1. Update the MPAA’s ratings system.
The MPAA has long ruled the film industry — and audiences — with an iron fist, deciding which movies are and aren’t acceptable for certain-aged people to see.
The organization — which is run by the six major Hollywood studios — decreed long ago that two utterances of the word “fuck” requires an R rating, while graphic violence is suitable for PG-13 films; the MPAA has also been far more accepting of sex scenes between men and women than it’s been toward any sort of intimacy between same-sex couples.
The past year has seen several public blows against the MPAA’s ironclad rule. In November, Philomena — a bittersweet British film that features Judi Dench as an elderly woman dealing with the loss of her son years prior — was given an R rating because of its two f-bombs. The Weinstein Company, which distributed the film in America, appealed the ruling, and ultimately, the MPAA gave in and reduced the rating to a PG-13.
Around the same time, a study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Ohio State University revealed that films with a PG-13 rating now contain more gun violence than those tagged with the restrictive R. That caused another surge of headlines about the MPAA’s hypocrisy, and the IFC Center in New York City showing the Palme d’Or-winning Blue Is the Warmest Color, despite the NC-17 rating it got for lesbian sex scenes, led to even more buzz.
The MPAA should really resolve to change with the times in 2014.
2. Vet your reality TV stars (and have a conscience).
Was anyone who watches Duck Dynasty actually surprised that the show’s born-again, preaching redneck Phil Roberston was not all that fond of gay people? I mean, if there was anything hypocritical about the way A&E handled Robertson’s gross comments in GQ magazine, it was suspending a guy for essentially living up to expectations.
Basically, the network was making as much money as possible off Robertson and his family, giving them a gigantic platform, and then acting scandalized when the patriarch said something A&E should have expected him to say.
Even worse, the network caved just nine days later.
The lesson here that is A&E — and every other cable channel that lives off of base reality TV — should take care about what it puts on air.
3. Seek out and give platforms to a diversity of voices.
A lot has been written about how 2013 was the year of “the black movie,” a gross generalization that BuzzFeed’s Shani Hilton went in depth to discredit. “Lumping together heavy dramas with lighthearted romcoms simply because of the skin color of the actors or director prevents these films from being measured against the whiter counterparts that actually share their genre — inadvertently ghettoizing the former and protecting the latter from scrutiny,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, for all the talk of female empowerment in Hollywood, there are no true Best Picture front-runners that were written or directed by a women.
There is often a clamor amongst fans and critics for more films with “non-traditional” protagonists, aka women and people of color. While that is obviously an important and laudable goal, the real endgame is empowering such overlooked talents to make their own movies and TV shows, to end this century-old patriarchal, permission-based system.
There were a number of great films from women this year — Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight was Quentin Tarantino’s favorite film of the year when he released his list this fall — but cult success is often washed away with time; only more mainstream attention can establish a foothold.
4. No more unwanted reboots (seriously).
There are, in theory, at least two advantages to making a new movie or TV show out of a pre-existing pop culture property: There is built-in public awareness of the subject and its characters, and often a studio already owns the intellectual property rights.
On the flip side, as we’ve seen quite often over the last few years, awareness of a property doesn’t mean that people are actually interested in seeing it revived.
This summer, The Lone Ranger bombed hard for several reasons, including the fact that it was a bloated, disjointed mess starring a dude who inexplicably wore a dead bird for a hat. But Disney, which produced the film, also grossly miscalculated how much the public wanted a new version of an ancient, outdated TV show that no one waxes nostalgic about very often. The same thing happened with Johnny Depp’s effort to make a new film from the weirdo ’70s soap opera Dark Shadows in 2012.
True, those that saw Dredd (a reboot of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film Judge Dredd) last year seemed to like it, but the reality is that the sample size there was quite limited. The reboot of Robocop may face a similar fate.
Yes, there has been an onslaught of comic book films that have done quite spectacularly at the box office, but those are adapted from properties that never went on decades-long hiatus. Beyond springing for those blockbusters, however, audiences have exhibited a demand for original ideas and experiences — see the nearly $700 million Gravity has made worldwide thus far — and there’s no way developing these new properties could cost anywhere near the $250 million that Disney sunk into The Lone Ranger, anyway.
There will be no end to the proliferation of franchised entertainment in Hollywood, but it would behoove studios to think more carefully about the old properties on which they gamble.
