Mediocrity Rules, I Had To Step Away

I screened the movie “How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World” for the blog last week. As I walked out of the theater, I struggled with how to rate the movie. Compared to all of the movies out there, “Hidden World” was perfectly fine but just fine. The pervasive mediocrity of films had worn me down. I decided on a drastic course of action, something unheard of in my household. I didn’t watch any media for two days.

During this hiatus, I thought about the Academy Awards, Steven Spielberg’s attack against Netflix, Eddie’s (of piece on the academy awards, even feedback from a reader about how I was the only person who didn’t like “A Star is Born”. The hiatus allowed me to obtain some perspective.

The internet has dramatically impacted our lives. But the internet paired with one of the biggest world-altering inventions, the iPhone has massively altered media. With the iPhone (and all smartphones) came Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube etc, which made watching movies anywhere and anytime feasible. Having to watch a movie in a theater or wait for HBO to release a new film on Saturday night became a thing of the past.

I needed facts to prove my theory that internet and iPhone have altered the world of movies. Below is a chart of US movie releases greater than 80 minutes long for a given year (IMDB Search). Notice the spike in movie growth with the dawn of the internet in 1990. However, the truly significant increase occurs after the iPhone is first released in 2007.

Big Studios no longer control all the production. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and others started producing TV and movies. While the success of these films has been mixed, they provide opportunities to those who aren’t typically granted an opportunity in the studio process.

Now, when you are making 3 times as many movies as you did in the 1990s the challenge is to produce movies in an equal ratio of quality. If you had 1% of all the movies be a 5, in 1990, that would be 5 movies. Today you are expecting 20 movies. Based on my movie watching, I am not even receiving my 5 movies.

My theory is when fewer movies are produced; the talent is concentrated on an individual film, which allowed for a higher consistency in quality. The rise of one individual being the writer and director (sometimes producer and lead actor) dramatically shifted the dynamics of movie production. While the diversity of offerings is greater, the quality now skews towards lower rated movies. Just go to Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon and scroll through all the movies you never heard. Or google all the Nicolas Cage movies made in the last 10 years (30+ films). Most of these movies are 2.5 rated movies or lower.

With the thinning of talent at the large studios, the result is a lack of new ideas and originality. Don’t believe me; two movies “What Men Want” and “The Hustle” are remakes of mediocre films from before 2001 (“What Women Want” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”). Are we incapable of writing an original story?

Still, don’t believe the thinning of talent. 5 of the 8 movies Best Picture nominees are based on true stories or biographies, and 6 if you consider Roma to be a biography. The only fictional movies being “Black Panther” and “A Star is Born”. “Black Panther” is based on a 1960s comic (kudos to Marvel for creating black superheroes in the 60s). “A Star is Born” is the 4th “A Star is Born” title. It is the 5th if you believe “A Star is Born” is based on “What Price Hollywood”, which is based on a true story. A complete lack of originality.

Last week, I suffered from a severe case of mediocrity overload. A problem I believe, based on the numbers above, will only get worse over time. The solution is to find a trusted reviewer and hope the critic’s point of view matches yours. For me, I trust Eddie and Mike LaSalle at the San Francisco Chronicle. Unfortunately, they can’t review everything, and sometimes I explore the unknown and take a risk. But that is my cross to bear.

Before I unintentionally insult hundreds of people in my next segment, I want to clarify my point of view. The people involved in making movies and those who were nominated are some of the very best artists in the world. They should all be proud of what they achieved. Regardless, of sex, color, religion etc., I am amazed at what these individuals are able to accomplish.

The Academy Awards; they no longer reflect the “Best”. The Academy Awards has fallen victim of the helicopter generation. Everyone is to receive an award or at least nominated. I pause to wonder if movies receive awards to check a box. A black person received an award, check; a Mexican received an award, check; female receives an award outside of the actress arena, check; and so on.

Here are some more data points to consider. Below is the Academy Best Picture nominated movies. I included in the chart my rating, an average (John, Scott, Eddie), Metascore from Metacritic and IMDB.

MovieJohns RatingAvgMetascoreIMDB User
Black Panther3.53.5887.3
The Favourite33.5907.7
A Star is Born33.2887.8
Bohemian Rhapsody33498.1
Vice 22.5617.2

Clearly, Roma is the “Best Picture”. How could “Roma” not win “Best Picture” since it won “Best Achievement in Cinematography” and “Best Achievement in Directing”. Why is simple, “Roma” already won “Best Foreign Language Film of the Year”. This little boy has already received his award, we are required to let the other kids receive an award as well. Oh, by the way, Mexican, check.

Once you remove “Roma”, the picture is less clear. There is definitely a mix of feelings across the board. If you use Metascore, “The Favourite” should be the obvious choice. But we gave the actress and award, and she is from another country (even if it is the UK). “Black Panther” is a standard action film, and would never win “Best Picture”. “Black Panther” did win awards earlier in the night, and two of them to person’s of color, check.

