Some recent postings on the site around whether Movie Audiences are Getting Dumber, or if The Movie Industry is close to an Implosion have resulted in a lot of discussion about the current state of Hollywood. Most seem to agree that there are too many dumb, overblown blockbusters out there and they would like to see something more than movies like Transformers, G.I. Joe or Pirates of the Caribbean are giving them.
I think it’s important before we criticize movies like those mentioned, we should always have a better ideal in mind. So if we think Battleship was a load of nonsense, we should be able to name a similar type of action movie that shows that genre of movie can, and should be much better (Aliens for example).
It is also vital we do recognize that there are films out there that do get it right, and that actually if we take a step back, there have been some really fantastic movies released over the past ten years. It is also my opinion that movies are not getting dumber, every decade has had popular films that lack creativity and intelligence. However, it is important that we as consumers do our best to avoid paying for films we know are not likely to challenge our intellect. That is, of course, if we have any interest in seeing things improve.
So with that in mind, I have decided to create a list that studios can refer to when trying to produce movies that not only have mass appeal, but actually contain a little bit of artistic merit as well. To make things even simpler, I have grouped them by genre, and only included movies from the past decade or so. There really is no excuse to EVER resort to desperately raiding your board games cupboard for inspiration for a movie ever again.
Animated – Wall-E
Wall-E is my favourite of Pixar’s movies. No mean feat, when one considers Toy Story 1-3, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up could all have an equal stake for this position in the list. Like those movies its brilliance centres in a simple, engaging story and a central relationship we are able to invest in. Its first act in particular is probably as close to perfection as thirty minutes of cinema can ever come.
Superhero – The Dark Knight
All of Christopher Nolan’s films have than wonderful mix of intelligence and mass appeal. In that sense he is this generation’s Hitchcock. Someone who knows precisely what the audience wants, but also creates films with proper ideas and themes running through them. In The Dark Knight we see the theme of heroics as Batman must make the choice between his reputation and saving Gotham from itself. Rich, dense, but never truly losing its comic roots it is a film that has set a standard for what superhero movies should be.
Family – Hugo
Martin Scorcese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Departed) is not a director known for making warm, fuzzy family films, and while Hugo is not a warm, fuzzy film it is nevertheless a lot more life-affirming than most of his work to date. Set in 1930s France it sees the young titular character searching for a key to a mechanical robot which is the boy’s last link to his deceased father. This film, like Wall-E has a superbly written story which is full of surprises, as well as containing characters with proper depth and issues of loss and bereavement that are explored beautifully within the film. Criminally under seen upon release, seek it out if you were one of the many who let it pass you by.
Teenage – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Like Wall-E I really could have chosen any from this series after the third one. However, I felt Azkaban was really where the series ‘grew up’ and started taking its central characters more seriously. From the simple changes, like the trio’s clothing changing from gowns to hoodies, to the more pronounced as Harry discusses the impact his parent’s death has had on him with Lupin on the bridge. The success of both the books and the films shows the appetite there is amongst teenagers for characters they can care about, get behind and identify with. The Hunger Games is a good example of another series which is carrying the torch for this type of film.
Sci-Fi/Fantasy – Children of Men
From the same director as The Prisoner of Azkaban comes a sci-fi movie that doesn’t quite feel in the same category as more obvious examples from the genre like Star Trek or Avatar. The future we see is around 20 years from the present day as a disease has prevented humans from reproducing and they only have around sixty years until extinction. The story at the centre of this film is pleasingly simple. However, its themes of hope and survival are intelligent ally implemented. Also impressive is Cuarón’s use of tracking shot, from the scene in the car when one of the protagonists gets shot, to a scene right at the end where a gunfight is brought to a standstill by a startling discovery. Sci-Fi/Fantasy has the ability to take us to other worlds and explore ideas in a way no other genre can. Children of Men shows the importance of making sure there are universal themes and depth beneath the world you have whisked your audience away to.