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For the love of movies: The Past, Present, and Future of Cinema and what makes us fans (1 Viewer)

BobO'Link

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I grew up watching mostly old movies (TV stations of those years had lots of time they needed to fill and older movies were a perfect solution) and had mostly a "meh" attitude towards most "contemporary" movies. Sure I watched many of them but didn't think as highly of the majority of them as I did the older (30s-50s) material I'd watched. Over time some of those I had pretty much written off I've come to better appreciate. And I *still* prefer the older material (pre 60s) over newer material.
 

benbess

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....Throughout human history, the majority of people a majority of the time engage with material that is contemporary to them.

To be interested in film appreciation should not mean that one must only be asked to appreciate material made decades before their birth....

There's a lot of truth to this, but I'll suggest that it's incomplete. In the 19th century, for instance, Shakespeare was hugely popular. People who are interested in appreciating a specific art form, whether it's literature, painting, film, or something else, often don't just absorb what's being made in their day, but the best of what was created in earlier eras as well.
 

Winston T. Boogie

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And though this may not be want everyone wants to hear, The Godfather is a 51 year old movie. Think about what was most meaningful to you when you were younger. Did you grow up mostly preferring material that was contemporary to you, or did you prefer material that was over half a century old? Throughout human history, the majority of people a majority of the time engage with material that is contemporary to them.

I think this is something that was different when I was a boy in the 1970s. As Bob mentions, the access to movies was either TV or going to a cinema. So, with TV you watched what was on. They played a lot of old movies so I would see films shot in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and really did not think of them differently than the pictures that were contemporary. I was just interested in seeing movies. The kids and younger people in those days watched everything because that was what was available. You would end up talking to other kids about what had been shown on TV. The age of the picture did not really matter. Just if you enjoyed it.

Now, I do recall that there was a big debate among younger people then about black & white and color pictures. There were some kids that only wanted to watch color films or shows. I liked both and basically it was about if I enjoyed the story or the show. I liked things like The Honeymooners, The Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Ma and Pa Kettle...mainly because these were shown on TV and my grandfather loved all this stuff. So, I knew and liked the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin.

We did not have the massive volume of choice that exists now, so back then, it was far more likely that you would enjoy things from decades before you were born. Also, pictures were a bigger deal to people then. I think that was in part because we did not have all kinds of other distractions, the internet, video games, streaming...then there was basically the shared experience of going to a cinema or everybody watched the movie they showed on TV the night before and talked about it the next day.

It basically created this experience where you were exposed to a lot of different kinds of pictures and your choices were not narrowed down by an algorithm to match something you already watched. You would see a western, a musical, a drama, a monster movie, an old movie, a newer movie. Really, your tastes would likely end up being pretty diverse. I notice this with people more in my age range. With younger people now, it seems their tastes have been whittled down to a much smaller pocket of films and this surprises me because so much of film history is available to them on demand.

It perplexes me but I notice a sameness now in popular music as well. Which again seems like it may in part be driven by what people hear being driven by an algorithm. You like this, so listen to this because this sounds like that.

The funny thing about pictures now is, I have never heard so much talk about diversity but in terms of what pictures get made, and what people want to see...I don't think there has ever been less diversity in the types of pictures. Everything seems to have to be like something else and I wonder is that because it needs to fit or they are trying to fit new pictures into an algorithm selection process.

Now with AI, and a writer's strike, I am thinking this is only going to get worse. I have pointed out many times that so many scripts are so similar, they basically use the same outline over and over, that you no longer need people to write them. Now you can just ask AI to give you a script that is like the last big blockbuster and it will spit that out. No writer needed. Closing in on no actors needed, and no director needed. AI can create the film using images of actors and copy the digital imagery from any other film.

Music is moving in the same way. And what frightens artists is, some people will just like the AI versions better.
 

