Monday, March 6, 2017

Hot off the festivals

Netflix is not only trying to change the paradigm for film distribution. It's trying to take the old paradigm for distribution and wipe it from our memories.

First it was news that the dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner at this year's Sundance, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, is not only coming straight to Netflix, it's already here. In fact, we watched it last night.

Then it's news that Netflix is paying nine figures -- you read that right -- to control distribution of the newest Martin Scorsese film, which reteams the director and three acting stars of Goodfellas. Reports are circulating that it cost Netflix $105 million to secure distribution rights.

It's truly bizarre to think that a new Martin Scorsese film might not even get theatrical distribution. I mean, it probably will because Netflix is surely interested in getting in on that same Oscar prestige enjoyed by Amazon when its film Manchester by the Sea was nominated for multiple Oscars. And Netflix also gave Beasts of No Nation a brief theatrical run, a move that paid off with a Golden Globe nomination, if not an Oscar nod. But still.

What's next? Will Christopher Nolan's next film after Dunkirk debut on your TV screen?

It's not outside the realm of possibility to think it might. I mean, I imagine Nolan himself would resist such a thing, since he's been one of the biggest holdouts on shootings his films digitally. It stands to reason that a "nostalgic fondness" for going to the movies in an actual theater would go hand in hand with that. But I might have thought the same of Scorsese. One can only hold out on the money -- especially if it gives you greater freedom to make the kind of film you want to make -- for so long. (I'm not entirely clear if any of the money Netflix is ponying up will assist with finishing the film -- I guess not?)

So it was indeed pretty weird to see one of the most buzzed about films at Sundance only a month after the end of Sundance. Only as recently as two years ago, one of the hot Sundance films (The Witch) took more than a year to be seen by American audiences outside of festivals. We're accustomed to Sundance hits entering into long gestation periods before we get to see them.

Not anymore. And while there are probably good things about that -- I was glad to add it to my fledgling 2017 rankings, which thus far only included Split and The Great Wall -- I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that some of the magic is lost.

I like that period when I am anticipating something that might blow my mind, that might rock my word. I like the gradual increase of excitement about a movie until it reaches a fever pitch. I like that period in which I imagine that any movie I haven't seen could be one of my new favorite movies of all time.

But I suppose it's a logical development in an instant gratification world. No one waits for anything anymore. Paradoxically, though, this is also an age where we get flooded with casting news for blockbusters that aren't even scheduled for release for three more years. That's followed by a steady diet of set photos, rumors, teaser trailers, and all sorts of other ephemera until we're sick of the damn thing.

I guess the internet can either give us short waits or create the conditions for an epic wait, depending on what the thing is.

I suppose capitalizing on the Sundance buzz might goose the viewership right out of the gate, though Netflix has always been coy about releasing statistics on views. There won't be an Oscar campaign for it without that theatrical release, but Netflix correctly concluded that this is not the type of film that earns Oscars.

But boy is it good.

As you might expect from director Macon Blair, a collaborator of Jeremy Saulnier who appears in both Blue Ruin and Green Room, it certainly recalls Saulnier's work. But Saulnier hasn't made a movie this good yet. And I like both of the above-mentioned films quite a bit.

It's another story of ordinary people getting in over their heads when they try to take matters into their own hands (Blue Ruin), although some amount of being in the wrong place at the wrong time is also there (Green Room). Only this time the lead is a woman, Melanie Lynskey, and Blair has a sense for black comedy that Saulnier hasn't figured out yet. This is a funny movie, though at times, also an intense one.

That's all I really want to say about it for now. I'll wait for a few more of you to see it before I got into more details.

Which should be soon, since it's featured right there in a prominent spot on your Netflix home page.

The times, they are a-changin.'

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