From: Dana Stevens
To: Amy Nicholson, Mark Harris, and David Ehrlich
Dear Amy, Mark, and David,
The first and second rules of Movie Club are the exact inverse of the rules for Fight Club: No. 1: Tell everyone about Movie Club; No. 2: TELL EVERYONE ABOUT MOVIE CLUB. (Rule No. 6 is, curiously, the same for both organizations: No shirts, no shoes.) I hope that for the rest of this week, you will accept me as your personal Tyler Durden, joining with me to construct an alternate reality where different rules apply than during the rest of the film-reviewing year. (I promise not to disappoint everyone at week’s end by bogusly turning out to have been only an embodiment of the dark side of your own personalities all along.) Here in Movie Club, you should feel free to change your mind about a movie, even in the middle of the very sentence you’re writing about it. I urge you to be curious, not judgy, about films other clubbers loved that you hated. And please take the orthodox form of the movie review or deliberative essay and toss it aside, just the way Walton Goggins crumples a precious letter in The Hateful Eight. If discursive writing isn’t doing the trick, you may—are, indeed, encouraged to—compose your MC entries as bulleted listicles, cat GIFs, illustrated flowcharts, or—as did a longtime comrade who can’t join us this year—in the form of an olde English ballad.
It seems worth beginning our conversation with the observation that this year was, if not the dawning, at least the statistical solidification of the Age of Ultron, with eight of the 10 top-grossing films of the year being installations in longstanding franchises. (The two exceptions—Pixar’s Inside Out, based on an original idea, and Ridley Scott’s The Martian, adapted from a best-selling novel—both stand as proof that large-scale, high-concept commercial filmmaking can still make for rousing popular art.) For much of the year, Colin Trevorrow’s genial clone of Steven Spielberg’s tetchy dinosaurs remained at the top of the year’s box-office food chain; Indominus rex noshed on the fast and furious drivers, the hammer- and shield-wielding superbeings, the overall-clad yellow ovoids, and even the lightsaber-armed vessels of the newly reawakened Force. But this weekend, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens surpassed Jurassic World’s box office, those GMO dinos went from predator to prey.
Mark, you’ve written—in a way that’s informed how I think about the big business of moviemaking ever since—about the calculable effect this dependence on branded properties has had on the market for quality midbudget studio movies (the kind that win Oscars and critical prestige), not to mention independent and foreign films. Original stories seem in the current market like barnacles clinging to the hulls of the gigantic warships of franchised properties. Yet your own favorite movies this year—I eagerly await your Top 10 list, but you’ve enthusiastically tweeted about 99 Homes, Room, Carol, and James White—seem to testify to a fairly healthy barnacle ecosystem, with lots of oddball, craft-centric work finding a place both in audience’s and critics’ hearts. (Even the franchise movie I’ve seen you admire, Mad Max: Fury Road, is about as oddball as it gets.) Has what’s happened in the film world over the course of 2015 in any way changed how you see the industry’s future unfolding? Or should we all just keep clinging for dear life to that barnacle-encrusted hull?
Amy, there’s so much I want to discuss with you, but let’s start off by high-fiving (as our airborne motorcycles cross in midair) over Spy, which we both put on our Top 10 lists. (Here’s your list, and here’s mine.) Is it just some pitiful need for group affiliation that makes it feel so damn good to watch pop culture chugging steadily past the point where a wide-release action comedy featuring a nontraditionally beautiful female protagonist can become a solid box-office hit—and not just in the U.S. but abroad, where action pictures starring women have historically flopped? I promise not to make you the symbolic mouthpiece for all things lady-related for the rest of the week, but at some point I would like to hear you mouth off on Spy and Trainwreck and The Second Mother and The Diary of a Teenage Girl and all the other movies this year that provided stomping ground for big, broad, unapologetic performances by big, unapologetic, stomping broads. It’s so gratifying that eight of the films on my list, many of which were mainstream hits, feature a woman or girl as the protagonist. (Sadly, only two films on my list—three if you count runner-up Mustang—were directed by women, proving that sisters aren’t yet doing it for themselves in that department.)
And David: Your annual lusciously edited video Top 25 countdown always serves as an appetite-sharpener for this week of discussion. The 2015 montage reminded me of movies like Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, Ex Machina, and Clouds of Sils Maria—stubbornly independent creations, which, though they failed to cohere for me as whole works, left behind indelible memories of individual scenes: Rinko Kikuchi abandoning a pet rabbit in the Tokyo subway. Oscar Isaac and his lissome homemade sexbot dancing, ferociously and hilariously, to Oliver Cheatham’s “Get Down Saturday Night.” An unsettled Juliette Binoche staring down into the narrow canyon through which the clouds of that movie’s title will later twist like a snake made of fog. I would be happy to read you following any of the titles in that wonderful montage down whatever road they take you. But if you need a writing prompt for this first round, consider a movie both you and Amy placed on your best-of-the-year lists, but that I made poor Mark help me process over Twitter DM after I staggered out of a three-plus-hour screening feeling at once bedazzled, perturbed, and annoyed: The Hateful Eight. What is Quentin Tarantino’s game these days? Who is he making movies for? Is it only my fun-hating prudishness that makes me regard this historical-revenge-fantasy bender he’s been on since Inglourious Basterds as ineffably evil?
Amy, I volunteer you as tribute for the next round. May the odds be ever in your favor!
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