I could keep going with this, but you get the gist. At the end of the day, “Green Book” was the populist pick that felt good to everyone (in the Academy), as evidenced by the high user score. If you average the two scores (Metascore and user), “Green Book” beats them all. Since every movie nominated for “Best Picture” had already won an award why not “Green Book”? Also, “Green Book” allows the Academy to say they aren’t racist because they picked a movie about race.

As for the comment regarding “A Star is Born”; after actively rations movies for just under a year, Scott and I realize a 3 out of 5 is a good movie. 3 means, if the film is a genre you like, an actor or director you like then you will probably really enjoy the film. I rated “A Star Is Born” a 3 ( as it is a perfectly adequate film. I am sure love story, Lady Gaga, and Bradley Cooper fans will simply adore this movie if give this film a higher rating.

However, as I said above, as this movie has been done already and based on a true story, I expected more. With the #Metoo movement and other cultural movements, I expected someone with Bradley Cooper’s and Lady Gaga’s clout to deliver a more meaningful film. I wrote an additional rant about “A Star Is Born” (, where I detail what I saw as an archaic presentation of the story. At a minimum, Mr. Cooper could flip the roles between the men and the women. I simply expected more from two artists, instead, I received the basics.

Regardless of my feelings towards the movie, my rating is a 3, which means it is a decent film. As a critic, a difficult challenge is to remove a bias, hidden or unhidden, you may possess. Had I allowed my obvious bias against this film influence my review, my rating would be a 2. This rating does not offer you the reader the service we desire to provide. I wrote a separate article which does reflect my bias and highlights tremendous shortcomings in the film. In hindsight, my review of “Vice” may include some of my hidden biases, and the movie is actually a 3 versus 2.5.

As for Steven Spielberg and his angst with Netflix. Personally speaking, I don’t have the free time to see every single movie in the theater and watch most movies in the comfort of my home through streaming service. As the world changes, shouldn’t our awards system change? Consider the movies created by A24, which entered a deal with DirectTV Cinema and Amazon Prime in 2013. One of Scott’s favorite movies “A Ghost Story” had a limited release but streamed on Prime. Does it matter if a film like this has a limited release in theaters first, then released on streaming service, or even released simultaneously?

What is the “Best Picture” supposed to represent? The Best of the Best, or the Best movie confined to those viewed only in theaters predominated with large studio swill? The next decade will see more dramatic changes, and the Academy must change, or face becoming irrelevant.

While Mr. Spielberg sits back with tons of money to spend on average movies like “Ready Player One”, Amazon has invested in A24. A24 will release movies in limited theaters and shortly afterward they appear on Prime. Sometimes these movies are only in the theaters for a short time. Let’s compare the two films.

MovieBudgetOpenWorld Wide 
Ready Player One (Spielberg)$175M$41M$582
Moonlight (A24)$1.5M$0.4M$55M

Note: Amounts from IMDB. “Ready Player One” had a wide release versus “Moonlight”, which won an Academy Award for “Best Picture” had a limited release.

Think about the quality, the originality, the impact, of the two films. Mr. Spielberg, you used to surprise us with something new and fresh. We long for you to use your $175M budget to blow us away. Fact is you aren’t. But A24 keeps plugging away creating movies that touch you. Here is a list of A24 films from IMDB so you can judge for yourself.

Netflix decided on a limited release for “Roma” in theaters and then released “Roma” on their streaming service. That fulfills the rules of the Academy currently. If “Roma”, “Eighth Grade”, and “Moonlight” are what you object against Mr. Speilberg I am baffled. I don’t know how to help you appreciate these movies are more original and thoughtful than your biopic fetish or pervasive fascination with sequels. Mr. Speilgberg you sound as if you are an old man lashing out at the young whippersnappers because you lost your touch of artistry. Is the only way to maintain your relevance to use the force of the studio and squelch these new avenues. Or, Mr. Spielberg, could you stop producing your big-budget films and concentrate on producing a movie that offers us more.

In closing, I love watching movies both good and bad. Some movies challenge your way of thinking. Others are just pure escapism and entertainment. Who doesn’t love to pull out “Die Hard” every Christmas? Even bad films can provide moments to be remembered. Additionally, movies and TV are very important mediums of communication in our society. We quote them in the workplace, we use them as analogies, they are common forms of relating to one another. Movies are simply marvelous.

Being in my 50s I am challenged to accept the world has changed dramatically, and change isn’t always the easiest to accept. The change in the movie landscape is both good and bad. On the positive side, we enjoy more movies, more ideas, increased diversity, etc. But the result has also been an increase in mediocrity. Even with the increased mediocrity, the streaming services are a key to the democratization of media both for TV and movies. My role in this new world is to help readers of this blog select good movies and shows to enjoy with their precious free time they have with friends and family. So while I may suffer from the occasional mediocre burnout, I will persevere and continue to rate these movies.