The Re-Birth of Realism / by Chris Weigl

No matter what your taste in movies you’ve got to hand it to those who decided to go back to the drawing board and write simple, realistic stories with uncomplicated characters that are easy to identify with.  Even in the most far out genres of sci-fi or fantasy there are scenes in this year’s movies that ring true to everyone.  It is this ability to connect with certain facets of the American life as we know it that has made this year’s films interesting and relatable. 

From super-realist stories like Boyhood and Gone Girl to dystopian epics like Mockingjay there is something compelling in the ordinary that has struck a chord with viewers and hopefully that is the lesson that the filmmaking community will take away from this year in film.  You don’t need to make an epic saga to draw people to the box office.  You don’t need to adapt every book ever written to find an audience and it doesn’t take the most technical director to be a true storyteller.  There are hints of the ordinary made extraordinary in all our stories the key is being able to flesh them out and making them relatable to general audiences.  This is what great writing is all about.

Character-driven story dominated this year in film.  This makes us happy as huge proponents of writing the best story that your characters can make and ultimately, it’s the one logical defense that makes the ending of Gone Girl makes sense.  It was a story about two people struggling with how to deal with the other.  No one wins or loses in marriage it just is.  What’s equally impressive is what you haven’t seen this year primarily because you simply haven’t had access to it.  The film Nightcrawler is an excellent example of what Indie film is capable of. 

Nightcrawler follows a thief turned aspiring cameraman who joins television news on a whim.  The main character is someone who’s vocabulary is filled with things he’s learned in online business classes.  Naturally this character feels like a natural in today’s economy.  There’s also a creepiness to this character that makes the viewer question what is really driving the protagonist and what he is capable of.  These careful nuances make for some intriguing character interplay between Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo.  By having as it’s main protagonist a shaky, unreliable character the film has the feeling of a modernist novel with an unreliable narrator.  It’s smart character development and the story develops as the characters do so it’s awkward and off key at times, but you root for it because it sounds like they’ve got it figured out.

Hollywood began to take a more realist look at things last year especially when it came to how African-Americans have been treated historically.  Both Lee Daniels’ the Butler and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave served an important social function in showing Americans how we perceive African-Americans through film while also making shockingly real and complex characters in the process.  This trend carried over into indie filmmaking in 2014 which translated to some of the only watchable movies to be released this year in the U.S.  It’s sad that there have only been about four or five films put forth by American production companies that could be considered awards worthy, but we wonder if that doesn’t have more to do with the ever expanding international box office and the improvement of film abroad.  Truth is that Hollywood is still making as much money as it ever has. 

Although trips to the box office may be dwindling as new sources of consuming media arise studios are still finding ways to make money.  It does strike one as a bit odd that studios are opting more for genre-specific films as opposed to more genre-neutral films given how the demographics are playing out.  If more realistic characters are the result in mainstream movies and those characters wind up driving the story then the genre shouldn’t matter as much.  We do wonder when studios will stop trying to adapt the next comic book and graphic novel into a film and start focusing on newer original material, but perhaps that ship has passed.  Maybe the torch has been passed to indie filmmakers to fill the void that an increasingly risk averse environment has created.  Either way there is fresh new material coming out and though it may be sparse this does give us reason to hope for better original material next year.