Making it worse (to continue in the vein of self-pity, since no one else will feel sorry for me) is that this was also a year of superabundant quality. Anyone who laments the death or decrepitude of movies just isn’t paying attention. Yes, there are great shows on cable, and dreary franchise action fare clogs the multiplexes in the warmer months. Animation, a bright spot in Hollywood over the past decade, has entered a creative slump as the studios discover that they can sell tickets and tie-in merchandising without taking the creative risks that generate masterpieces. But everywhere else, from the legacy studios and their indie-dependent subsidiaries to the hothouse cottage industries of micro-releasing and self-distribution, the art of cinema is thriving.
Earlier this year, when Manohla Dargis and I set out to compile a roster of promising filmmakers 40 and younger, we had no trouble finding candidates, only in winnowing them to a list of 20. But we were troubled by the lack of recognition many of these directors have found, and the difficulties they encounter as they try to make good on their promise. The movie business has always been rough, of course, but at present there seems to be a growing disjunction — a chasm, really — between the quality of the work being produced and the intensity of its reception.
There are many reasons this is so, including the daunting numbers mentioned above, the logjam of awards-season releases (more than 90 titles a month reviewed by the Times in September, October and November this year) and the water-cooler ascendance of cable television. But in the spirit of the season, let me be blunt. The problem is you. A vital art form