One of the things that stuck with me from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was the number of folks who lamented about the quality of films that were being released in 2015. While some praised the strong crop of films, there was a large vocal contingent who noted that there were numerous “good” films, but very few “great” ones. Unlike previous years where, like knights from prestigious households, certain films marched out of the festival with the unanimous stamp of excellence firmly planted on their crest, no one could agree on a clear champion to rally behind. Being good was simply not good enough.
It is strange to think that we have reached a point where having too many “good” films would be considered a bad thing, but here we are. However, does a lack of uniform agreement, or at least a majority ruling, truly denote a poor year for cinema? Or is it simply a reflection of the shifting climate in viewing habits?
With a buffet of films being brought out on a shiny silver platter each week, now more than ever, cinephiles can indulge in whatever their heart desires. Whether in the mood for savory drama, spicy romance, exotic horror, a juicy foreign dish, or simply some quick blockbuster junk food, there is no shortage of menu items to choose from. This is a far cry from the days when, as my mother would say, you had to “eat what you were given.” That era not too long removed when, depending on the region one lived in, and the level of disposable income one had, the choices were limited to what was available at either the local theatre or the video store.
Granted, less films where produced in those days, or at least it felt that way.
Considering the wealth of films that are produced yearly, TIFF had three hundred alone, and that is only one of several prestigious festival which display new works, it seems peculiar to declare 2015 a “weaker” year than usual simply because a clear favourite has not yet been crowned. I cannot help but wonder if the abundance of choice is somehow diluting the ability for some to truly appreciate the bounty of good films being released. Similar to a contestant on the show The Bachelor, it seems that we are becoming more concerned with the quest for an ideal vision of perfection rather than reveling in the beautiful bounty before us.
We are already starting to see early examples of this as award season ramps up and studios send out their “For Your Consideration” screeners hoping to standout from the crowded pack. The Gotham Awards stirred up some debate recently over its selection of nominations this year. Academy Awards pundits like The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg lamented that the Gotham Awards did little to indicate potential Oscar contenders, while Indiewire’s Samuel Adams argued that it is wrong to expect movie awards to dictate the Oscars.
While the actual value of critical awards, in relations to the Academy Awards, is debatable – I say this fully aware that I am a happy card carrying member of one of those critical groups – the diversity of each group’s nominations is something to be valued, not chastised.
As if taking a stroll through a museum that never ends, once and a while it is nice to have someone point out the smaller exhibits that we might have otherwise missed. Though it would be great if films such as Tangerine and Heaven Knows What, two indie films I was quite fond of this year, got more notice, the fact of the matter is that they will always lose out to more accessible fare like Ant-Man and The Martian. Who knows, maybe that might be the problem right there. In a time when a smorgasbord of films can be viewed anytime, and anywhere, people still tend to cling to the familiar.
It is easy to be disappointed by the slate of films if one only sticks within the confines of that which is comfortable. This is not to say films cannot transcend the familiar flock. Depending on who you speak to, some would argue that films like Mad Max: Fury Road fits the bill. Regardless of whether or not such a film truly exists in 2015, a homogeneous voice is not necessarily the barometer that we should use. Instead the focus should be on embracing the quality within the quantity.
Are there too many films being released these days? Probably. However, there is still plenty of gold to mine within the dense stream. One just needs to be willing to wade into unfamiliar waters to find them.