The New York Times has certainly gone to town on the current state of cinema, with no less than three film heavyweights – Martin Scorsese, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, weighing in. As thoughtful as they might have tried to attend the issue, they missed the mark, focusing almost solely on the emptiness of the superhero genre and franchises of Star Wars, Disney et al., when great filmmaking goes far beyond that. Mr. Scorsese’s latest release, The Irishman, represents this problem as much as anything – films that sacrifice content for style.
There are four basics to a great film – visuals, sound, narrative and message. Exemplars include Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God (1973), The Coen’s No Country for Old Men (2005) and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (2017), all of which deliver a poignant message through story, images and music and only grow in dimension with repeated viewing.
The celebrated films of 2019 – such as Todd Phillips’ Joker, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Bong Joo-ho’s Parasite – fall well short of greatness because the story is meandering and incomplete. They, like the Hollywood franchises and Scorsese’s The Irishman, go so heavily in on style that the viewer just wants everybody to die so the film will finally end.
The best films of 2019 include Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, The Safdis’ Uncut Gems and Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, none of which are actually memorable, but at least they try to tell a story.
Fear not, just one year ago, there were three superlative films – Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters, Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma – offering everything, including story and images and message. 2020 might get us back on track.