Sultanofcinema

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Great points. It really takes a lot for me to put my key in my car and go to a film. The only films I want to see theatrically in the upcoming months are MI7 because they are better than the current James Bond films and are what the Bond films used to be, Asteroid City, because Wes Anderson still uses stop motion, animation and reminds me that there was once an art to making films aside from sitting at a computer and making a film like 300. I wouldn't venture near Fast X or Indiana Jones and the 401K plan. Luckily I had access to a lot of theaters than ran very different films in the 60's and 70's, so my exposure to foreign, oddball and independent movies was greater. I was also viewing films that friends of mine were forbidden to see. I have nothing against those other films and still enjoy people talking about them. It's just that I would rather be watching something that interests me. I also enjoy guilty pleasures every once in a while such as Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar. I laughed at the silliness of it all and had a good time just as I was entertained by Operation Fortune.
 

jayembee

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A guy heard me talking about The Godfather on the radio years ago and I actually ran into him as he recognized my voice from Radio. He said he had watched The Godfather and was very bored and disappointed with it. The first question I asked was where and how he watched it. He watched the film over a period of two weeks at 15 min intervals on his cell phone during breaks. I told him we both saw something different, he didn't understand and I explained the proper way and setting of watching a motion picture.

I've had a number of similar...let's call then "debates"...regarding 2001: A Space Odyssey. I've come across any number of people who found it boring and not understanding why anyone makes a big deal about it. And I understand that there are people who just aren't going to be taken with it, and that's OK. But more often than not, I find that people who think it's a big nothing-burger watched it on TV in pan-&-scan. There was one time I convinced someone to see it on the big screen at a local art/rep movie house. He still didn't care much for it on the whole, but he did admit to understanding why seeing it on a big screen made a difference.
 

jayembee

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And though this may not be want everyone wants to hear, The Godfather is a 51 year old movie. Think about what was most meaningful to you when you were younger. Did you grow up mostly preferring material that was contemporary to you, or did you prefer material that was over half a century old?

I rarely thought about it. I was born in 1953. During my youth, I liked watching SF/fantasy/horror/monster movies. I watched them on TV whenever I had the chance, and never considered how old they were. Certainly, in those days, it typically took quite a while before a new movie made its way to Saturday afternoon television, but to me, a movie I hadn't seen before was a "new" movie to me whether it was five years old or 30 years old. The only movies I ever thought of as "old" were silent films, and they weren't often shown on TV in those days, other than perhaps Public Television.

I started specifically indulging in watching films from the 30s and 40s (ones that weren't the genre films I consistently soaked in at a younger age) when I was about 20. To this day, while there are certainly "contemporary" (relative to when I saw them) films I know and love, to this day I prefer films made before 1970 or thereabouts to ones made after.
 

benbess

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....Everything seems to have to be like something else and I wonder is that because it needs to fit or they are trying to fit new pictures into an algorithm selection process.

Now with AI, and a writer's strike, I am thinking this is only going to get worse. I have pointed out many times that so many scripts are so similar, they basically use the same outline over and over, that you no longer need people to write them.....

This was a really thought-provoking essay, and one that has similarities with some of my own experiences.

From my pov, however, you might be going a bit far in saying that so many movies today are so similar. It's clearly somewhat true, but I think there's still a fair degree of variety, for instance, in my list of favorite movies from 2022....

The Fabelmans, Turning Red, Avatar: The Way of Water, Armageddon Time, Downton Abbey: New Era, Till, Dragon Ball Super Hero, Pearl, Where the Crawdads Sing, The Woman King, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Poupelle of Chimney Town, All Quiet On the Western Front, Bullet Train, The Rise of Gru, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Memory, The Worst Person in the World, The Menu, The Outfit, Mr. Harringan’s Phone, Halloween Ends, etc.

Somewhat discouraging was that my top favorite film wasn't more of a box office success, which is true of a few of my other favorites, but quite a few of these were hits.

Where I feel most in tune with what I think you're expressing is when it comes to superhero movies. After reading some good reviews here and online, for instance, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 3. These two paragraphs from this review by Richard Brody of The New Yorker expresses some of what I experienced while watching it:

"There’s also enormous destruction in the movie, more than one quasi-apocalyptic onslaught that the Guardians have to contend with—notably, when the High Evolutionary becomes unhappy with the populace that he’s created to fill the towns of so-called Counter-Earth—but the chaos, too, is so conspicuous in its conventional C.G.I. simulations that it has all the emotional impact of putting a computer to sleep. Seemingly city-size space vehicles, with their clashes and crashes, deliver all the awe of a cell-phone video, not because they’re poorly realized but because they’re poorly imagined, merely tossed into the action for thrills rather than being developed as part of a world.

