Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too. Annually, including this seventh edition, this is my absolute favorite editorial to write every year. I have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change.
Since last year, I feel like I’ve been writing a little bit of this every week all year over on the “What We Learned This Week” column contribution here on the Feelin’ Film Podcast website. Readers and followers of that podcast and column will get my cadence. I’m sarcastic, but I’m not the guy to take it to the false internet courage level of some Twitter troll. This will be as forward as I get all year.
Some resolutions come true (a great deal of last year’s list is still relevant), while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. You would hope Hollywood would learn from those lessons going forward. Alas, here we go again! Enjoy!
1. Clean out your closets for good.
Without question, the most enormous and egregious issue to cross this industry this past year was the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations leveled against big names, small names, and studio executives. I know I’ve preached patience in a recent Feelin’ Film “soapbox” to plead with folks to be in the camp of “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around, in terms of letting these claims play out to proven guilt before burning careers to the ground. That said, let these exposures continue to be moral napalm to clean out a dirty Hollywood. Purge the skeletons from the closets in a string of ugly years, if that’s what it takes, to advance equality and fairness going forward. Pass the matches.
2. Continue the “Year of the Woman” into the “Era of Women.”
Last year on this column, I celebrated female protagonists. Despite the ugly headlines, 2017 was an incredible year for women going ever further to lead the charge in film behind the scenes as well. If voters were vigilant enough, you could fill the upcoming Best Director Oscar field with 80% women, Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Dee Rees (Mudbound), Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled), and the category wouldn’t lose an ounce of talent or respectability. Much like #OscarsSoWhite sticking around through Moonlight last year, Hollywood has to do better than a one-year surge or knee-jerk olive branch. Turn this banner year into a string of them worthy of being called an era. These ladies and others have earned it. Reward them as such with opportunity.
3. There is room for objective to go with the subjective.
I might be gunning fairly high-brow with this one where I might be wearing too much of my film critic hat to go with my movie fan t-shirt. I get the general foundation where loving and enjoying movies will always be greatly subjective. Too each their own, all day. I get that. However, maybe it’s the capacity of the school teacher in me, but if I’ve learned anything doing this film critic thing is that there is room for objective to go with the subjective when it comes to reacting to a film. I’ve seen movies this year like A Ghost Story, mother!, and Call Me By Your Name that I do not find entertaining, per se, or contain content I don’t condone or agree with from the seat of my personal values. When that occurs, I’ve learned to take a step back and recognize the goals those films and filmmakers were going for and find ways to respect them, and even commend them, even when I don’t like the finished products. I think general audiences could try a form of this reflection on for size too. I think if people took a breath, stepped back, and looked at something other than their own expectations for a film, they might see purposes other than some self-serving ones and we would have a whole bunch fewer rants and raves of negative hyperbole.
4. Make smarter trailers and less of them.
Stop giving away too much in a trailer. There are films from this past year where the trailer gave away 80% of storylines. Where’s the mystery? Less is more. Take Star Wars: The Last Jedi. After Star Wars: The Force Awakens made over $900 million domestically two years ago, the sequel didn’t need the help of a lengthy trailer and could have sold itself on principle alone rather than a second trailer that even director Rian Johnson had to give a minor spoiler warning to. Trailers like that aren’t worth it or necessary. Between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and all the people who fussed about not getting an Avengers: Infinity War trailer until December, find some patience. Trailer-makers, leave the audience wanting. Make them wait. Imagine the anticipation if there wasn’t a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Avengers: Infinity War. Imagine the frenzy and the payoff, not just on the screen, but on the bottom line of box office receipts.
5. Drown out the click bait with creativity.
One of my satisfactions from Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that it shook off two years worth of superfluous noise and the endless conjecture of silly fan theories and think pieces to surprise just about everyone by sticking to its creative guns to blaze its own trail, not one caving to unreasonable expectations. How I know it worked is watching the butthurt backlash from the two weeks of people trying to disown the movie because it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be. To the click bait crowd, Rian Johnson and company made THEIR movie, not YOUR movie. That was the objective goal and it’s a shame people can’t respect that or the differences, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi was just one example of many. Pushing anything else is entitlement and not anticipation.
6. Don’t let Disney’s head (or portfolio) get too big.
Last year on this annual editorial, one of my items read “Disney/Marvel, please pay Fox and Sony whatever they want to bring your universe under one roof.” By golly, I didn’t think Disney was going to go even further that that to entirely buy 21st Century Fox. Disney is playing Monopoly with more money and property than anyone else with a token on the game board. Be wary and mindful of that power beyond the wish fulfillment of X-Men and Fantastic Four possibilities in the MCU. Disney hasn’t been a saint this year with the blackout of critics from certain publications, shuffling and firing directors, price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention, pulling their content from Netflix (while buying controlling stake in Hulu Plus), arranging their own streaming service, and more. Maintain healthy competition and watch out for that bullseye on your back, Sony.
7. While we’re talking about superheroes, scale them down a touch.
Superhero films are the hottest tickets in town. You don’t have to necessarily have studios slow down the pace of the film releases, just the size of the films and stories. The best superhero film this past year was Logan, which striped all the spectacle away and told essentially a modern western to become of the best-ever entries to the genre and further proof that R-rated options were viable as well. Until the big swirling finale of special effects, Wonder Woman was nearly the same for leanness and importance. The counterexamples are Justice League this year and X-Men: Apocalypse two years ago, where the storylines are becoming overstuffed and piling on in an effort to constantly top themselves. Logan is proof you don’t need to do that. Tell a single good story. Lead up from small to big, instead of from big to bigger. Build from small for a few films and then get to the massive Infinity War level events. That rumored Matt Reeves Batman detective story can’t come soon enough instead of the next intergalactic throwdown.
8. Put more depth of heart and less dumb antics in family films.
I’m bringing this resolution back verbatim as a repeat from last year. I hear people (one of them sounds like me) all the time saying how annoying and unintelligent the movie options are for kids and families, particularly in the live-action department. In 2016, Pete’s Dragon and Queen of Katwe showed audiences that not everything had to be 90 minutes of animated noise, but neither took off as big hits. This year, Beauty and the Beast was a ready-made blockbuster and Wonder is doing great this holiday season. They give me hope. I just wish more folks could have seen and discovered the heart of Wonderstruck this year like I did. Keep the efforts coming.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.