You might notice that everything is very very quiet right now. That’s the sound of fear. Fear has caused most writers to clam up, unless they’re surfing the trending topics on Twitter where they pretty much go along with everyone thinks. Some of them have to be sacrificed because the beast must be fed so any dissent is passed around like something out of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. It’s weird to see people who see themselves and define themselves as “good” behaving that way.
Someday we will be astonished at what’s gone on, how we’ve persecuted and purged so many people in the name of purity and “holding them accountable.” The problem is that to write great stories like The Lottery, or to make great films, or to do great investigative journalism – whatever it, there has to be fearlessness. Not fear.
The result, at least where Hollywood is concerned, is kind of perplexing. There is a near-universal demand to represent every marginalized group in any film or TV show. If it isn’t there – here come the stones. I expect some can get away with it, if they’re nestled in the protective bosom of Netflix perhaps, but most can’t. To go along with that, those represented marginalized groups have to be depicted in a positive light: good cop, nice friend, funny assistant. They have to be positive representations of each community or else here come the stones.
So that leaves the only targets of scorn white people – men, women, doesn’t matter. Poor white people, rich white people, pretty white people, not-pretty white people. I imagine most films this year in the Oscar race will continue to depict only whites as the bad guys in movies. That feels safer, less problematic. But it also means that a lot of these stories have to twist themselves around into pretzels in order to satisfy everyone.
I’m also noticing, in looking at the upcoming slate, most of the films are written and directed by the same person, with just a few not having been. The personal dramas feel very introspective, with a focus on issues like sexual assault, depression, aimlessness, and childhood nostalgia.
In usual fashion, they do seem somewhat somber and on the sad side, which is what we’ve come to expect for Oscar season, with a few notable exceptions.
It’s easy to see why a film like Top Gun Maverick stands apart. It is jolt of feelgood optimism at a time when most Americans need it most. One of the strange byproducts of the way our society has become so polarized is that on the left there aren’t that many stories left to tell. Throughout the history of film, filmmakers were on the side of the working class – old-school Republican Frank Capra, for instance, was able to find common ground with his ultra-liberal screenwriter Robert Riskin. That did shift a bit in the 1950s, when high-society sophistication was idolized more than it was criticized. Then through the 1960s and 1970s they were kind of done with that.
None of the films that are earmarked for Best Picture this year seem revolve around or are aimed at “regular folk.” They are very high minded, sophisticated and aimed as a particular kind of person. With the exception of Top Gun, Elvis, and the upcoming Black Panther sequel, these are very much aimed at the NPR set.
So if a film is written and directed by the same person, it then becomes “what do I want to say to the world?” What is the message? At a time when almost everyone on the Left is very concerned with appearing virtuous – that means auteurs mostly have to send a message to reflect who they are. That only adds to the pressure. Make a great movie, maintain one’s good reputation.
*(We’re not talking about the classic pantheon of Andrew Sarris auteurs, Golden Age non-hyphenate directors who left their distinctive auteur signature on their films no matter who wrote the screenplays.)
I don’t know about you but I can’t wait until all of this collapses and we can start being more honest, more brave and more daring in our writing, our thinking, our opinions and our movie making.
So let’s look at the Best Pic slate in terms of auteurs/collaborators.
Top Gun Maverick
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Written by: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie
A good story well told. Is it a great movie? It’s a great movie in the way so many movies in the 1980s were great movies, like Robocop. Top Gun is now the highest-grossing film that isn’t a fantasy or superhero movie. That says a lot to me. Coming out of this year, there is a more than decent chance it may be the ONLY film (with the possible exception of Everything Everywhere All at Once and Elvis) that will be remembered ten years from now. More than that, it will tie all of us to this moment in time. We will remember 2022 as tied to Top Gun: Maverick.
Written/Directed by Baz Luhrmann
But Lurhmann has co-screenwriters:
Of course it would have to be an auteur piece. You know you’re watching a Baz Luhrmann movie. It exists in that universe the same way that a Tarantino movie could not be made by anyone else. It matters less that Film Twitter likes this movie, or even that it will land Oscar nominations (which it should). It’s that it’s a film that has made its mark in the hearts of many. That will make it lasting far beyond most of the films that will do well in any Oscar year.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Written and Directed by Dan Kwan/Daniel Sheinhert
While it’s absolutely only a film that could have been made by the Daniels, it also stands out because of its unique visual style. It does seem to be a great example of Gen-Z in 2022. It is really about what the latest generation is experiencing as the first generation to come of age amid social media. When you interface with the virtual world and can build alternate identities if you want, with smart phones and an abundance of computer games – you can start to see how their reality and their future exists as much in a virtual reality as it does any other reality.
Here are the rest of them.
Written or co-written/directed by the same person:
Written/Directed by Jim Cameron
It will most definitely have an ecological message, as Cameron and his wife are devoted to the environment.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tony Kushner/Spielberg
A childhood reminiscence that explains, at least partly, how we got the genius that is Spielberg.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Directed by Peter Farrelly
Written by Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Pete Jones
Nostalgia but based on a true story. I can dig it. Looks to be entertaining in the same way Top Gun is.
Written/Directed by Damien Chazelle
Probably the only one in the lineup that will dare to go to the dark side. Can’t wait.
Written/Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu
Co-writer: Nicolás Giacobone
This will be probably a little like TAR – impressionistic, dreamy.
Written/Directed by Sarah Polley
This is based on a book and will be very much a mood piece on sexual assault.
Empire of Light
Written/Directed by Sam Mendes
Looks swoony and dreamy – a love story and appears to be a love letter to the Olivia Colman character.
Written/Directed by Noah Baumbach
(based on Don DeLillo’s novel)
This is going to be about De Lillo as a writer – otherwise people can see it as kind of a “Don’t Look Up” idea.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Samuel D. Hunter
Aronofsky is hard to predict. Tends to be surprising, strange, uncompromising.
Triangle of Sadness
Written/Directed by Ruben Östlund
Well received for the most part out of Cannes
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Written/Directed by Rian Johnson
Probably not that different from the original. Funny ensemble piece with a progressive message.
Written/Directed by Todd Field
Looks quite surreal and strange – early word is good, especially for La Blanchett
Written/Directed by David O. Russell
A period ensemble piece.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Written/Directed by Martin McDonagh
Looks funny, a return to form for McDonagh.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Written by Coogler/Joe Robert Cole
Sure to be as exciting as the first.
Written/Directed by Chinonye Chukwu
Written and Directed by different people:
Directed by Maria Schrader
Written by Jodi Kanter
Looking forward to this one if it lives up to its promise of being like Spotlight, All the President’s Men
The Woman King
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythwood
Written by Dana Stevens
This is sure to be outside-the-box and interesting.
Don’t Worry Darling
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Written by: Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke
Still very curious about this. What I’ve heard so far has me intrigued.
Directed by Florian Zeller
Written by Christopher Hampton (from Zeller’s play)
Early word is that this is hard-hitting and emotionally effective.
My own predictions for Best Picture I will post tomorrow. Let me know in the comments if there are any blind spots here.