....The violence of the movie is, for the most part, absurd, inasmuch as the rules of bodies and the powers of superheroes remain undefined and infinitely malleable to fit the demands of a given plot point. Why does one impact devastate Rocket, while a run-through by a sword or a fall to the ground from thousands of feet in the air means nearly nothing? A character gets hacked to oblivion and comes back at full strength, with the ability to multiply limbs and weaponry in a blink. There’s no meaningful sense of who can survive what, who is vulnerable to what, with the result that viewers are solely at the mercy of the script’s willful necessities. There’s even a throwaway line of dialogue regarding the absurdity with which those killed at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War” have been brought back to life, yet “Vol. 3” replicates the same absurdity far more casually."


These movies are such a big part of cinema these days, and although I've been moderately entertained by some of them, I realize that overall I'm just not in sync with the zeitgeist when it comes to superheroes. Many of these movies seem quite similar to me in their narratives and cgi battles.
 
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Josh Steinberg

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There’s no meaningful sense of who can survive what, who is vulnerable to what

I know I’m quoting the review and not you - but if you’ve been following this series of films, there is a meaningful sense of what each individual main characters’ strengths and weaknesses are and what would be deadly to one person yet survivable for another. It’s just that this is the third film in this series (and the sixth overall appearance for these characters) so the film doesn’t waste time spelling out things that it knows it’s audience already knows. For better or worse, this is akin to watching the series finale of a television show as your first episode and then complaining that the episode didn’t explain anything.

I could explain everything the critic seems confused or put off by, and point out that everything is motivated by the story, but it doesn’t seem like the critic has any interest in engaging in a good faith discussion of the film or why it’s meaningful and enjoyable to the audience it was made for.

Marvel Studios, on average, releases three films a year, but some critics get so disproportionately bent out of shape over them that you’d think the number of yearly releases was thirty.
 

Joe Wong

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Marvel Studios, on average, releases three films a year, but some critics get so disproportionately bent out of shape over them that you’d think the number of yearly releases was thirty.

That's the thing - superhero films get a lot of disdain (from those who are not fans) because they dominate the box office, but compared to the total number of films released, superhero films still number less than 10 (if we include DC's films and Sony's Spider-verse) than the total of, say, 100-200 per year?

Maybe there's a valid argument that superhero films take up a lot of the screens and such (and hence crowd out other films), but that's because audiences want to see them! Don't blame the films for being popular - blame the audience!
 

Joe Wong

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These movies are such a huge part of cinema these days, but I realize that I'm just not in sync with the zeitgeist when it comes to superheroes. Many of these movies seem quite similar to me in their narratives and cgi battles.

I understand your point regarding similarity of narrative and CGI battles. (Disclosure: I'm a fan of the MCU.)

Especially in terms of structure and content - when watching a new MCU film, one has come to expect several action scenes, interspersed with humour and one-liners, and a big CGI-heavy battle at the end (most often with aerial elements). With every film using this structure, as successful as it's been, it can feel a little stale or routine some 30 films in. It's one reason why a film like Shang-Chi, while generally well-received, was decried in some reviews for having a gigantic CGI end battle when the earlier action sequences were more grounded (and actually more appreciated, I think).

I said recently that the MCU, now 30+ films in, has earned the right to shake things up a bit, not only in individual films, but in the ongoing narrative across different films (and D+ shows). They could have gone the extra step with Quantumania and Guardians Vol. 3 by killing a main character (or, in Ant-man's case, leave him stuck in the Quantum Realm), potentially surprising moves which I think would have created more audience interest and discussion going forward. But, alas, they couldn't quite go there.

I remember how they went there at the end of Infinity War, and that created even more interest in Endgame. I understand they can't replicate that in every film, but an occasional dislocation of expectations and narrative linearity keeps things fresh.
 

benbess

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was actually one of my top ten movies of 2021. I do enjoy some of these movies, which is why I continue to see many of them. Also, I have AMC's A-list, which means I've already paid to see most of the new releases. But I've missed several of the superhero movies over the years, and with a few exceptions, like Shang-Chi which I've watched twice, I don't rewatch the ones that I have seen. And so, as Josh said, the fact that I don't know the specific powers and vulnerabilities of the Guardians is in a sense my fault—but for that movie I somewhat doubt that would have made a difference for me.
 

