On Tuesday, I started talking to a couple of people about Drive and how it was one of my favorite films of last year. Someone interrupted me and said, “Drive was your favorite movie of 2011?” When I told him that The Tree of Life was, he looked even more annoyed.
Which leads me to talk about a movie’s accessibility. Accessibility it important not only for a film’s success but also in awards. If you look at the Oscars, many of their Best Picture winners were big hits or had high audience ratings, like The King’s Speech. Or Rocky. Or Forrest Gump. This list could go on and on.
If you were on the internet between January and February, you probably heard of the massive complaints that Drive wasn’t nominated for Best Picture and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was (perhaps the Oscar’s most infamous snub since Do the Right Thing wasn’t nominated). Though I loved Drive, I knew it was never going to be embraced by award shows.
The reason being is that Drive isn’t a very likable film for most audiences. Most people prefer happier, giddy movies. If you look at most of the Oscar’s nominations last year, all of them except for The Descendants, The Tree of Life, and ELAIC were pretty upbeat films.
Of course, I can also blame Drive‘s advertising. Drive was painted by its ads as a Fast and Furious film, which led to a woman suing the filmmakers (that’s one of the stupidest court cases ever). Even worse, the poster for the movie is terrible, with Ryan Gosling photoshopped in front of a picture of a car. It gave the complete wrong picture of the movie, which probably confused many audiences. If Drive was better advertised, I think people would have liked it a whole lot more.
As for The Tree of Life, it was pretty obvious that a lot of people were going to hate it, which is the same for plenty of Terrance Malick’s work. I have plenty of friends who couldn’t even stay through the first twenty minutes. When it was in theaters, a lot of people walked out and demanded refunds.
This is because The Tree of Life requires the audience to connect its powerful images to its message. Other films have done this before, such as Baraka, but The Tree of Life is a narrative film done on a massive scale. I found myself absorbed into the movie and spellbound. It’s perfectly understandable if you weren’t though.
So now I move on to my last example The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest movie. Though it has received critical acclaim, receiving an 85 on Metacritic and garnering some of the best reviews of the year, The Master has polarized many people. As the film ended, much of the audience evoked mixed feelings for the movie.
On many blogging sites, I’ve heard many complaints of the film, that it’s too boring, too ambiguous, and that the ending doesn’t make sense. Personally I loved The Master, but I recognize why many people dislike the work.
I think one of the reasons might be because of the controversy it has drawn. A lot of people thought it was just a metaphor on Scientology when it was really a character study. Of course this doesn’t base all the criticisms though.
I can see why people didn’t like The Master. I feel that like The Tree of Life the images play an important part of the film. We often see flashbacks from Freddy Quell’s life, and one major shot repeated throughout the film is of Freddy next to a sand sculpture of a naked woman. This probably confused and bewildered audiences, who may have been frustrated by this and the movie’s abrupt ending. I was fascinated by it though mostly because I was invested into the characters.
But there are plenty of other films to have either been loved or hated by audiences. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a good example, though now it’s regarded by most as an all-time classic. Others include Blade Runner and The Last Temptation of Christ (though for Christ it more has to do with content that upset a lot of christians).
Listen, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and I don’t hold grudges against the people who don’t like these films. Roger Ebert gave The Master two and a half stars and I will always hold tremendous respect for him.
But a film’s accessibility always hurts it when it comes out, years later people will recognize its ingenuity. In my review for The Master, I stated that in about ten years film scholars will glorify it. We’ll se how public opinion changes for these films over time.