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In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the movies, once America’s primary popular art form, have become an endangered species. Do the Movies Have a Future? is a rousing and witty call to arms. In these sharp and engaging essays and reviews, New Yorker movie critic David Denby weighs in on “conglomerate aesthetics,” as embodied in the frenzied, weightless action spectacles that dominate the world’s attention, and “platform agnosticism,” the notion that movies can be watched on smaller and smaller ...
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the movies, once America’s primary popular art form, have become an endangered species. Do the Movies Have a Future? is a rousing and witty call to arms. In these sharp and engaging essays and reviews, New Yorker movie critic David Denby weighs in on “conglomerate aesthetics,” as embodied in the frenzied, weightless action spectacles that dominate the world’s attention, and “platform agnosticism,” the notion that movies can be watched on smaller and smaller screens: laptops, tablets, even phones. At the same time, Denby reaffirms that movies are our national theater, and in this exhilarating book he celebrates such central big movies as Avatar and The Social Network as well as small but resonant triumphs like There Will Be Blood and The Tree of Life.
Denby joyously celebrates what remains of the shared culture in romantic comedy, high school movies, and chick flicks; he assesses the expressive triumphs and failures of auteurs Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Pedro Almodóvar, and David Fincher. Refusing nostalgia, he mines the past for strength, examining the changing nature of stardom and the careers of Joan Crawford, Otto Preminger, and Victor Fleming, and the continuing self-invention of Clint Eastwood. And he recreates the excitement of reading two critics who embodied the film culture of their times, James Agee and Pauline Kael.
Wry, passionate, and incisive, Do the Movies Have a Future? is both a feast of good writing and a challenge to fight back. It is an essential guide for movie lovers looking for ammunition and hope.
“David Denby’s work is learned, wry, quietly passionate, utterly absorbing and unfailingly intelligent – criticism as it is meant to be done and these days rarely is. Some of his pieces will, I think, stand as definitive for years to come. If movies have a future – and I think they do – it will be thanks in part to critics of Denby’s rare and demanding sensibility.”
“New Yorker film critic Denby’s fascinating collection of essays on the business, the art, and the sacred rituals of movie making and movie watching explores what part film plays in our collective consciousness, particularly in this new digital age.”
“This collection shows a superb critic at his best – thoughtful, probing, his breadth of cinematic knowledge gracefully dispensed. Crucial to me is how Denby constantly makes us aware of the context of movies – how the present plays off the past, and the ways in which it comes up short. Voicing the passion of many, this is a cri de coeur for what has increasingly become an oxymoron, Hollywood entertainment for adults.”
“Throughout his essays, he builds a convincing case for his contention that ‘a healthy movie scene can’t exist without critics’… Recommended for informed film buffs.”
Except for the review of Pulp Fiction, all of these essays and reviews were written in the years 1999 to 2011. I have revised some of them, and, in two cases (the articles on James Agee and Pauline Kael), combined two pieces into one. When I revised, I didn’t change any of the opinions, or alter the happy or angry mood in which the pieces were first written, or fiddle with the phrasing. I restored a few things that were cut for space, while dropping some passages about, say, business conditions in Hollywood that are no longer of much interest or relevance. I’ve also cut some matters covered in other pieces. I’ve noted at the end of each piece when and where it appeared. When I’ve revised, I’ve noted that as well.
Introduction: The Way We Live Now 1
Part 1 Trends 25
Conglomerate Aesthetics: Notes on the Disintegration of Film Language 27
Pirates on the iPod: The Soul of a New Screen 45
Spectacle: The Passion of the Christ, Avatar, Endless Summer-Digital All the Time 58
Part 2 Independent Glories 71
Capturing the Friedmans, Sideways, Capote, The Squid and the Whale, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, There Will Be Blood, The Hurt Looker, Winter's Bone 73
Part 3 Stars 99
Enduring Joan Crawford 101
Fallen Idols: Movie Stars Today 114
Part 4 Genres 133
High School Movies 135
Chick Flicks 142
Romantic Comedy Gets Knocked Up: The Slacker-Striver Comedy 157
Part 5 Directors 173
Otto Preminger: The Balance of Terror 175
Victor Fleming: The Director the Auteurists Forgot 186
Pedro Almodóvar: In and Out of Love 199
Clint Eastwood: The Longest Journey 208
The Coen Brothers: A Killing Joke 234
Quentin Tarantino: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Inglourious Basterds 246
David Fincher and The Social Network 254
Part 6 Two Critics 265
James Agee 267
Pauline Kael: A Great Critic and Her Circle 280
Part 7 An Opening to the Future? 301
Terrence Malick's Insufferable Masterpiece 308
Rise of the Planet of the Apes 314