Yay! For A Change, The Entertaining Film Wins

The first streaming service to win the big one, Apple+ took home the Best Picture Oscar last week for the movie “CODA.”

Watching an awards show usually gives you the chance to cheer for the nominees you've seen and liked. I hadn't seen “CODA,” but its win still made me happy. I knew that its story, about a hearing daughter of deaf parents, touched the heart -- and was way more entertaining than “The Power of the Dog,” also predicted as likely to win Best Picture. (And also from a streaming service, this time on Netflix.)

“Dog” had been buoyed by multiple best picture wins (BAFTA, the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards), along with critical love. “A great American story,” raved The New York Times; “an exquisitely crafted film,” cheered The Hollywood Reporter.

But if you looked at Rotten Tomatoes, you got a bigger picture: reviewers' score, 93%; audience score, 76%.

That shows the schism between critics and “regular people.”



And maybe critics don’t matter anymore. Certainly they are not the gatekeepers they once were.

Still, it’s an emperor-with-no-clothes moment when I start streaming a movie that has been praised, and I’m so bored I want to ask the critic, “Dude, is it me or is it you?”

That happened with “Dog,” along with other recent streaming movies that I thought were overpraised, like “The Lost Daughter” and “Passing.”  

“Dog” is just one of many too-long, dense films that lack entertainment value, with beautifully photographed scenes that lack narrative thrust.

I stopped watching it after about half an hour. Sneaking a peek at the plot summary, I was alerted to the ending, with a twist that apparently many viewers couldn't figure out.

In a Hollywood Reporter interview, the film's editor, Peter Sciberras, talked about how director Jane Campion removed a shot (which is also the last scene in the book) that would have better explained what really happened. Sciberras described the edit as “a really brave call to make.”

Brave -- or head-smackingly annoying? (And oh, yeah, Campion won the Best Director Oscar.)

Too much ambiguity also mars “The Lost Daughter” (a Netflix film as well), by a first-time director, actor Maggie Gyllenhaal (who was Oscar-nominated for writing the best adapted screenplay).  

In an interview for Vulture, her husband, Peter Sarsgaard (also an actor in the film), said he had given Gyllenhaal some notes on the screenplay: “In the film, characters…make mysterious decisions that are never explained or rationalized; many of Sarsgaard’s suggestions were about adding plot points to further the narrative propulsion and make the characters’ motivations clearer — which Gyllenhaal refused."

Sarsgaard also told Vulture: "I kept wanting her to turn the screw tighter for the plot. This might be a masculine thing.”

Um, no, maybe it’s a human thing not to want to sit there screaming “Huh? What just happened?”

How dumb or smart is the audience supposed to be? Can creators find a happy balance between spelling everything out and minimizing any kind of plot so much we're left dangling in an unsatisfying tangle of enigmatic vagueness?

Streaming movies or TV shows shouldn't be like a post-grad English seminar. A good work has to have something that grabs you at the beginning and rewards a first watching, and then keeps getting richer every time.

Such as “Some Like it Hot,” Oscar-nominated in 1960 for its direction and screenplay.

On my 15th viewing, I get sucked once again into the whiplash plot -- male musicians disguising themselves to go on the lam in an all-female band -- but this time, I notice Marilyn Monroe barely strums her ukulele when she sings “Running Wild," a detail of particular interest to the uke player in me. And then I enjoy the wild ride till the end, when Joe E. Brown, being told that his love object is a man, delivers the fabulous last line: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Now, that’s a movie.

1 comment about "Yay! For A Change, The Entertaining Film Wins".
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  1. John Luma from iLumaNation, April 6, 2022 at 11:58 a.m.

    Great analysis, thank you. Your main point has been completely embraced by so many of the directors or writers of these dot-com funded movies: Too-long films that lack entertainment value and narrative thrust. And what's the cause of this industry-wide trend? Could it be the new media (non-movie background) corps willingly give up total control to the directors and producers? Check! Could it be they have so much money to throw at these productions they don't care that they're not entertaining for "regular people," because they will still gain critical acclaim and win awards for their company? Check! The basic idea of good storytelling has been around for a couple millenia -- "In the beginning is the word." Ie, it starts with the script! A page per minute of screen time. If it doesn't "jump off the page" with clarity and narrative force, rarely will you find those qualities in the final movie. Actors often can spot this better than most, like Sarsgaard did, because actors at his level have read hundreds of scripts in their careers and are looking to be part of great stories and great entertainment. At the least, these movies should not be released until test audiences have given them the big thumbs up. 

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