Friday, April 6, 2012

TV on the Movies

This is a must read: Vanity Fair culture critic James Wolcott makes a very convincing case that today, in the second decade of the 21st century, TV shows are better than movies. In terms of quality, originality, writing, acting, excitement -- Wolcott says TV is whipping the movies' tuchus.

And I agree. 

Very rarely these days do I get excited about a movie. I don't care for the big Twilight/Harry Potter/Hunger Game "event" movies. They're all noise and action without really interesting plots or characters. Plus, they're all skewed to teenage girls which, at last check, I'm not. I'm more interested in movies by really great directors with good stories and characters but, honestly, most of our great directors aren't making such great movies these days. 

To whit: with the exception of Midnight in Paris last year, Woody Allen hasn't made an exciting movie in a long time. Scorsese used to make exciting movies but they have become less so over time (Goodfellas? Exciting! Hugo? Uh....). Robert Altman is sadly dead. Spike Jonze and David Russell make very few films. I still get excited whenever Quentin Tarantino makes a movie but he seems only to make one every five or six years. And don't get me started on Cameron Crowe and James L. Brooks: Say Anything ..., Almost Famous, Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News are some of my favorites ever. But their most recent movies have been unwatchable. It's like watching great athletes who used to win every competition come in last. 

TV, however, has been an autre histoire. 

In the last ten years there have been some TV shows that have gotten me crazy excited: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Rescue Me, The Wire, True Blood, Lost, 30 Rock, The Office, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey, Portlandia, Modern Family and lots of others -- really great shows with complex characters, interesting stories, brilliant film making, and amazing production values. And right now I salivate (well, almost) over Game of Thrones and Mad Men. The fact that they're on back to back on the same nights has sent me into geeky heaven. (Heck, even Saturday Night Live is funny again for the first time in 20 years.) 

I'm stunned at the quality of these shows and amazed at how much I'd rather stay at home and watch them (on TV or Netflix) instead of schlepping to the movies and plunk down ten bucks -- only to sit next to or behind douches who talk during the movie or have their cell phones go off. Increasingly, not only are the movies bad but the movie going experience has gotten expensive and annoying.

Plus, snobs who used to ignore TV seem to be ignoring the movies these days. 

Wolcott writes: "Even in cine-mad Manhattan, where the admonitory ghost of Susan Sontag haunts theaters by night, the new movie that everybody’s talking about is being talked about by a shrinking number of everybodies. It’s seldom the presiding topic of cocktail chat and intellectual quarrel, as it was when critic Pauline Kael led the wagon train. (Her successors at The New Yorker, David Denby and Anthony Lane, might as well be tinkling the piano in the hotel lobby for all the commotion they create.)" He also makes the point that it's pretty sad when a cliched, plodding movie like Bridesmaids is acclaimed as one of the best comedies of the year. 

I couldn't even get through it. It just wasn't that funny. 

Wolcott also says Reese Witherspoon is an example of what has happened not only to movies but movie stars: she used to give great performances in fun or excellent movies like Legally Blonde and Walk the Line. Now she's stuck in drivel like This Means War. When was the last time Tom Cruise had a good movie? He used to have one every year. Now everyone talks about Mad Men's Jon Hamm and Tom Cruise is better known for his weird Scientology worship these days. 

Wolcott even asks a great rhetorical question: "Does anyone think The Artist is better than Mad Men?"

Hear hear. 

We really do seem to be living in a golden age of TV and a dark ages of movies. Maybe this will change. But probably not for a while. Movies must respond to the demands of moviegoers -- who are increasingly kids and dopes who care more about spectacle than story. Meanwhile, as TV has gotten more niche driven and cable has found a business model to thrive, there are more outlets for original, daring stuff. Ultimately, like everything, it comes down to money: if the studios can only make money with big noisy junk and TV can make money producing quality -- guess what? That's what you're gonna see!

I'm a culture geek and I want movies and TV to be equally good and compelling. Hopefully, some day, a business model will emerge where great movies can be produced again. But as of now, the David of the small screen has conquered the Goliath of the big screen.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep it civil, intelligent, and expletive-free. Otherwise, opine away.