erik lundegaard


Saturday December 10, 2022

Brooks Was (A Dick) Here. Again.

There was an article in the New York Times yesterday about the poor box office of Oscar films, and since that used to be one of my bailiwicks (box office, Oscars, the twain), and since I totally lost the thread during the pandemic, I checked it out. Then I saw the byline.

Oh right, Brooks Barnes. He still doing this? 

Yes, he, is.

The article is about how serious films, released this November, are doing horribly at the box office. It's sad. No one is going to see “Tar” or “Armeggedon Time” or even Steven Spielberg's “The Fabelmans.” And I'm one of them. Of course, I was sick with COVID for most of the month.

Barnes, though, implies that the poor box office can no longer be blamed on the pandemic. Or he claims that Hollywood insiders feel that:

But studios held out hope, deciding that November 2022 would give a more accurate reading of the marketplace. By then, the coronavirus would not be such a complicating factor. This fall would be a “last stand,” as some put it, a chance to show that more than superheroes and sequels could succeed.

Except ... When did they think this? A year ago? Do they still think it? I mean, isn't COVID still complicating things? Particularly with the demographic (older, smarter) that tends to see prestige pictures in theaters?

So my antannae were already up. Something felt wrong. And then Barnes lays this graf on us: 

This is about more than money: Hollywood sees the shift as an affront to its identity. Film power players have long clung to the fantasy that the cultural world revolves around them, as if it were 1940. But that delusion is hard to sustain when their lone measuring stick — bodies in seats — reveals that the masses can't be bothered to come watch the films that they prize most.

How do you even unpack a paragraph like that? First, he's ascribing a monolithic personality to a hugely mulitfaceted entity—Hollywood—and then he's critiquing that monolithic personality. I don't think anyone in Hollywood is saying, “Yeah, we're clinging to the fantasy that the cultural world revolves around us like it's still 1940.” That's Barnes' reading. Basically, he's slamming people who are just trying to make a few good, serious movies during turbulent times. 

What. A. Dick.

Barnes has a long history of disparaging movies he thinks are hifalutin (“Up”) and cheering on movies he think are not (“The Emoji Movie”), and I guess this is that writ large. But the Times should be better. 

The sad part is I like most of the article. Later in the piece, we hear from film scholar Jeanine Basinger, who says, “When films are too introspective, as many of these Oscar ones now are, the audience gets forgotten about. ... When I think about going out to see misery and degradation and racism and all the other things that are wrong with our lives, I'm too depressed to put on my coat.” I couldn't agree more. This is something I've long argued about serious Hollywood films. Serious used to be more fun. Make it more fun again.

The bigger question is whether the demographic who tend to see serious films in theaters would rather just stream them now. I wouldn't be surprised if we've lost a percentage of those folks. Me, I miss going to theaters.

Posted at 09:21 AM on Saturday December 10, 2022 in category Movies - Box Office