Film vs TV, Oscars, and Drive Angry.

Film vs TV, Oscars, and Drive Angry..

My friend, Chris Baldwin, recently posted a note about his feelings on the state of the television/film industry. All his points are excellent and if you get a second, you should read his note and comment on it. The link is above.

I wanted to take the time to fully flesh out some of the areas that I agree with him, but also my disagreements. 

For those lazy people out there that don’t want to read his note, here is a (very, very) simplified version of his questions:
1) Has TV overtaken film as the medium with the highest quality of material?
2) (The age-old argument) Do the Oscars matter? Why do the Oscars suck?
3) Drive Angry: Best movie ever made or BEST MOVIE EVER MADE?

I’ll try to tackle them in that order: 

1) Has TV overtaken film as the medium with the highest quality of material?

This is a question I’ve often thought about. I really think that TV and films are more difficult to compare than is normally assumed. While you can objectively assess both films and TV shows with all six value measurements he mentioned (quality, narrative complexity, characterization, production value, artistic integrity, overall entertainment value), I don’t know if those assessments are directly comparable because of the differences in the mediums.

My hunch is that if you’ve been entertained more by a specific TV show in the past year, it’s because you’ve been able to watch characters and plots grow over the course of 20+ hours rather than because it’s actually been “better”. It’s human nature to want to see characters and plots to their natural conclusion. How many of those episodes are completely out-of-the-park stellar episodes? Half? We’re much more forgiving of a few bad episodes in TV than even one scene in an otherwise incredible film. While I think that’s how it should be, it makes comparisons difficult.

A technology analogy may be that films are like Twitter and TV shows are like Facebook. Films are necessitated to be limited in scope because of time constraints. This often means that there’s less character and plot development than in TV shows, but it also affords them the ability to explore themes that don’t need to or actually cannot be explored in-depth. (e.g. what would a 127 Hours TV show look like?) The way television is produced and aired (in a “season” or “series” format: 10-20 episodes per season/series that air weekly) requires depth. With TV, there’s much, much more information that’s coming out of a specific show, but not all of it is great. We love films because they’re a one-time shot at greatness. We love TV because we know that we’ll get attached to the characters and see plots completely play out.

But, that’s a cop out and all of those things being considered, I think there’s a clear answer here: recently, comedies have been better on TV, but dramas have been better in film.

You’ve got five truly great comedies on the air right now: Community, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, Modern Family and a diminished, but still very good the Office. Curb Your Enthusiasm can be thrown in there when it comes back on. What was the best film comedy you saw last year? For me, it was Easy A. As a 27 year-old, heterosexual male, I should never have to say that. In fact, the only comedy of the past few years that can be mentioned in the same sentence with those shows is the Hangover.

Now think about dramas. How many truly great dramas aired on TV last year? By my count, I’ve got four (and that’s a stretch): Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and maybe Fringe.

(Other possibilities, but reasons they weren’t included:

Walking Dead- Too small of a sample size. Two-thirds of the episodes were very good to great, but 1/3 were kind of ridiculous

Lost- Very good show in its entirety, but the sixth season’s episodes were too inconsistent to be considered. Some of the best episodes of the series were there, but some of the worst were, as well.

Dexter- It’s gotten away from what the core of the show used to be about; the reason it was so good in the first place.

I’m sure I’m leaving some out and I’m also sure I’ll really hear about it)

Now think of the number of quality film dramas from 2010. I’ll stop at six from last year: Inception, Social Network, Toy Story 3, Black Swan, True Grit, the King’s Speech. I could go on for about twenty movies in that list.

My final point here is that I wouldn’t be so quick to say that TV shows are better than movies. I’ve often thought this may be true, but you can’t penalize a film because of it’s length and you can’t reward a TV show for the same reason. They’re two different mediums saying two different things. The amount of enjoyment you get out of one or the other is dependent on how much you want to invest in it.

2) (The age-old argument) Do the Oscars matter? Why do the Oscars suck?

The quality of the Oscars has a causal relationship with the quality of movies that year. The Oscars will kick ass on Sunday. You’ve got a legitimate best picture race between King’s Speech and Social Network. Supporting Actress will be close. Supporting Actor and Best Actress are closer than people think. No matter who they pick, it won’t be a travesty. (The closest thing to it will be King’s Speech beating out Social Network)

But the reason the Academy Awards will be good on Sunday is because of how good the movies were in 2010. Some years the races are this close, but the films suck, so we couldn’t care less. That’s not the fault of the Oscars, it’s the fault of the movies that came out that year. So, taking under consideration that the (assumed) Best Picture runner-up in 2007 (There Will Be Blood) can’t take home the Best Picture award in 2008, I can’t say there’s been an absolute travesty for what they’ve picked for Best Picture over the course of the last several years.

