I’m getting tired of blockbusters.
I don’t mean in a Martin Scorcese “Marvel movies aren’t cinema” kind of way. I can still enjoy the movies themselves. I found Captain Marvel tons of fun despite its flaws. I’m still thrilled Black Panther was nominated for Best Picture this past year, even though it had little hope of winning. And I hope that somehow the Black Widow movie promised us in the near future will turn out to be so good it will overcome my reluctance to invest emotionally in a character I’ve already seen die.
It’s not the movies I find so wearying, but rather the verbal diarrhea that all too often surrounds them, the inevitable junk talk that surfaces every time a big-budget SFF or action-adventure movie showcases a hero who isn’t a white man. Let the lead of such a project be a woman or anyone of color, and at once the movie becomes “too political,” or it suddenly has an “agenda,” or it’s fresh evidence of “political correctness run amok.” The guys who spout this talk — yes, it’s almost always guys — are quick to point out they don’t have anything against a women being action or SFF heroes, since after all they loved Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor (until Terminator: Dark Fate, at least). It’s telling that they have to reach all the way back to the early ’90s to find the last female hero they approved of.
This kind of talk makes it hard for me to look forward to Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker with unalloyed pleasure, even though I still want to see it. What I find myself looking forward to instead is Greta Gerwig’s upcoming adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s children’s-lit classic Little Women, which has garnered quite a bit of positive early buzz. It’s a bit hard to accuse a story that has centered on women for over a hundred years of being “PC culture run amok.”
The toxic noise that attends so many blockbusters makes me all the more grateful for the non-blockbuster films in my life. This year I’ve had the chance to see a number of movies, ranging from good to wonderful, that feature messy, complicated female leads, some brilliant, some defiant, some confused, but all interesting: Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet (good); British import Wild Rose (good); Gloria Bell, starring Julianne Moore (very good); Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart (wonderful); and Lulu Wang’s The Farewell and Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, among the best-reviewed movies of the year (phenomenal). (Still on my need-to-see list: Fast Color and The Souvenir.) The women in these movies can exist, in their complex ways, without a legion of loudmouths crying foul. And what a relief that is.
This year I have Oscar hopes — more than I had this time last year, when I knew Black Panther was unlikely to win and I hadn’t seen The Favourite yet. Not all of them are, or are from, woman-centric movies, but they have all delighted me in one way or another.
Best Picture: Knives Out; A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; The Farewell.
Best Director: Lulu Wang (The Farewell); Rian Johnson (Knives Out); Olivia Wilde (Booksmart)
Best Actor: Daniel Craig (Knives Out); Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood); Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse)
Best Actress: Awkwafina (The Farewell); Ana de Armas (Knives Out); Cynthia Erivo (Harriet); Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose); Julianne Moore (Gloria Bell)
Best Screenplay: Knives Out; The Farewell; Booksmart
Best Animated Feature (and Least Ulcer-Inducing Blockbuster): Toy Story 4
Movies That May Be a Factor, but I’m Not Interested In: The Irishman; Richard Jewell; Uncut Gems; Dark Waters; Cats; Ford vs. Ferrari
Movies That May Be a Factor, and I’m Curious About (besides Little Women): Portrait of a Lady on Fire; 1917; Clemency; Just Mercy; The Parasite; Waves