Do the Movies Have a Future?

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Dividing his approach into seven sections—“Trends,” “Independent Glories,” “Stars,” “Genres,” “Directors,” “Two Critics,” and “An Opening to the Future”—Denby constantly harkens back to the way things used to be (“the way we were,” to be exact, though the Redford/Streisand romantic drama doesn’t get a mention). In “Pirates on the iPod: The Soul of a New Screen,” he compares the joy of the big screen to the less than comfortable experience of squinting at a smartphone screen (this was written in 2007). He’s at his best in the sections on stars and directors because, as he notes in the introduction, what he’s interested in are “mainstream commercial and mainstream American filmmaking,” as this is what the general public means by “going to the movies.” Denby’s critique of Joan Crawford and his summation of Clint Eastwood’s remarkable career as a director (and an actor) are vivid enough to make readers want to immediately update their Netflix queues with 1940s melodramas and spaghetti westerns. As for the future of movies, Denby is hesitant to predict with certainty (he’s not a fan of smash-’em-up digital-effects extravaganzas) but what he proposes is preferable to another onslaught of video-game adaptations: film becoming “a national culture that everyone talk about again.” Agent: Kathy Robbins. (Oct.)
Richard Schickel
“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.”
Molly Haskell
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.”
From the Publisher
“A must for movie lovers”

“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.”

Library Journal
Denby (film critic, The New Yorker; Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and Its Ruining Our Conversation) examines movies in what he argues is a time of transition. New technology is changing how movies are made and where audiences see them (e.g., on the Internet, on small computer screens), while corporate-dominated studios increasingly eschew adult entertainment in favor of comic book plots, sequels, and franchises with international appeal. Denby also questions the future of film critics. The essays here are drawn from his New Yorker column, and they describe slacker comedies (Knocked Up) and chick flicks (The Devil Wears Prada) as well as independent films. Denby also considers old-time director-craftsmen Otto Preminger and Victor Fleming. Finally, he remembers his former mentor, the late film critic Pauline Kael. VERDICT Denby describes himself as a "plot and character man" with limited appreciation for today's special effects-driven summer entertainment. 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.—Stephen Rees, formerly with Levittown Lib., PA
Kirkus Reviews
From the New Yorker film critic, a collection of critical essays that's more than a miscellaneous roundup. Denby (Snark, 2009, etc.) has selected only pieces from the magazine that flesh out his premise that mainstream American films today consist for the most part of obscenely expensive franchises, usually centered on comic-book figures, that have abandoned any attempt to interest adults with the visual grammar with which movies have told stories and developed characters for more than a century. "Conglomerate Aesthetics," a 2001 essay published for the first time here, dissects the results: movies in which "content becomes incidental, even disposable," that have more in common with TV commercials and music videos than the classic Hollywood cinema Denby lovingly (but not blindly) celebrates in comparison. He's not incapable of enjoying contemporary films, however. "Romantic Comedy Gets Knocked Up" is a smart and generally positive appraisal of the Judd Apatow school of moviemaking, and the previously unpublished "Chick Flicks" gives a critically dissed genre its due (in both cases, with some feminist caveats). In this context, the individual reviews, ranging from Avatar to Winter's Bone, and think pieces such as "Pirates on the iPod" (a glum look at the diminution of film-watching), have additional bite and significance. Among Denby's particular strengths are an impressive ability to understand and convey the way directors employ spatial relations to make artistic points and a concern for the moral and social implications of film--the belief that "the nation's soul was on trial in its movies" that he ascribes to the two predecessors who most influenced him: James Agee and Pauline Kael. Each gets an acute, appreciative assessment; Kael, a mentor who later told Denby "you're too restless to be a writer," receives a particularly shrewd and surprisingly balanced profile. A must for movie lovers and more proof that Denby's gifts are better displayed in a full-length text than in a short review.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416599487
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/22/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 811,898
  • Product dimensions: 8.94 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David Denby has been film critic and staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998; prior to that he was film critic of New York magazine. His reviews and essays have also appeared in The New Republic, The Atlantic, and The New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

PREFACE

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.

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Table of Contents

Preface xiii

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

Mumblecore 304

Terrence Malick's Insufferable Masterpiece 308

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 314

Acknowledgments 319

Index 321

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