Banerjee: No, movies don’t suck now

While the box offices are being filled by a plethora of generic action movies, a debate arises surrounding the legitimacy of popular film and whether or not we are sacrificing substance for flair.



Chadwick Boseman in the film, "Black Panther." (Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios)

Anna Banerjee, Opinions Columnist

When announced Dec. 6, the nominations for the 2019 Golden Globes were met with a good range of opinions. Many were thrilled to hear that their favorite movies, such as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, succeeded in garnering award attention, but others were angry about the so-called sanctity of award shows — a problem that feels wholly American.

Black Panther received a great deal of love from fans and critics, but because it’s part of the Marvel franchise, the reception saw it at odds with conventional ideas of “film” and “cinema” that proliferate the Best Picture categories in most cases — leaving essentialists wondering, “What has happened to cinema?”

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It feels elitist to call out popular films, which often tend to lean toward the very action-oriented, special-effect-laden direction, for being somehow “lesser” than other categories of film. The relatively newly found reliance on computer-generated images over long-form pieces is an undeniable change of pace from what audiences were used to seeing 20, 30, 40 years ago.

And instead of forming new stories, the great majority of popular films fall back on cliché, save-the-world narratives. Based solely on which movies hit mainstream American theaters, movies generally seem to be based on spectacle, not performance or style.

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Noticing this disparity has led to an onslaught of pedantic thought-pieces, much like this one, with titles such as Newsweek’s “Movies Suck Now, and They’re Only Going to Get Worse.”

The longtime divide between popular and art film has strengthened and seems to only grow more tense.

But in all honesty, movies don’t suck now. Yes, film is undeniably changing — but so are our styles, tastes, and interests. It is not inherently worse, and in fact, these changes are vital to the continuance of film as a medium and art style.

Why should we demand only what audiences of the 20th century would have wanted? We could spend all day arguing about whether Marvel movies deserve to be nominated for Best Picture, but that’s beside the point. The question we should ask isn’t, “What has happened to cinema?” but rather, “Where should we look for cinema?” Generally speaking, that place is not often mainstream theaters.

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Filmmaking is reaching new, unexpected heights. Just this year, we’ve been treated to truly exceptional titles in all genres, such as Alex Garland’s standout science-fiction pursuit Annihilation, Sandi Tan’s impressive documentary Shirkers, and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s empathic drama Shoplifters. Film isn’t getting worse — we’re just losing those good movies in theaters due to the seventh sequel or remake filling spots where other films could be.

This isn’t to say so-called popular film is bad. It’s definitely not. Even outside of what could even be conventionally considered art film, such movies as Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout are exciting and well-made examples of how popular movies can expand upon the boundaries that are considered to define it.

Movies don’t suck — we’re just looking in the wrong places. They are changing and evolving alongside us. The emergence of Marvel may have taken over the box office, but that by no means indicates a drop-off in quality of film. The work people are putting into their art has not changed — there are still fantastic pieces being produced.

Using action movies as an excuse to complain about contemporary filmmaking is a weak excuse — especially when they can make action movies out to be exceptional movies with the right effort and talent. Film hasn’t gotten worse, we just need to make a collective effort to see and support good movies.