Josh Steinberg

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It's one reason why a film like Shang-Chi, while generally well-received, was decried in some reviews for having a gigantic CGI end battle when the earlier action sequences were more grounded (and actually more appreciated, I think).

That was where I checked out on Shang-Chi - the first half of the film was different than the previous MCU movies, but then it wound up having a very generic finale that seemingly came out of nowhere. That’s a film that had completely earned my interest within the first few moments and lost it by the end. I don’t quite get why they went in that direction.

I understand they can't replicate that in every film, but an occasional dislocation of expectations and narrative linearity keeps things fresh.

I definitely agree. I also like that there have been some entries within the Marvel series where they subvert the expectation of the big finale battle and do something else. In the first Doctor Strange movie, when Benedict Cumberbatch finally comes face to face with the powerful villain that the main antagonist is working for, he doesn’t get into a fist-fight with him - he has a conversation with him and explains the futility of his plan. In the most recent Thor movie, when Chris Hemsworth finally catches up with Christian Bale as Bale’s character is about to cause untold destruction, he doesn’t get into a physical fight with him - instead Thor says basically, “I know I can’t stop you and you’re going to win, and I’m not going to waste my last breath fighting you - I’m going to spend my last moment with the person I love most,” and it’s that display of love that causes Bale’s villain to make a different choice. These are great storytelling beats in and of themselves, doubly so in the context of the expectation that there will be a big generic battle to save the day. I always like when they surprise me with something like that.

And so, as Josh said, the fact that I don't know the specific powers and vulnerabilities of the Guardians is in a sense my fault

But I also get that it’s a tough line to straddle as a filmmaker - with any project that’s part of a series, how much do you try to make it not matter for the people who haven’t seen all the other parts (or who only saw them once) and how much do you just cater to the audience that does follow every little detail? There’s no perfect answer there.

Which in a sense brings me back to the idea that it’s ok that not everything is meant for everyone. And that’s why it sometimes feels to me that the criticisms or arguments being made about these films aren’t being made in good faith by some critics, because they’re not making the effort to engage the work in the way that’s intended.

Think about it this way: if you want to be a professional food critic, you have to have a very diverse palate and interests in a wide variety of food. I love food and good restaurants and writing but I’d never be able to be a food critic because some of my dislikes and dietary restrictions make it impossible for me to enjoy or objectively rate too large a percentage of options available. Some of these critics aren’t in a position to recognize if these films are good examples of their genre because they don’t appreciate/respect/understand the genre itself. All opinions are valid inasmuch as liking or disliking something is a subjective response, but informed opinions are more valuable than uninformed ones. You’d never have the guy who doesn’t eat fish review the sushi restaurant, so why would you send the guy who doesn’t like superhero movies to review Guardians of the Galaxy?
 

jayembee

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I know I’m quoting the review and not you - but if you’ve been following this series of films, there is a meaningful sense of what each individual main characters’ strengths and weaknesses are and what would be deadly to one person yet survivable for another. It’s just that this is the third film in this series (and the sixth overall appearance for these characters) so the film doesn’t waste time spelling out things that it knows it’s audience already knows. For better or worse, this is akin to watching the series finale of a television show as your first episode and then complaining that the episode didn’t explain anything.

I could explain everything the critic seems confused or put off by, and point out that everything is motivated by the story, but it doesn’t seem like the critic has any interest in engaging in a good faith discussion of the film or why it’s meaningful and enjoyable to the audience it was made for.

And yet, that critic's review is useful for someone who hasn't really been following the MCU, but has friends trying to get them to see this movie. If the critic's background perspective (for lack of a better term) matches the reader's, it's a review that says a lot.

Marvel Studios, on average, releases three films a year, but some critics get so disproportionately bent out of shape over them that you’d think the number of yearly releases was thirty.

