Feb. 8, 2022 was supposed to be an exciting day for me. The nominations for the 94th Academy Awards were released, and this was the first full calendar year I really started getting into film. But the nominations didn’t excite me nearly as much as I thought they would. Not that I’ve seen every critically acclaimed film from 2021 and was disappointed with the selections — I haven’t.
But the premise, style and aura of these films are certainly different from previous years. And unlike many of the cultural shifts seen in the past couple of years, this cannot be pinned on COVID-19. We’re not even two full years into the pandemic — it takes much longer than that for a film to be written, developed and released. These decisions were made in a pre-pandemic world. This year’s nominees represent a fundamentally negative shift in the quality of filmmaking.
Most cinephiles will look back on this year and appreciate it for everything these films had to go through with COVID-19, and understandably so. Let’s start with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” — currently the sixth highest grossing movie of all time, the movie that proved COVID-19 was no excuse for poor box office returns. No, I am not bringing “Spider-Man” up because I believe it was snubbed of a best picture nomination, as Jimmy Kimmel recently argued, but rather, because it was used as a sort placeholder for other types of movies that appeal to a younger demographic. The prominence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), “Star Wars” and other franchises have been exacerbated by social media forums and this in turn has systematically tarnished good cinema for people under 40 by hindering the production of stand alone movies intended for this demographic (“Say Anything,” “Almost Famous,” etc.)
Let’s look at some of the films that were nominated for several Academy Awards this year: “Dune,” “Nightmare Alley,” “Being the Ricardos,” “Licorice Pizza” and “Don’t Look Up”. “Dune,” an adaptation of a 1965 novel and a remake of a 1984 film. “Nightmare Alley,” a neo-noir remake of the 1947 version. “Being the Ricardos” centers around a popular sitcom that aired during the 1950s, “I Love Lucy”. “Licorice Pizza”, although a completely original story, is set in the 1970s and manifests itself more as a ‘slice of life’ film based on the cinema of older generations. None of these films even come close to resembling the original, novel and trailblazing ones I grew up loving as a teenager — perhaps people have taken more of an interest in remakes and historical biographies.
Today, it appears as if films struggle to find a good balance between likable characters, endings that successfully convey a powerful metaphor and the overall graceful aura of a film. A good story used to emanate the perfect metaphor, without being too overt, by meticulously weaving meaning into some of our favorite characters (protagonists like Forrest Gump in “Forrest Gump” or antagonists like Hans Landa, or the ‘The Jew Hunter,’ in “Inglourious Basterds”), endings (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Gladiator”) or even the mere mood and ‘vibe’ of a movie (“Clueless” and “Pulp Fiction”). Each of these characters, endings and moods left a lasting effect on the audience and are still talked about today because of their potent quirkiness. It will be hard to imagine that any memorable characters, endings or moods will be produced from the abyss of banality Hollywood has turned to.
Moving forward, I guess the only thing we can do is enjoy the increasingly yet few remakes and biographies that actually appeal to us. “tick, tick… BOOM!,” for example, chronicles the life of playwright Jonathan Larson, and on paper, sounds very similar in nature and structure to the many remake-esque films mentioned above. However, the remarkable soundtrack mixed with the invincible priority for creativity and rebellion made this my favorite movie of the year. I suppose all that’s left to look forward to are the future “tick, tick… BOOM!’s” — remakes or biographies that resonate, whatever the reason may be.
At the end of the day, the recent trends in film are a harsh reminder that, more than anything, film is a business. This is further proved with the remakes of “Beauty and The Beast” (2017) and “The Lion King” (2019), films that were substantially worse than the originals but nevertheless boomed at the box office. Take that and combine it with the increasing political narrative underscoring contemporary film, and we are left with what might become the worst era in feature film’s history, the Gilded Age of cinema.
Danny Cohen is an Opinion Contributor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.