I think everyone can agree that Slumdog Millionaire is one of the worst movies to win Best Picture and that’s coming from someone who immensely enjoyed it. But we’d pretty much be saying that about any movie that won that came out that year. Sure, Dark Knight is an incredible film and my favorite from that year, but is it on the same level as some of the other best picture winners? Absolutely not. If it came out in 2010, it would have only been my seventh favorite movie of the year. It’s arguable whether or not the Dark Knight should have won, but it’s not a clear travesty that Slumdog did. (The same is true for the Hurt Locker/Inglourious Basterds combo in 2009, though I think both of those movies are on a much higher level than Slumdog/Dark Knight)

In short, some years are weaker than others in terms of the number of quality films. In those years, the Academy Awards will make bad choices because it has to. (Though, it would be ridiculously awesome to see a system like Sports Hall of Fame voting where if movies or actors don’t reach a certain threshold of votes, there is no best picture/actor/actress from that year)

To answer the “do the Oscars matter” question: yes and no. Of course they don’t diminish how much you like a movie; I have my favorites from 2010 and my enjoyment of those films will not change relative to what happens on Sunday. But they do matter in two areas. One is micro and the other is macro:

The first (micro) area is validation. Do I want the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to pick the exact same movies I do as the best of the year? Hell yes I do! Not because it makes me enjoy the movies any more, but because these so-called “experts” agree with me on the best pictures/performances of the year are and that validates me. Validation is a basic human desire. Anyone who cares about anything wants validation in that area.

The second (macro) area is that they show that these types of movies are worth making in the future. The King’s Speech has been roundly (and, in my opinion, accurately) criticized as being an “Oscar-Bait” type movie; the kind of movie that takes the checklist of what the Academy likes and molded to be that. (Royals? Check! True Story? Check! Period Drama? Check! Colin Firth? Check! Nazis? Check! Overcoming Adversity? Check!) Does that make it a bad movie? No. In fact, on the contrary, it’s ridiculously entertaining and enjoyable. (which is why I’ll be upset when it beats Social Network, but there probably won’t be a 5000-word rant about it).

It was important for movies like Inception to get Academy Award nominations because there are huge inherent risks with making a movie of that type. (non-sequel, brainy and expensive—the three words that scare Hollywood the most) If it had failed at the box office (and there was a legitimate chance of that happening), it needed awards to fall back on to show that these types of movies are worth making. We’ve got years and years of awards precedence as to why movies like The King’s Speech should be made, but there’s very little (as far as awards precedence goes) in the way of why movies like Inception should be made. (In fact, last year’s District 9 is the only one I can think of).

As a quick side note and one that many people may disagree with: I have a (probably untestable) theory that the vast majority of money that Inception made can be directly attributed to the fact that people went to see it because “Hey! It’s the guy who made the Dark Knight!” This means if we lived in a world where Inception existed and the Dark Knight didn’t (which, again, wouldn’t happen—the only reason Warner Bros. let Nolan make Inception was because of how popular the Dark Knight was), Inception probably wouldn’t have made its money back. In short, I’m saying that the general popularity of Inception was, in a large part, based off of the uber-popularity of the Dark Knight. How this ties into the greater point is that if it wasn’t for the Dark Knight, Inception would need awards to fall back on. My biggest fear is that studios have this same theory and will be hesitant to take a chance on unproven directors with original ideas.

3) Drive Angry: Best movie ever made or BEST MOVIE EVER MADE?

I concur that Drive Angry will be enjoyably bad, but here’s why I can’t place it at the same level as Troll 2 or Waterworld: it knows it’s bad and doesn’t try to be anything more than that. The only thing that movie wants to be is Nic Cage blowing shit up and saying kickass one-liners. I place it in the same category as The Expendables from last year (which almost made my top 20). Awesomely bad, but knows it’s bad, so it’s tough to place in that top-tier of train-wreck movies.

That being said: Who’s up for Drive Angry (IN 3-D!!!!!) at some point next week??