That's been one of the things that bothers me about claims of "superhero fatigue". People will say, "There are too many superhero films" but no one seems to say "There are too many crime dramas" or "There are too many animated films" or "There are too many horror films" or "There are too many moron comedies" or whatever. Seems to me we get as many of those as we do superhero films.
 

Winston T. Boogie

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I've had a number of similar...let's call then "debates"...regarding 2001: A Space Odyssey. I've come across any number of people who found it boring and not understanding why anyone makes a big deal about it. And I understand that there are people who just aren't going to be taken with it, and that's OK. But more often than not, I find that people who think it's a big nothing-burger watched it on TV in pan-&-scan. There was one time I convinced someone to see it on the big screen at a local art/rep movie house. He still didn't care much for it on the whole, but he did admit to understanding why seeing it on a big screen made a difference.

There is definitely a different feeling seeing a picture in a cinema. At least for me. 2001 definitely feels different in a cinema than on TV but it was made specifically for cinemas. Kubrick gives you these long takes because he wants you to really look at what he has up there on the screen. I think in terms of people finding it boring, it is mostly two things, one the long takes, and two the very economic use of dialogue. Plus that dialogue is primarily not telling you what is going on or what is coming next. Probably the most traditional movie dialogue scene in the film is the scene where Bowman and Poole get in the pod to discuss HAL and that comes deep into the film. This is a traditional movie scene for the most part that plays like a scene from a mystery or thriller. The rest of the dialogue in the film is a lot of almost throwaway stuff or it is done in such a way that what the characters are saying does not matter.

In a picture today, they would not do this. They are always too concerned with "Is the audience going to understand what is happening?" because if they don't it is nearly a sure bet 50% of the people that see the film won't like it and find it a huge error that you did not tell them what was going on.
 

Winston T. Boogie

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Where I feel most in tune with what I think you're expressing is when it comes to superhero movies. After reading some good reviews here and online, for instance, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 3. These two paragraphs from this review by Richard Brody of The New Yorker expresses some of what I experienced while watching it:

Really, for me, so little of what I see are super hero movies that I can barely comment on them. When I make a comment on them it is based on the collection of them I have seen over the years. I mostly avoid them. My brother asked me to go see Guardians 3 with him but I declined. I think on the more recent super hero films, my biggest issue with them is that I feel kind of battered by the rapid fire editing, camera work that is constantly on the move, and over the top effects/action scenes where everything moves and interacts in some really funky ways. Also, the writing tends to be oversimplified to make it easily translatable to other markets and so tends to be the least considered aspect of these films.

I still occasionally watch one, but I admit they are not my thing. Doesn't mean I can't enjoy one if it is done in such a way that I get into it. However, I prefer one that is not about Superman, Batman, Spiderman or most of the traditional heroes.

So, I feel like the sameness thing is at play in every genre. Be it a drama, horror, science fiction, mystery, whatever... they often all seem to be made to follow the formula of another film that was successful.

To give you an example, I feel like The King's Speech and Green Book are very similar pictures. The stories are different in setting and names of characters, and what they generally are about, but it is very much like the outline and all the marks they want to hit, and boxes they want to check are from the same outline/formula. It is like AI wrote them both. Just that you asked the AI to change the setting and the characters but to give you a very similar film. I feel like if you watch one, you have nearly seen the other. It's basically what I would call a "award nomination" formula because if you follow it, your picture will get nominated. I feel like when I watch a lot of this stuff, I am watching the same basic thing over and over.

I feel like Empire of Light and Tar, are from this same sort of outline. Sure, they have some of their own little twists but overall, they seem to be trying to hit that "award film" algorithm. The strange thing is, I like things about all of these films, the actors, the photography, the directors... but there is an aspect of them where I feel like it is just going through the motions... the same motions and it is being done because those motions worked before. Or they are the motions that they know appeal to academy voters now.

So, it is not as much, for me because I am not really watching them, a super hero movie thing, it is an across the board thing. I recognize though, if you break out of that box, the formula box of whatever genre you are working in, then you risk alienating half the audience where they don't get the things they expected to get. So, I understand the idea and why they want a formula for everything but it just makes for a lot of similar experiences, I think.
 

