The long and short of it: A trending Twitter hashtag earlier this week inspired me to rank my 7 favorite films of all-time, and in the process I was reminded of how much I love movies, which is exactly the kind of reminder I needed at a time when I’ve never been more cynical about the future of the Hollywood film studios.
The longer version of it:
Twitter hashtag trends are so ephemeral that to merely mention them 24-48 hours after they’ve lost their momentum feels like being a circa 2008 parent asking their adult and very social media savvy child, “Have you heard of this new thing called Facebook? Are you on that? Can you explain it to me?” Yet here are I am writing about Twitter’s somewhat self-explanatory #7FavFilms trend at least a full day after it was actually noteworthy.
Here’s what happened: On Monday, #7favfilms was tweeted almost 100,000 times between 5 AM and 7 PM ET, quickly zooming up the list of trending topics. By Tuesday, various outlets (including TheMarySue) tabulated the numbers and revealed the 7 most tweeted films from the hashtag were The Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather, Goodfellas and Aliens. Plus, other outlets were more than happy to republish a bunch of #7favfilms by celebrities (OMG, you guys, James Gunn’s favorite film is Once Upon a Time in the West). On Wednesday, everyone moved on with their lives.
So, yeah, I’m really late to this particular Twitter party, but I actually love this specific hashtag. Being a fan of Hollywood movies now is like being a friend to a lifelong companion who’s going down a really bad road with some seriously self-destructive behavior (doubling down on remakes/reboots/sequels/requels, yielding the cultural conversation to TV while watering down mainstream film to make it more saleable to worldwide audiences, etc.), and you’re just not sure if they can be saved. You’ll see some encouraging signs for a week or two (an insightful, but hilariously bawdy comedy like Bad Moms here, a touching family film like Pete’s Dragon over there, a gorgeous animated feature like Kubo and the Two Strings), but then it’s back off the wagon again.
That’s not to say great movies aren’t being made anymore, or that just because the major Hollywood studios are in a creative slump amazing indie films aren’t still lighting up art houses (the horror genre, in particular, is awash in great indie content right now) and fascinating foreign films aren’t still coming out of places like South Korea (I hear great things about a new zombie movie set on a train). However, with the move to year-round blockbuster scheduling there’s less and less room for those kinds of films to have any kind of theatrical life outside of the standard big cities, suggesting a future in which only blockbusters movies play in theaters and anything smaller goes direct to SVOD.
It’s frustrating, especially after a summer of so much disappointment and a future which seems determined to repeat all the same mistakes. Many of the people who read this site and leave comments seem to be frustrated (see the comments section of this recent article for evidence of that). A prominent YouTuber like Comic Book Girl 19 is similarly ticked off and tired of trying to put a positive spin on so much shit. At this point, the headlines just write themselves, such as io9 summing up one of Wednesday’s big stories with “A Clue Remake Is Coming From Fox Because It’s 2016 and Everything Is a Remake.”
Then along comes #7FavFilms, no doubt annoying those who reject the mere concept of ranking movies or conclusively stating one piece of art is better than another (I am suddenly channeling an old film class professor from college). However, it’s also a reminder of how much we love movies, how certain scenes can stick with us for years and certain sequences can still excite us long after the fact.
For example, with an assist from FlickChart I determined my #7FavFilms of the moment to be Shawshank Redemption, Terminator 2, Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Back to the Future, Boogie Nights and Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. Looking back over these films, I was overwhelmed by a rush of memories of beloved scenes, from Gollum’s debate with Smeagal to the last march of the Ents in Two Towers to the final goodbyes in Terminator 2, Wrath of Khan and Eternal Sunshine to just about every damn second of Back to the Future, Shawshank and Boogie Nights.
Boogie Nights, in particular, is a film which has rapidly moved up my favorites list in recent years. It can so easily be dimissed as that film where Mark Wahlberg had a prosthetic big dick. Even one of its stars, Burt Reynolds, didn’t think much of Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, ruefully summing up his role as playing “Father Knows Best” to a bunch of fuck-ups and drug addicts. However, I now think of Boogie Nights the same way many think of Goodfellas, a toure de force display of genius filmmaking with one astounding cinematic sequence (e.g., the extra long steadycam shot that opens the film) stacked on top of another (e.g., the Alfred Molina drug trade gone wrong and the way Anderson holds the shot on Wahlberg’s face just a little too long in the moment where the absurdity of his entire life seems to come crashing down on him).
Of course, Boogie Nights is also an examination of an industry at a crucial turning point in its history, with the following scene perfectly depicting what it’s like to be on the wrong side of history when commerce overtakes art. They are specifically talking about the future of the adult film industry on New Years Eve’s 1979, but you can so easily imagine Christopher Nolan in Burt Reynold’s place while debating with some money-man trying to tell him in simple business terms why digital, not film, is the future. Or you could picture the money-man in this scene as the embodiment of the corporate conglomerates who just want to profit off films as investments which feed into an intricately planned out value chain and the director as the artist flailing to maintain any kind of storytelling integrity in such a model:
Look. You might not realize it, or you might thinks this is all simply an overreaction to a down year overloaded with bad movies but the film industry is in complete crisis mode. Film attendance in North America is currently hitting lows we haven’t seen since before the advent of sound film, and China is suffering its first box office slump in what seems like forever since they’ve been skyrocketing up the global marketshare chart so rapidly in just 5 years. Other than Disney, the major film studios could not look more clueless right now (although kudos to Universal for deciding not to remake Clue, boo to Fox for swooping in to pick up the rights and announce it as an “action-adventure” take on the property…oh, fuck you Fox), and very little they’ve tried lately has worked.
Not to repeat myself, it’s so frustrating, especially as a younger generation is now being trained to expect less from movies (I’ve seen so, so many “it’s just a big, dumb blockbuster. it was fine” arguments this summer-heck, I made one of those myself) and more from TV. Amidst so much frustration and cynicism, it’s nice to remember, “Oh, yeah, I really fucking love movies.”