The past few years has seen a dramatic disparity among movie releases. Hollywood seems to only distribute three style of films: the great but often films, the come quickly and collect a small profit mediocre fare, and the Hail Mary dud that needed to shut down in preproduction. The last few years has brought us movie pirating of a better quality and frequency than the old days of handheld VHS cameras. We’ve also seen Video-On-Demand become an emerging market while the economy constantly encouraged us to save our money. It use to be that a memorable movie would open every few weeks, keeping the multiplexes rich with worthwhile fare. But that’s no longer the case.
The economy and recent recession affected Hollywood as much as it affected us. Money conscious studios are releasing fewer films, but reallocate the funds to make these films more expensive to produce. I don’t understand. I look at my top ten films of all time and the combined budgets would easily be dwarfed by blockbuster misfire Battleship. It makes sense to focus on fewer film projects in hard times, but the films chosen aren’t resonating. The second type of film, the forgettable mediocre films, is taking over the cinemas. Followed by an uptick in awful mistakes like last year’s The Rum Diary or Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star. New masterpieces are becoming harder to find. And when the critics and film buffs find them, general audiences ignore them (Warrior).
As Hollywood and its studios continue to pump out sequels and reboots that reek of money-grubbing, the room for exciting and original films gets narrower. Sure, there are some directors out there who pump out fresh material every few years, but for every Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino, there are many Adam Sandler films and horror films that insult their audiences.
Independent cinema avoids all these traps. If a film isn’t good, it quickly gets ignored at the film festivals or disappears from the theaters before it can do any harm. Independent cinema isn’t built on commerce as much as it is Darwinism. The better the film; the wider the release. This pattern allows brilliant fare like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom continue to find new audiences as it’s release slowly widens.
Maybe it’s the three years I spent working for an art house theater, but I value their showings more than the lackluster offerings of Hollywood. This isn’t to say I don’t find a lot of fun films in the multiplexes. I realize Step Up 2: The Streets isn’t Oscar-bound. I still like it. It’s a mindless, popcorn film I can watch and just enjoy for what it is. But when I want stimulation, I head to places like Fleur Cinema and Café in Des Moines.
Since high school, I’ve found myself drawn again and again to this independent theater that specializes in art house cinema and independent filmmaking. The first movie I ever saw there, One Hour Photo, is one of my favorites. Instead of a simple blockbuster, though from time to time they get them, the choices are much more rich. Working there gave me a deeper understanding of modern-day movie-going.
Looking at my list of the best of 2012 so far, independent cinema dominates it. With the exception of The Avengers and Ted, it’s all films you would see at an art house theater. This isn’t by mistake. Indie films connect with the core human element of these stories. The films resonate because most of the frill of Hollywood films is gone. CGI is often too expensive; actors are commonly in close proximity for the entirety of filming, which creates a deeper chemistry.
As the future of cinema develops with 3D, 4D, and other technologies, it becomes clear that gimmicks are given more weight than quality of the films. Avatar may have been a thin script, but the experience of seeing it in 3D on the big screen made it the highest grossing movie of all time. Studios tack on the 3D for a (hopefully) larger profit piece, but this problem doesn’t fix the film. If the film sucks, it doesn’t matter what gimmick you throw at it. American audiences made be picky, but anyone who cares about the medium will say that story is essential to a good movie.
As the second half of the year closes the summer and prepares for the Oscar season in November, we’ll see a great deal of bland cinema. But with luck, independent cinema will continue to release gems that rise above the junk. If not, here’s to Adam Sandler’s Oscar speech.