason 2010 sucked so much. It’s great, because after I come up with the reason, I won’t have to come up with what needs to be done to stop things from sucking in the future. We did that just now. I may work backwards, but goddamn, there’s no way you can’t say I didn’t do anything. (B+ … it keeps coming back to that. It’s like Charles Dickens. Sooner or later everything comes back to old Charlie. It just does.)
This is what’s known as a cliffhanger.