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Really, for me, so little of what I see are super hero movies that I can barely comment on them. When I make a comment on them it is based on the collection of them I have seen over the years. I mostly avoid them. My brother asked me to go see Guardians 3 with him but I declined. I think on the more recent super hero films, my biggest issue with them is that I feel kind of battered by the rapid fire editing, camera work that is constantly on the move, and over the top effects/action scenes where everything moves and interacts in some really funky ways. Also, the writing tends to be oversimplified to make it easily translatable to other markets and so tends to be the least considered aspect of these films.

I still occasionally watch one, but I admit they are not my thing. Doesn't mean I can't enjoy one if it is done in such a way that I get into it. However, I prefer one that is not about Superman, Batman, Spiderman or most of the traditional heroes.

So, I feel like the sameness thing is at play in every genre. Be it a drama, horror, science fiction, mystery, whatever... they often all seem to be made to follow the formula of another film that was successful.

To give you an example, I feel like The King's Speech and Green Book are very similar pictures. The stories are different in setting and names of characters, and what they generally are about, but it is very much like the outline and all the marks they want to hit, and boxes they want to check are from the same outline/formula. It is like AI wrote them both. Just that you asked the AI to change the setting and the characters but to give you a very similar film. I feel like if you watch one, you have nearly seen the other. It's basically what I would call a "award nomination" formula because if you follow it, your picture will get nominated. I feel like when I watch a lot of this stuff, I am watching the same basic thing over and over.

I feel like Empire of Light and Tar, are from this same sort of outline. Sure, they have some of their own little twists but overall, they seem to be trying to hit that "award film" algorithm. The strange thing is, I like things about all of these films, the actors, the photography, the directors... but there is an aspect of them where I feel like it is just going through the motions... the same motions and it is being done because those motions worked before. Or they are the motions that they know appeal to academy voters now.

So, it is not as much, for me because I am not really watching them, a super hero movie thing, it is an across the board thing. I recognize though, if you break out of that box, the formula box of whatever genre you are working in, then you risk alienating half the audience where they don't get the things they expected to get. So, I understand the idea and why they want a formula for everything but it just makes for a lot of similar experiences, I think.
The best (worst) example of what you’re describing as a paint by numbers formula that received to my mind undue accolades was the Oscar winning CRASH, in which every scene was manipulated and contrived to a degree I found distracting. It isn’t that I didn’t find parts of it to admire, but it didn’t hold together believably except as a construct where all the girders were visible on the edifice and it wasn’t aesthetically coherent. Not sure I can perceive that THE KING’S SPEECH and GREEN BOOK were that similar, nor that TAR was like much of any other recent character study, if only on the strength of Cate Blanchett’s towering performance. I did not think that story arc and ending were predictable, and even if the above films were made with an eye on potential awards, maybe that’s just a sad sign of the times that superhero films dominate (which are of no interest to me largely due to the issues you delineated), and award chasing is necessary to justify making films outside the narrow box for small films like CODA, NOMADLAND, MANK, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, et al.
Wondering what non-formulaic recent films would be worthy of consideration and dramatically original?
 

jayembee

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There is definitely a different feeling seeing a picture in a cinema. At least for me. 2001 definitely feels different in a cinema than on TV but it was made specifically for cinemas. Kubrick gives you these long takes because he wants you to really look at what he has up there on the screen. I think in terms of people finding it boring, it is mostly two things, one the long takes, and two the very economic use of dialogue. Plus that dialogue is primarily not telling you what is going on or what is coming next. Probably the most traditional movie dialogue scene in the film is the scene where Bowman and Poole get in the pod to discuss HAL and that comes deep into the film. This is a traditional movie scene for the most part that plays like a scene from a mystery or thriller. The rest of the dialogue in the film is a lot of almost throwaway stuff or it is done in such a way that what the characters are saying does not matter.

And yet, that dialogue starts off with "What do you want to do?" "I don't know. What do you want to do?" It was deliberately simplistic dialogue, suggesting (to me, anyway) that humanity, despite the technological achievement in getting to the Moon and finding the Monolith there, are becoming evolutionarily stunted, and needed a kick in their evolutionary pants. But it was still dialogue that was as dull as it could be.
 

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