Picture above is Entertainment Weekly’s averaged-out grades (albeit using a bizarre selection of critics) for most of the movies that came out this year. I’ve added the running time for each one, and my own grade for the ones I saw. (“F” means that no scene impressed me, “A” means every scene impressed me.)
Looking at the results, you’ll notice a few things:
- In most cases, my grade is much lower than the critical average, often extremely so.
- The running times of almost every one is obscenely bloated. Not one of these movies needed to be longer than two hours. Even my favorite, The Master, could have shed those extra 24 minutes and not missed them.
- But the real problem, of course, is that almost all of these movies were either sequels, remakes, adaptations, or written/commissioned by the director. Almost none, in other words, were “original specs” purchased on the screenwriting market.
Based on this evidence, I see causes for concern:
- Clearly, my tastes are drifting further from the critical consensus, which makes me feel increasingly unfit to speak to what sort of movies people should be writing.
- I primarily aim my advice to writers of original spec screenplays, but the market for such screenplays has almost entirely disappeared.
- The increase in running time is an indicator, above all, of clout: The studios are so skittish that they say “no” every chance they get. As a result the only movies that actually get made are projects that no one at the studio is allowed to second-guess or say no to, either because of the director’s clout, the franchise’s profitability, or both. These aren’t movies, they’re juggernauts, and they simply steamroll over producers, critics and audiences, pummeling all three into submission.
In the meantime, do I write a best-of? Part of the problem is that even the movies I liked best were profoundly weird. I thought The Master, Lincoln, and Django were all pretty great, but would I really advise any writers to emulate them? These, too, were “clout” movies, totally insulated from the pressures of the market. Each does a lot of things that original specs simply aren’t allowed to do, so what’s the point?
This all helps explain my lack of recent posts, but rest assured that I have been developing some in-depth new material, including a brand new Ultimate Checklist that will debut soon, so stay tuned. (And the book is coming along nicely, too!) Meanwhile, I should probably take the advice of some of you and start looking again to older movies for inspiration and analysis, hoping to protect the wisdom of the past until the barbarian hordes have passed and a new movie renaissance can begin.