As somebody who gives a shit about film, stuff like this is almost physically painful to read:
The prospect that a film will embed itself into the cultural and historical consciousness of the American public in the way of Gone With the Wind or the Godfather series seems greatly diminished in an era when content is consumed in thinner slices, and the films that play broadly often lack depth.
As the awards season unfolds, the movies are still getting smaller. After six weeks in theaters The Master, a 70-millimeter character study much praised by critics, has been seen by about 1.9 million viewers. That is significantly smaller than the audience for a single hit episode of a cable show like Mad Men or The Walking Dead.
Argo, another Oscar contender, had about 7.6 million viewers through the weekend. If interest holds up, it may eventually match the one-night audience for an episode of Glee.
Michael Cieply's bluntly titled piece in yesterday's Times, "Movies Try to Escape Cultural Irrelevance," hurts to read because it's 100 percent true. While Cieply uses the irrelevant-for-as-long-as-I-have-been-alive Academy Awards as a focal point to talk about Hollywood's low box office and diminishing cultural importance, it's not the Oscars that concern me so much as films' day-to-day impact (or current lack thereof). People aren't going to movies like they used to: They complain about how wide-release movies don't try anything new, but then don't bother to show up when one actually does; they watch, and talk about, TV far more than they do movies, which is only fair when so much TV is so much better than so much film; Avatar, The Dark Knight, and The Avengers are the films that've functioned the most like cultural touchstones in the past few years, which is slightly problematic. (And hey, I liked Avatar and The Dark Knight, and loved The Avengers. I'm just saying that given the fact it's an election season, it might be kind of rad to have more people talking about Argo instead of whether or not The Walking Dead is still terrible.)
The Oscars are screwed, and will be for as long as those in Hollywood continue to use them as an airbrushed infomercial rather than a merit-based award system. (That said, this'll be the first year I won't be bothering to watch them at all—every man has his breaking point, and mine is Seth MacFarlane.) But when it comes to what actually matters—which movies get made, and which movies get seen—David Denby sums it up pretty neatly when he talks about studios in that Times piece: “If they don’t build their own future, they’re digging their own graves."
As somebody who writes about film for a living [INSERT NERVOUS LAUGH HERE]—and, more importantly, as someone who spends entirely too many hours, both on and off the clock, watching and thinking about movies—I hope studios can figure out a way to build that future. It might be worth looking at how Megan Ellison's been doing things. Or—and I realize this sounds weird—start thinking about why 2012 worked out pretty well for Channing Tatum—and his producers, and his audiences. Or maybe studios could start using their clout to force movie theaters stop being truly godawful places to spend time. Clearly, I don't have the answers either. I'm just some idiot with a computer and too many Blu-rays. But I'm pretty sure there are some answers out there, if people are willing to take chances on what might work. Because Hollywood's status quo—sequels, reboots, and franchises—isn't sustainable. Or at least it isn't if Hollywood wants to escape cultural irrelevance.