An all-too-conservative mindset has left Hollywood in a peculiar position this summer. The unimaginative offerings that have been released have left a very sour note in the mouths of not just critics but movie fans alike. The box-office numbers are down, but so is artistry and originality. Coincidence? Of course not.
Since I returned from the Cannes Film Festival at the end of May, almost every movie I have seen and reviewed has been nothing short of an embarrassment of ill-conceived intentions and concept. Sequel-after-sequel, reboot-after-reboot has taken over multiplexes like never before. The unoriginals from May through mid-July have included: John Wick: Chapter 3 —Parabellum, Aladdin, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Men in Black: International, Shaft, Annabelle Comes Home, Child's Play, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Toy Story 4, The Hustle and The Lion King.
The endless rut of corporate-packaged movies I’ve had to go through weekly at screening rooms has been nothing short of numbing. This lack of creativity should not be a problem for big studios, at least monetarily, but this summer it has been. Box-office attendance is the lowest its been in years. And yet, close to 100 years since the moviegoing public started going to the movies, there’s no doubt in my mind that the excitement is waning, replaced by safe and familiar movies that try to bank on audience nostalgia.
Have most of the quality, mid-budget dramas gone to TV? Yes and no. An argument could be made for the fact that television has taken over quality storytelling in the U.S. but, at the same time, if you have an open mind and consider yourself to be an adventurous moviegoer, you can still find movies, from all parts of the world, which far surpass anything that airs on HBO, FX and AMC this year.
No, the problem isn’t necessarily just Hollywood, which is slowly but surely transforming itself into more of a blockbuster-sized amusement park for young millennials than a place for great drama, but, no, it’s more the fact that indies and foreign films just don’t get the attention they deserve anymore. Thus the continuous complaints about Cannes not having enough American movies in their slate these last few years. Instead of focusing on the smaller, more intimate films, the Oscar-hungry film media has decided to pave its attention towards mainstream filmmaking. That, in itself, dumbs down movie culture in this country. When you have media outlets which are controlled and monopolized by the 1% then you won’t have much coverage granted towards the more risk-taking statements at the movies . No siree, those kinds of movies just don’t make enough money for the mainstream media to care about them anymore.
So, you won’t hear much about how we’ve gotten some great indies since May (“The Farewell,” “Luce,” “The Art of Self-Defense,” “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” and, even, “Booksmart).
And yet, it’s become a tradition that every summer people complain about the current crop of summer movies and look back at how great the movies of past summers were (especially 1982 and 1984). But, I am dead-serious, this has been the absolute worst summer movie season since I started as a cinephile way back in the ‘90s. Let’s take a look at the best summer movie seasons I’ve had since I started religiously watching movies more than two decades ago:
1998: Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show, Mulan, There's Something About Mary, Out of Sight, Bulworth, The Mask of Zorro, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Buffalo 66, Blade, Mulan, The Negotiator
1999: The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, South Park: Bigger Longer Uncut, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut, The Iron Giant, Summer of Sam, Notting Hill, American Pie, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,
2004: Spider-Man 2, The Bourne Supremacy, Collateral, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Anchorman, The Notebook, Napoleon Dynamite, Dodgeball, Fahrenheit 9/11, Maria Full of Grace, Before Sunset, Garden State
2005: Batman Begins, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, War of the Worlds, Broken Flowers, Red Eye, Cinderella Man, Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Wedding Crashers, Hustle &a Flow, Grizzly Man
2008: Iron Man, The Dark Knight, WALL-E, Tropic Thunder, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, Kung Fu Panda
2009: The Hangover, Star Trek, Up, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, District 9, 500 Days of Summer, Moon, Drag Me to Hell, Public Enemies, In the Loop
What do you think is the best summer movie season ever? Post your choice in the comments below!