As viewership drops for Hollywood’s annual Academy Awards ceremony, “Everyone has a theory about the decline…” argues an opinion piece in the New York Times.
“My favored theory is that the Oscars are declining because the movies they were made to showcase have been slowly disappearing.”
When the nominees were announced in February, nine of the 10 had made less than $40 million in domestic box office. The only exception, “Dune,” barely exceeded $100 million domestically, making it the 13th-highest-grossing movie of 2021. All told, the 10 nominees together have earned barely one-fourth as much at the domestic box office as “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Even when Hollywood tries to conjure the old magic, in other words, the public isn’t there for it anymore…. Sure, non-superhero-movie box office totals will bounce back in 2022, and next year’s best picture nominees will probably earn a little more in theaters. Within the larger arc of Hollywood history, though, this is the time to call it: We aren’t just watching the decline of the Oscars; we’re watching the End of the Movies….
[W]hat looks finished is The Movies — big-screen entertainment as the central American popular art form, the key engine of American celebrity, the main aspirational space of American actors and storytellers, a pop-culture church with its own icons and scriptures and rites of adult initiation…. The internet, the laptop and the iPhone personalized entertainment and delivered it more immediately, in a way that also widened Hollywood’s potential audience — but habituated people to small screens, isolated viewing and intermittent watching, the opposite of the cinema’s communalism. Special effects opened spectacular (if sometimes antiseptic-seeming) vistas and enabled long-unfilmable stories to reach big screens. But the effects-driven blockbuster, more than its 1980s antecedents, empowered a fandom culture that offered built-in audiences to studios, but at the price of subordinating traditional aspects of cinema to the demands of the Jedi religion or the Marvel cult. And all these shifts encouraged and were encouraged by a more general teenage-ification of Western culture, the extension of adolescent tastes and entertainment habits deeper into whatever adulthood means today….
Under these pressures, much of what the movies did in American culture, even 20 years ago, is essentially unimaginable today. The internet has replaced the multiplex as a zone of adult initiation. There’s no way for a few hit movies to supply a cultural lingua franca, given the sheer range of entertainment options and the repetitive and derivative nature of the movies that draw the largest audiences. The possibility of a movie star as a transcendent or iconic figure, too, seems increasingly dated. Superhero franchises can make an actor famous, but often only as a disposable servant of the brand. The genres that used to establish a strong identification between actor and audience — the non-superhero action movie, the historical epic, the broad comedy, the meet-cute romance — have all rapidly declined…
[T]he caliber of instantly available TV entertainment exceeds anything on cable 20 years ago. But these productions are still a different kind of thing from The Movies as they were — because of their reduced cultural influence, the relative smallness of their stars, their lost communal power, but above all because stories told for smaller screens cede certain artistic powers in advance.
The article argues that episodic TV also cedes the Movies’ power of an-entire-story-in-one-go condensation. (“This power is why the greatest movies feel more complete than almost any long-form television.”) And it ultimately suggests that like opera or ballet, these grand old movies need “encouragement and patronage, to educate people into loves that earlier eras took for granted,” and maybe even “an emphasis on making the encounter with great cinema a part of a liberal arts education. ”
In 2014 one lone film-maker had even argued that Ben Stiller’s spectacular-yet-thoughtful Secret Life of Walter Mitty “might be the last of a dying breed.”
Read more of this story at Slashdot.