By Mark Ehrenkranz
After the cooler months, it is in our DNA that we look forward to the Summer and a nostalgic time of great movies, sumptuous weather and vacations. It usually goes quickly as it only makes up 25% of our year. For many, September and the Fall is a time to get serious again, back to school, work and spend more time indoors. In contrast, this time of year can bring great excitement and anticipation toward a new season of great arts, culture, sports and year-end movies positioning for awards season. Enthusiasm and great interest is peaked in discovering the latest and greatest evolution of creative expression.
Looking back at Summer movies, it was most a mercurial season. Could it be that a downturn in overall box office performance is the over-reliance on sequels catching up to Hollywood? Is it inherent that big corporations must calculate their risks versus the willingness of possibilities, and the uncertainty of independent projects? Are studios and production companies limited in their encouragement of pushing the boundaries toward creating unconventional projects?
With the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, these sequels: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Kong: Skull Island, Cars 3, War for the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: The Last Knight, The Mummy (2017), Alien: Covenant, and Baywatch all underperformed versus studio expectations. In comparison, other larger, more critically acclaimed movies such as: Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan, and The Fate of the Furious did better. Dunkirk, Baby Driver and The Big Sick performed very well, however Logan Lucky, Wind River and the incredibly powerful Detroit did not do as well as their reviews.
Hollywood has to know that smart escapism movies and those even more thoughtful can co-exist. In recent years, some of the most critically acclaimed films were amongst the best at the box office. Last year’s films had a very even blend of blockbusters and best reviewed successes with: The Jungle Book, Deadpool, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Sully, Arriva, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight, all performing nicely.
People tend to overreact a little bit when there is a short-term period of box office downturn, and the first reaction is that there is a systemic problem with the industry. We cannot forget that film can be incredibly satisfying art form with tremendous energy and powerful statements about the world. Movies might not solve society’s problems, but at times they can articulate our common experience and share the anxieties we’re all facing. They can also elucidate some of the world’s sickest secrets we might not even be aware of.
At a time when rifts between people seem bigger than ever, the power of storytelling is truly important. The bar is high for audience’s evolved tastes, as up until now they have seen great movies for all of their lives. Viewers are smart, appreciate good filmmaking and will go to the theaters if a movie has critical acclaim and which also has positive word-of-mouth. The US movie industry is not created equal and cannot be lumped together as one big happy family. The chasm of independent companies versus studio conglomerates is gargantuan. So far, this year, the larger to-date critical darlings have been The Promise, I am Not Your Negro, Beatriz At Dinner, Maudie, Paris Can Wait, The Book of Henry, and Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.
A few others of note which you still may be able to catch at your neighborhood independent theater, are the following: Columbus starring: Parker Posey and Rory Culkin, about a renowned architecture scholar who falls suddenly ill during a speaking tour; Marjorie Prime starring:, Geena Davis, Jon Hamm, Lois Smith, and Tim Robbins, which takes place in the near future, a time of artificial intelligence where 86-year-old Marjorie (Lois Smith)—a jumble of disparate, fading memories—has a handsome new companion (Jon Hamm) who looks like her deceased husband. Director: Michael Almereyda (Experimenter); Menashe – which takes place deep in the heart of New York’s ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community. Menashe—a kind, hapless grocery store clerk—struggles to make ends meet and responsibly parent his young son; and Good Time – starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Robert Pattinson which is about a botched bank robbery.
Here are the anticipated year end award hopefuls we were referring to look forward to seeing: Lady Bird directed by Greta Gerwig; The Florida Project from Tangerine director Sean Baker; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with Francis McDormand and others; Mudbound – Dees Rees (Pariah) new one, The Meyerowitz Stories by Noah Baumbach, The Square from the makers of Force Majeure, Todd Haynes new Wonderstruck; The Shape of Water from Guillermo Del Toro, P.T. Andersons new movie starring Daniel Day Lewis, Joe Wright’s new Darkest Hour and Aaron Sorkin’s directorial Molly’s Game.
Sure, a good movie isn’t going to solve your problems, but under the stresses of everyday life, getting away from your worries to hear a good story and see the work of skilled filmmakers is certain to nourish your soul. Don’t let the calculations of big corporations tarnish your inspiration. Seek out and celebrate the mystery of independent voices! Revel in the sanctuary that a cinema can provide and go to a theater, because no matter how we all might feel, there’s something very powerful about watching a story unfold and knowing that there are others around the planet experiencing your same awe and wonderment. Movies help bring us all together in profound ways, and that is a miraculous thing.