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How did every buzzy movie become “the movie we need now”?

Does every movie have to be advertised as “timely” and “urgent” to be meaningful?

“Da 5 Bloods” is the “movie for our moment. ” It’s the same for “Palm springs. “And”Nomadland. “” Minari “is”the movie we need now. ” It’s the same for “Wonder Woman 1984. “And”Hamilton. In every way, these films were relevant to the past year, offering us everything from comfort to clarity in these turbulent times. But using the same phrases to seemingly describe each movie makes them meaningless and turns them into a cynical gimmick.

While these phrases and their variations are not new, they became ubiquitous in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

“Relevance is one of the big critics of critics, and after such a dramatic and complex real-life event as this year’s election, the temptation to look for clues and answers in folk art is overwhelming. almost overwhelming, “New York Times co-chief of film critic AO Scott wrote in the introduction to his list of the best films of 2016, following the election of Donald Trump. “But cinema is better for exploring than explaining, and the screen looks more like a prism or a kaleidoscope than a mirror or a window. We rarely get news from the movies. “

Many Oscar critics and tipsters couldn’t help but view this year’s Oscar season through the lens of Trump’s election. One of the dominant narratives around the Best Picture run was that it served as a a referendum on the election. On Oscar night, when “Moonlight” unexpectedly triumphed over alleged season favorite “La La Land”, he was considered Hollywood’s rebuke or repudiation of Trump’s victory.

Pop culture has always been a product and a reflection of the world around us, whether it is the intention of the artist or not. The best movies – and the best art in general – help us see the world in a new way, crystallize something we haven’t fully seen before, connect the past to the present and the specific to the universal. . But overstating a movie’s relevance or inserting real parallels when they’re not there isn’t that.

Every few weeks or months, a reviewer may declare the latest trending movie “the movie of the moment” or “the movie we need right now”. The studios and their advertising consultants then run these flashy quotes on movie posters and For Your Consideration commercials during awards season. This reflects a tired tendency to place some sort of greater importance on the film, even when it’s not directly there, and reinforces an overused notion that films must be advertised as “timely” and “urgent” to be successful. ‘importance.

The rise of the phrase “ The movie we need now ”

The desire to emphasize a film’s relevance for award purposes is not entirely new. For years now convicted sex abuser Harvey Weinstein was infamous for his aggressive approach to getting his movies at the Oscars. It was essential for the means modern Oscar campaigns often look like political campaigns. At times he stressed the social and political importance of his awards season contenders, as if “My Left Foot” star Daniel Day-Lewis was testifying on Capitol Hill for advocate for the United States disability law in 1990, giving the film an extra boost. Likewise, for “Philomena” from 2014, the actual subject of the film Philomena Lee met with US senators to lobby for adoption legislation it was relevant to his story in the film.

But Weinstein was best known for his obviously manipulative and muscular emotional appeals to Oscar voters, creating an ensemble Awards Season Industrial Complex. If you wanted an Oscar you had to schmooze and cook at every breakfast or awards dinner, at every panel or screening. Weinstein was keen for anyone with influence to see his films, generating a sense of exclusivity: if you haven’t seen this film or met its star or filmmaker at a fancy event, you’re missing out.

Take 2008’s “The Reader,” which Weinstein armed in that year’s Oscar race. The slogan of his For Your Consideration ads sums up his entire approach: “The Only Movie That Gets Everyone Talking.” (It’s questionable whether everyone really spoke: in his opening monologue, Oscar host Hugh Jackman joked about not seeing him.)

In 2010, Weinstein produced “The King’s Speech,” which won that year’s Best Picture. “Some movies you see. Others you feel, ” the advertisements of the film declared. Its rewards campaign used the extremely obvious slogan: “Find your voice”. In 2014, when commercials for Weinstein’s biopic “The Imitation Game” urged Oscar voters to “honor the man, honor the movieThis approach had become a subject of mockery and derision.

