As I mentioned yesterday I watched this video about the current state of Hollywood, and it made me realise that the only good films I’ve seen in the last few years have been, with one exception, British. I’ll tell you what they were in a minute – but first, I think the video raises some important questions about what is actually going on in popular culture. Thoughty-Two (that’s the vlogger’s name – geddit?) suggests that there are two main problems in film right now and they both begin with B: the first is the business model and the second is Bathos. Let’s deal with the second one first.
Bathos is in the best sense comic relief. It’s done very well in, say, the Harry Potter series where the tension is ratcheted up and up until you can’t take any more at which point Ron says something (it’s usually Ron, though it might be Fred or George) which makes us laugh and defuses the tension. This scene in The Chamber of Secrets with the giant spider Aragog is a good example; as the beast advances to feast on them Ron says in strangled tones ‘Can we panic now?’
Unfortunately it has become a mere knee-jerk trope in far too many films, resulting in a total lack of emotional engagement. It’s as if the film-makers are terrified of taking anything too seriously and must constantly remind us that this is all just fun, entertainment, candy floss in celluloid. It’s a cynical reminder of the usual tropes; a nod to the fact that, hey, you’re all highly civilised and experienced people and we’re not going to mess with that. At its best it’s clever and amusing but generally the result is cynical and dulling to the spirit.
Thoughty-Two singles out superhero movies and particularly Marvel films as the worst offenders, which brings us to the second B: business. It’s expensive to make a film, which means that producers tend to go with what works, which means they tend to repeat what worked before, which means very little gets made that’s innovative. Not only that, but in order not to lose the rights to a particular character they have to keep making films that use the character, whether or not those films are any good. Otherwise the rights will ‘revert’ and they’ll lose them.
It’s clear that what loses out in all this are genuine characters, human emotions and good storytelling. Thoughty-Two points out that in this climate much of the talent has fled to places like Netflix and HBO, boosting the current golden age of TV drama in which we are living.
The video gives an excellent rundown of the current situation in Hollywood, and led me to compile this list of all the good films I’ve seen in the last few years. They are, in no particular order, these:
1917 by Sam Mendes
Mr Turner by Mike Leigh
Sorry We Missed You by Ken Loach
Peterloo by Mike Leigh
Mrs Lowry and Son by Adrian Noble
Joker by Todd Phillips
With only one exception, Joker, these are all British. Coincidence? I think not.