I’m not saying this was a great run of movies, but there was some creativity here, some entertainment value, some decent box office — all enough to evoke, in flashes, a normal cinematic summer in the 1990s.
But that was summer. Now, in fall and winter, we’ve returned to the movie apocalypse.
My colleague Brooks Barnes wrote last week on the “carnage” at the art house, the terrible box office showings for so many of the autumn’s spate of Oscar hopefuls: From the Cate Blanchett showcase “Tár” to Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans,” from David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam” to James Gray’s “Armageddon Time” to “She Said,” about my colleagues’ Harvey Weinstein investigation. James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequel is sweeping in to fill theaters over Christmas — and, judging by early reviews, to help justify their continued existence. But barring an unexpectedly strong performance from the few remaining prestige releases — like Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” which received something of a rough reception at its initial screening — we could be looking at a fall without an honest-to-God Oscar-bait hit.
A theme in Barnes’s piece is that the quality of the films is not the issue, because “reviews have been exceptional.” And I’m confident that there are some structural explanations for the disastrous autumn: the expectations of home viewing set during Covid, the closure of some art-house theaters, plus the fact that the audience for grown-up dramas is also an audience (older, liberal) more likely to avoid hanging out in crowded theaters in the winter illness season.
But at the same time, I agree with the film scholar Barnes quotes who notes the conspicuous dearth of simple entertainment value in the fall’s offerings. I really liked “The Fabelmans,” but do filmgoers want not one but three movies — Spielberg’s, Gray’s and the Sam Mendes flop “Empire of Light” — in which prominent directors indulge in semi-autobiographical longueurs? “Tár” has brilliance, but it’s the definition of a challenging movie to absorb. “She Said” is a newspaper procedural that keeps its famous villain offstage almost throughout; here’s how my colleague Alexis Soloski described its style:
Measured and deliberate, the film avoids grandstanding, speaking in low tones where another movie might shout. Little is glamorized or embellished here. (New York City has rarely looked so blah.) The points the film makes about predation, complicity and silencing are often made in passing. “She Said” concentrates instead on process, prioritizing the patient accretion of testimony and corroboration. It’s a thriller, yes, but rendered discreetly, in sensible workplace separates. Its force accumulates slowly, stealthily even — lead by lead, fact by verified fact — until the tension surrounding a cursor’s click is an agony.
This was a positive review. Does it make you want to rush out to the theater?
The best pieces written on the autumn of apocalypse elaborate on this theme. Richard Rushfield, the longtime Hollywood …….