My Angsty, Anxious Year in Movies

With 2013’s movies (mostly) behind us and 2014 getting off to a slow start, my mind has turned to a tiresome self-reflective place about my relationship with (and taste in) movies. In looking over both the movies I loved last year and the movies I’m excited for this year, I feel myself doubting and questioning what I want out of movies, and what differentiates me from my cinephile kin. So, I decided to ramble on about that publicly for a little bit. Plenty of navel-gazing after the jump:

When I look at my favorites from last year, I find an even mixture of Mainstream Tentpole Movies and Mainstream Adult Dramas, with a couple of Indie Niche Projects mixed in. On the one hand, I feel good about including more high-minded and “respectable” movies while also staying invested in the sort of adventure stories that got me into movies in the first place. On the other hand, I feel like this is the same basic list that I would’ve made when I was 15 or 16, when my film tastes were only just developing. It feels a lot less textured than many of my peers’ lists, and that makes me wonder if I’ve stunted my own development as a moviegoer somehow. When I feel that my parents would enjoy most of the movies I singled out for the year, it certainly makes me wonder if I’m lacking some nuance and depth in my tastes (not to slight my parents, but they’re the upper middle class white people who watch lots of CBS, and not Person of Interest).

In chewing this over last night with my girlfriend (who I’ll remind you writes the awesome TV blog Favorite Show Ever), she was quick to tell me I’m being overly self-aware and needlessly angsty about all of this. She’s right of course; I like what I like and that’s all that should matter. But I still worry that I might’ve trapped myself into only liking a few very specific kinds of movies and genres and styles, to the point that I’m incapable of fully embracing something legitimately new and daring. Or that I’m more drawn to certain genres (such as superhero movies) that aren’t particularly known for being the province of risk-seeking auteurs, and that the auteurist visions I crave are prone to being applied to stories that lack the kind of visceral, childhood thrills I’m still partial to. Or that…

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Sigh. Losing the thread. Let me try again.

What it boils down to is this: I’m afraid that my tastes aren’t particularly refined. That even though I still watch plenty of “indie” and “arthouse” movies I still don’t respond to them the way an educated moviegoer should. That my inclinations are too mainstream and boring, and that as a result any movies I make myself would be mainstream and boring as well. More than anything, I’m just afraid of going down the wrong cinematic path, and ending up being a different kind of filmmaker (or moviegoer) than I want to be.

But that’s bullshit, isn’t it? Because I know that I’m (relatively) open to all kinds of movies, at least as much as other people I know. Because I’m glad that even with a broad swath of different styles and stories in my cinematic orbit, I can still enjoy a good character-driven adventure movie. Because putting a Scorsese movie in my Top 10 only seems “safe” because he’s been making movies for 40 years and has shaped the cinematic world to the point that he’s become mainstream by default. Because if I’m stuck between the worlds of artistic auteurism and pop escapism, then maybe my path is to merge those two things together in ways that don’t happen often enough for my taste. Because this dissonance between the tentpoles and the adult dramas and the arthouse indies, more than anything, exposes the gap in the cinematic world that I might as well try to fill.

Navel-gazing over; time to go trust my instincts.

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5 Comments on “My Angsty, Anxious Year in Movies”

  1. shiran says:

    I’m very proud of you for saying this. You’re more open to different genres and styles than anyone I know, and more importantly you make a real effort to take in as big a variety as you can get. Liking more mainstream movies doesn’t make you less mature – just the opposite I think. The 15/16 year old me was a pretentious twit who never would have embraced blockbuster movie making as “legit cinema” and thank god I grew the fuck out of that. Embracing “mainstream” movies means you’re far more open-minded than the vast majority of cinephiles I know.

    But also I can’t resist getting frustrated with the need (not necessarily yours) to label movies in bipolar terms like this. Especially when you use not finding the visceral stories you like in “auteurist movies” as a way to feel sort of alienated when a) The whole auteur thing is a sinkhole where navel-gazey film theory goes to die. Scholars have been arguing for decades about what an auteur is and who can be called one and who can’t, to the point where the critic credited with fathering the auteur theory literally wrote an article attacking it because it stopped being a constructive way to look at cinema. If you believe authorship exists in films that means every director is an auteur, not just “indie geniuses”. Which means that b) no one who sorts his DVDs by director gets to say that he doesn’t gravitate towards “auteur cinema” because those movies you love were and are “auteur cinema”. Spielberg? That guy’s auteur as fuck. Come on. As is Michael Bay, by the way.

    This may not all have been directed at you, I just woke up.

    Daring work is found across any genre, is my point, and you’re already doing your only job as an audience member/ filmmaker by attempting to see them all.

    • brendanfh says:

      That’s all very true; I should’ve acknowledged the fact that a lot of the labels I was using were very loose and not particularly accurate.

      When I say “auteur” in this context I guess I’m applying an umbrella term to more “serious” movies that are more driven by themes or style than most tentpoles are. What I was trying to get at (bearing in mind it was all written stream-of-consciousness) is that many of the “respectable” filmmakers (Scorsese, PTA, etc) don’t seem to be the least bit interested in tackling the sort of genres I like, or even seem outright hostile to them (looking at you, Cronenberg). So that’s frustrating that those sorts of voices and approaches aren’t being brought to bear on genres that are being treated as too one-note right now.

      • shiran says:

        (It’s not at all the point of your comment but I’ll be obnoxious in this parenthesis and add that guys like Chris Nolan, Zack Snyder, Kenneth Branagh, Joss Whedon, and Shane Black are all very decidedly auteurs, even though I know that’s no longer the argument you’re making. I just really want pretentious people to stop using the word just cuz french)

        Most important thing here: if you wan’t a more thoughtful approach towards genre fare, it sounds like you’ve gotten a more focused look at what you want to be doing. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes from that.

    • brendanfh says:

      Having said that, I have a greater appreciation for filmmakers like the Wachowskis and Edgar Wright and Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Nolan for bringing that sort of specificity of vision to genres that could be considered “low-brow”


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