After more than two decades as a film critic at The New York Times, says AO Scott on The Daily, I’m giving up the job. Why? Because watching movies isn’t as fun as it used to be. When I started out at the turn of the century, it was a “high point in the film industry”. The 1990s had seen the “flowering” of independent directors like Quentin Tarantino and Todd Haynes, and their adventurous, provocative filmmaking had matured and become part of the Hollywood mainstream. You had politically prescient movies like David O Russell’s Three Kings, about America’s good global intentions going “terribly awry”, and deeply personal films such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. It was an “extraordinarily varied and interesting landscape”.
That’s not the case today. Superhero movies have totally sucked the oxygen out of cinema. These films are “designed to be critic-proof” – so enormous and powerful that they crush any dissenting voice – and leave no room for “the comedies or the literary adaptations or just the adventurous personal films” that so many people love. The other big change is the rise of streaming. This is a welcome development in one sense, because Netflix and others have given talented filmmakers big money to pursue passion projects: Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman; Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. But because these films aren’t given big theatrical releases, their impact is blunted – they don’t have “the same kind of cultural presence that movies used to”. I know people always say this, but films just aren’t the same any more.