One of the perks of writing about Hollywood is all the invites to free film screenings, many of which feature a Q&A with top talent who work either in front of or behind the camera. I don’t attend too many of these events anymore as an active single father of two small children, and my exposure to cinema is largely confined to an occasional DVD rental if I’m able to stay awake long enough or a kid movie in the theaters.
It’s always a pleasant surprise when I see something compelling and memorable, especially since I’ve been a movie buff for years and reviewed films for my college newspaper and first job after graduating.
The reason is simple: I think the golden age of America cinema has passed us by, and like so many other types of businesses, many products or services that were invented in the U.S. have since been perfected in other countries. I find most foreign films much better than the American-made fare, which I believe is a combination of two things.
One reason is that Hollywood has been run by number-crunchers for the past 30 years or so who are often risk-averse about content and focused with laser-like precision on the bottom line. The other reason is that moviegoers have increasingly set the quality bar lower and lower, which could be generational or attributable to other factors. It’s a vicious cycle that has led to the release of mindless sequels and mediocre remakes of classic films – a recipe for creative failure.
I’d prefer that all the big movie studios just do a much better job of promoting, marketing and distributing all the wonderful independent U.S. films that have come out over the years. This is the legacy of Robert Redford, whose Sundance Film Festival elevated indie productions to an art form. The baton of great moviemaking was passed to this veteran actor, who has since inspired legions of talented directors, writers, producers, cast and crew members over the years.
This leads me back to my latest pleasant surprise. On New Year’s Day, I took my 4-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son to see “Big Hero 6,” which recently garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film of 2014. I had no idea what the film was about except for the goofy billboards all over town, which led me to believe that I was in store for more mindless entertainment at the local theater.
But my preconception turned out to be way off base. It was the best kid movie I’d seen in about 10 years. The Internet Movie Database, known as IMDb, says this Walt Disney Animation Studios production features the team behind “Frozen” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” describing it as “an action-packed comedy-adventure about the special bond that develops between Baymax, a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada.”
My daughter, who simply can’t sit through a movie and asks after the opening credits when we’re going home, managed to sit still for about 75% of the film, which is no small miracle, while my son repeatedly whispered how much he loved the story and cried during a sad part (I had a lump in my throat).
Afterward, we were lucky to meet an animator who worked on the film at a play park located a few minutes from the Disney studio. His son was wearing a “Big Hero 6” t-shirt, which led to an ice-breaking conversation with my son. They were both the same age. His dad confessed it had been a harrowing year leading up to the release date with lots of last-minute tweaking – standard fare now in Hollywood. He also said no one associated with the film ever thought it would be such a success, nor did they feel the same about “Frozen,” which he also worked on.
This just goes to show you how tough it is to make predictions or connect commerce with critical acclaim, but I think the larger point is that if you have a tremendous story with robust characters that people can relate to, then word-of-mouth promotion more than likely will help power the project.