Regardless of whether Weinstein supported them or not, many award campaigns for films of the 1990s and 2000s relied on these transparent sentimental appeals and explosive phrases to shoot the hearts of Oscar voters. Thinking back to quotes from critics of critics who appeared on For Your Consideration ads, most of them expressed wonder and amazement. For example, in 2008 – another seismic election year – advertisements for Winner of the best film “Slumdog Millionaire” boasted that the film was “an animated hymn to life” and “a haunting fantasy that will please the crowd”.

Every now and then there were commercials that referred to the relevance of a movie, trying to convey that it was something serious and important. “The Dark Knight”: “This is the zeitgeist movie.” “Doubt”: “a film that is in fact about something. ” But most of these types of narratives have been applied to films with more obvious political and social themes, such as documentaries, political thrillers, and biopics.

Sometimes even these films did not take in political narratives as much as you might expect. For example, the 2008 “Milk” speech, featuring Sean Penn as LGBTQ rights pioneer Harvey Milk, was very politically oriented for obvious reasons. Its exit came on the eve of Obama’s presidency, and California’s Prop 8, which outlawed marriage equality, had just passed, giving the film plenty to fight for. Again watching his advertising campaign, only part of the language and visuals directly referred to the political landscape surrounding the film’s release.

Why the sentence has become particularly useless for the public

The 2016 election marked a turning point. Look for phrases like “the movie we need right now”, and the results show a huge spike in articles in late 2016 and early 2017. Over the past few years, this has been hard not to see everything through a trumpian lens.

This, however, was overkill. “To love,” about the couple whose legal fight ended laws banning interracial marriage, was “the movie America needs right now. “Disney’s” Zootopia “was”exactly the movie we need right now. “” Arrival “was also”the movie we need now. “So was”Hidden figures. ” “La La Land” was also – but because it was an escape from hell of 2016, rather than a fix.

In early 2017, cultural writers began to highlight the blatant overuse of these now insignificant sentences and laughs at the trend. But there was no turning back. “Wonder Woman” was the “superhero movie we need now. “” Me, Tonya “was”the movie we need now. ” Where was it “Mud“? Or maybe “Darkest hour“? “The shape of water“Was” the movie of the moment. “So was”Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. “So was”Get out. “So was”The post office. “

Analyzing this phenomenon at the end of 2017, film critic K. Austin Collins pointed out the absurdity of these titles while acknowledging that the whole concept of relevance is complicated.

“Movies don’t have to be sold to us as what we need now, or never, to be relevant as an art, but it is true that this form of relevance is how our culture is currently evolving,” and it is doubly true that art should strive to be on the world in which it exists, ”he wrote.

It is perhaps more instructive to think of it as a specter. Art that completely ignores politics and actively tries to be apolitical is often wrong. On the other hand, it is inauthentic to do work that is too much on the nose and insert relevance for marketing purposes. Sometimes, deliberately emphasizing a film’s modern parallels can have the opposite effect on moviegoers.

For example, last year I really wanted to like “Jojo Rabbit”. But when it was presented to reporters and critics as “anti-hate satire,” I became more skeptical of the film than I would have otherwise. I didn’t want to be struck by the relevance of the film from the start, but rather to discover it through the film itself.

The dynamics of this year’s Oscar race are still unfolding, with contenders battling for attention using various narratives. On one level, the current Best Picture favorite, Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland”, could be considered “a movie for now”, a movie about something “topical” and “urgent”. He documents the grim effects of the Great Recession, the monotony of being the cogs of a capitalist machine and the precariousness of life on the fringes (and has faced scrutiny for not being critical enough on these subjects). Again, as my colleague Matt Jacobs wrote, it’s not explicit about these big, important themes – and it doesn’t have to be.

“At a time when so many films are three times emphasizing their social conscience, Zhao has devised a drama that is too smart to submit to such a showboating,” he wrote.

Sometimes the Academy decides to award the best film to something polarizing; sometimes he gives it to the safest choice. And every now and then, that makes for a hell of a good movie, a “Moonlight” or a “Parasite”.

To borrow another often-used and over-expressed phrase, films are meant to “stand the test of time.” The best films are both timely and timeless. They represent big ideas and evoke a particular moment – and are also self-contained.

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