Judging from what made it to the screen, 2016 was a pitiful year at the Movies. And the awards season is merely a reminder.
With its rich history the Cannes Film Festival has a duty as a reference for international films. They are the diplomats, the aristocrats of the film business. There is no real public in the crowd. So they are disconnected from our reality. The official competition has become predictable in the last decade (at least) as there is too much politic off screen in order to create a balance to please buyers. Too many directors have season tickets for competitions in Cannes. Some others are just not good enough. After slowly creating hype around these filmmakers for years, they compose a jury that offer possibilities to fill (or deceive) the expectations of an international Press that looks more and more like hooligans cheering for home team in a football derby. The Film Market should concentrate on this whole semantic, not the competition. The competition should play films that are great achievements. It should discard films that aim at… festivals. While shooting, Fellini was definitely not thinking about Cannes. He was not a festival brand. He was a film maker. The awards, this year, were ultimately the farce we know because most of the winners should not have been selected in the first. The problem has been going on for quite some time. Over the years professionals and journalists have lowered their standard and expectations enough to be angry nowadays simply because an average film like Toni Erdmann was not named among the winners to the advantage of other average films. Overall the depreciation of the Palme d’Or is a brutal reality.
Toni Erdman is not a bad film, but it is not good either. It has its moments (in the later part). Still at 2h40 minutes with lighting and frame constantly flat and monotonous with tiring and unjustified hand held camerawork, like there was no direction, it is foolish to even consider this a major film like many did. Without a single good shot (don’t tell me it serves the purpose – it is false), it takes a heavy process to explore a father-daughter relationship. The pacing is awful and it never really lifts off. The success of some scenes is purely episodic as the actors do a pretty fair job while at times they seem to wait for their lines to spit out.
On the same level how can you hope for the best (the resurrection of the movies) when the Camera d’Or winner (for Best first feature) is the French film Divines.
Divines is a collection of overplayed contemporary clichés, also deprived of any decent shots through out its entire length. Since there are similarities, it becomes interesting to make a comparison between Divines and what is probably one of the sole contender of minimum value for the next Academy Awards, Moonlight. Divines is so poorly written and shot that it has to rely on two female characters, that are basically one-dimensional, stupid kids, to make any attempt at easy dramatic conclusions. In Moonlight, same kind of slum (US style) but all main characters have depth, the screenwriter displaying respect for people stricken by poverty by focusing on the sensitive and intelligent side of their human nature. They may be poor but they have a richness of character that Divines lacks by depicting its characters as lazy caricatures. If you deal with contemporary social issues, you are in for some recognition in film festivals. No matter how awful it is. And Divines is an awful film.
These days most dramatic films have no decent plot, no decent imagery. Even Ken Loach and the D’ardennes Brothers use a plot for dramatic purpose no matter how minimalist they can be sometimes. That’s why they are the best at what they do. Their synopsis stick together with real dramatic tension. That’s the movies. Some people will always bring forward the argument that if many people celebrate a film it most mean it is good. If it is right then take the top ten box office of this year and apply the same logic without ever arguing. If so many people went it most be the ten greatest films of the year.
This depreciation started at least twenty years ago with Dogma 95. The Idiots and Festen (both 1995) were great pictures on their own but the Danish Dogma 95 manifesto, under which they were issued, with its ten ludicrous gimmick rules of filmmaking, was taken seriously by aspiring directors who didn’t know better and took it, as a model, into the 21st century. Any dogma is a plague and now tons of films look like they are made for TV. My colleagues spend half their time and energy talking about the virtue of the big screen experience and the other half promoting intolerable TV films like these. Why in Hell – if they get the same on TV – should people bother with the so-called movie theater experience? Divines went apparently straight to Netflix (at least in North America) and it is just fine this way. With all this celebration of minor films, the only way to see real great films is attending Cannes Classics. After comparisons you wonder what happened to the movies. Bankable or not, with or without F/X, films used to be magic.
Cannes was just part of this mess. The whole business is sick.
As always, promotion around some productions comes from the Sundance Film Festival and, later in the Fall, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), both doorways for Oscar contenders. Enters Manchester by the Sea with the Build up surrounding it. A pretty fair film with good performances by Casey Afleck and the rest of the cast. The general imagery is better than Toni Erdmann or Divines while it doesn’t provide for anything special either. The dialogues play on being clever, there are even some strong scenes. On the other hand, halfway through the story, there is this long would-be dramatic sequence expressing the skeletons in the closet. It is edited on Albinoni’s Adagio. The Adagio (used in several movies) is fine, but it is a disaster on this scene. You want to teach corny to film students, how to destroy a pivotal scene? you can’t beat that. The whole film is a minor, honest drama. Nothing less, nothing more. And it is probably going to win the Oscar for best picture. Are we so desperate about film making we have to call this a masterpiece? Some did and Amazon paid 10 million for the rights. Are they so desperate to compete with Netflix? I want to meet your sales managers to make a pitch. They are good.
Generally speaking, the Oscars are also in trouble. Too many minor works and these mysterious committees choosing whatever they feel like to be contenders in categories like foreign films and documentaries. You get the impression they put the film titles on pieces of paper, then in the hat … In the music category they disqualified Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music to Arrival based on the partial use of some existing music by the director. Last year, the great Ennio Morricone provided only eight minutes of original music for Hateful Eight and he won the Oscar. These people, these committees, just don’t know what they are doing. Because of things like that, the Oscars don’t amount to much nowadays. They only have themselves to blame.
For history, about these coming Oscars and their other contenders, since I am not a fan of musicals, I would pass on La la Land (—), but its artisans did a pretty good job and honestly it deserves the praise for what it is. Too bad it’s a musical.
I will also keep from making a serious comment on the trend of superhero films. I don’t hate them, I just don’t care about masked grown ups in tights with parental issues. They fight the bad screenplays they are in, ultimately saving Donald’s democracy, to keep the franchise alive while their distributors democratically reserve the totality of the screens at your local movie theater protecting you from seeing foreign films.
Well, this is the sad portrait of the situation at the very end of 2016. The critics so anxious to deliver their famous End of the year Best of list, just refuse to acknowledge. Business is Business even for them.
In these times, if not totally dead, Cinema as an Art is fading into mediocrity.
*** See also my top 10: https://cinetalk.net/2017/01/02/10-films-from-201615/