Out of focus

The Oscar race and box office records paint a dim picture of our film industry.

Out of focus

Matthew Hoy

Blockbuster “Thor: The Dark World” dominated the American box office last week, racking up a whopping $108.5 million. The second-place finisher, “Last Vegas,” finished at a paltry $22.4 million its opening week.

“12 Years a Slave,” the current Best Picture frontrunner still in its early weeks, finished even lower with about $9.5 million, its best week since opening in mid-October.

We’re in cinematic gridlock. Studios are producing recycled big-budget blockbusters at a record pace. The filmmakers looking to craft their work, knowing they will lose money, now go unheard of.

I know that it’s unfair to compare the box office success of blockbusters to artful dramas — though that fact is, in itself, troubling — but “Thor: The Dark World” is no “Jaws.” It’s no “Star Wars.” Maybe more appropriately, it’s no “The Empire Strikes Back.”

The news is no better for other Best Picture contenders. “All is Lost” has grossed about $4.2 million, and “Dallas Buyers Club” has taken in just more than $3 million.

The fact that “Gravity,” a technically marvelous film with an extremely tenuous story, and “Captain Philips,” a fine, predictable rehash, are both considered Oscar frontrunners is a testament to how weak this year has been for cinema. More importantly, it’s proof of the ironic reality in which a film’s lasting worth is inversely related to its box-office revenue.

“Iron Man 3” leads the top 10 earners this year, a list devoid of any film that we will talk about in a decade or two. It’s no coincidence seven of those 10 films are sequels, prequels or reboots.

As I wrote in September, contrasting the state of the film industry with television, where shows like “Breaking Bad,” and “Mad Men” reign supreme, paints this picture in an even more pathetic light.

One side of Hollywood produces banal garbage, and the other half is irrelevant. 

It’s hard not to be frustrated with this system, which pushed the last decade’s best films out of focus.

In 2005, “The Weather Man” pulled in more than $19 million, and 2010’s “Never Let Me Go” came in at about $9.5 million. The 2008 urban masterpiece “The Wackness” grossed about $3.1 million worldwide.

So when I complain that my local theater is clogged with inconsequential films that everyone has seen dozens of times, I’m not just doing so because I am a picky moviegoer. While I certainly want daring filmmakers to receive credit and financial rewards for their work, their livelihoods are only a part of the anger that I feel toward the industry.

I complain because in this system, nobody sees some of the most important artistic works of our time. We’re lucky enough to have people with cameras who care so little about financial well-being that they risk their livelihoods to produce important work. Maybe we should go see their movies.