5. Don’t jam all the good movies into Oscar season.
For die-hard movie fans, the last few months of the year are always an exciting time: The so-called “prestige” films begin to roll into theaters, all positioning themselves for the winter awards season. Some of the buzziest movies of 2013 have been released in the last two months, including 12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, American Hustle, August: Osage County, and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time (or disposable income) to go see so many films at once, especially during a busy holiday season. Both fans and the movies themselves would benefit from having more time to dominate theaters. Because the rest of the movie year is made up of mostly superhero films and flops, it would also be a great treat to serious film lovers to have exciting movies to see throughout the rest of the year.
There were a few potential Oscar contenders, to use the unfortunate label that limits the scope of thoughtful film, that were released earlier this year. Unfortunately, most people in power are going to forget how great a job Jeff Nichols and Matthew McConaughey did with Mud, and Cate Blanchett’s incredible performance in Blue Jasmine might get nominations, but it’ll be too far removed from this prestige season to win.
Nebraska director Alexander Payne put it best in a smack-down he gave Deadline when asked how he manages the “chaos” of awards season: “The reason you’re asking this question is that adult movies with any artistic credit are released in the last quarter of the year and expected to gird for battle for Globes and Oscars. So the films aren’t being seen just for themselves, but rather in a competitive context. I resent that.”
6. Let more stars be like Jennifer Lawrence.
Jennifer Lawrence is in the midst of a two-year hot streak the likes of which Hollywood hasn’t seen in decades. At 22 years of age, she’s part of two gigantic franchises, has a Best Actress Oscar, and may just win another couple of awards this winter too. But her vast talent isn’t the true key to her status as public darling; it’s the fact that she does and says what she wants.
Even if those things are possibly calculated at times, it’s still refreshing to see a star talk about sex toys on late-night shows and fall up the stairs while accepting the biggest award of her life. She’s cracked open the façade most actors hide behind, and it’s helped make her the hottest star in the industry.
The truth is that Lawrence isn’t the only personable actor in Hollywood, of course; many performers have their own quirks and charms, and they would be well-served by just letting loose and being themselves every once in a while.
7. Make sure people find out about the great indie movies out there.
One of the great hopes of filmmakers and film lovers alike is the burgeoning video on demand (VOD) market. Sure, theaters are crowded by big franchise movies and expensive 3D ticket prices, but now more than ever, there are plenty of new outlets for films that don’t come from major studios. Most prominent among these platforms are iTunes, Netflix, cable on demand, and Amazon Prime, which rent indie flicks for as low as $2.99 per 24-hour viewing period.
Some of the best indie films of the year more or less bypassed theaters in favor of VOD, including David Gordon Green’s dramedy Prince Avalanche, starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. Many other movies that didn’t get much of a chance to succeed in theaters lived a long second life on iTunes et al. It seems like a perfect counterbalance to the onslaught of blockbusters, but there are several obstacles to really evening the playing field.
First, Hollywood has to do a better job of promoting the fact that these movies exist in the first place; most advertising and marketing still goes to the big-budget events. And media outlets need to recognize that these are movies worth covering, even if they won’t be playing on many big screens; often, these flicks are passion projects for the actors who populate the blockbusters, the real movies that they’re enabled to make, thanks to the big paychecks of studio fare.
It seems like insider baseball, but the VOD market would get a real boost if the distributors of these movies publicly released the profit they made each weekend on the platform. This fall, John Sloss, the man who took the buzzy Disneyland nightmare Escape from Tomorrow to market, released its opening weekend numbers; if more companies followed suit, it’d be more apparent just how much money is at stake in this field, and increased attention will inevitably follow.
Just like they must establish the stakes in the story on screen, producers need to do the same if they want VOD to succeed.
8. Put a freeze on those insane ticket prices.
Thanks to the premiums tacked on to the cost of admission to 3D and IMAX feature films — and Hollywood’s relentless effort to make more and more of those movies — ticket prices hit an all-time high in the summer of 2013, clocking in at an average of $8.38.
In big cities like New York, that price would seem like a major gift or computer error, as a ticket to a 3D film now costs a moviegoer about $17 a pop in Manhattan.
This is hyper-inflation, the defensive countermove on the part of movie theaters and studios that are afraid of losing audience share to the internet and VOD, as well as a reaction to the emphasis put on first-week box office numbers. It is, ironically, only speeding up the exodus from movie theaters, while also doing great damage to independent and low-budget films that don’t demand theater viewing; by charging the same price for a small movie as you would a 2D showing of Man of Steel, you’re guaranteeing that people won’t bother to see the small film on the big screen.
With an economy still on the mend, many people can’t afford to take vacations or see a big concert, so they’d like to turn to the multiplex. The movies used to be a populist escape, but more and more, the industry is pricing out the very people it relies on for blockbuster income.