Falling for It: Is This the Best Time of Year to Be a Movie Fan?, by David Bax
It seems to be conventional wisdom that this time of year is the best for movies. We’ve survived the Spring dumping grounds and the Summer frenzy of over-budgeted franchise pap mostly aimed at teenage boys. Now it’s time for Fall, when it’s finally safe for thinking adults to return to the multiplex. Is this all really true, though? I myself tend to buy into the fun of it but when I look at my favorite films of the year, it doesn’t always bear out. Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, still one of the best films of 2015 so far, came out back in March. Asif Kapadia’s Amy, James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, Noah Baumbachs’ Mistress America; these were all counterprogramming to the warm weather glut of fourth, fifth or seventh sequels. And those with access to festivals were able to see gems like Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria or Rick Alverson’s Entertainment well before the start of pumpkin spice season. So does the supposed axiom really stand up to scrutiny?
In a way, it does hold true for the simple reason that it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If everyone accepts as gospel that the voting bodies of guilds, critics’ groups, the Academy and whoever the Hollywood Foreign Press are will favor the things they saw more recently, then it only makes sense that studios will hold onto films from prestigious directors like Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, David O. Russell or Quentin Tarantino and presumptive critical favorites like Spotlight or Carol until they can make the most immediate impression. So the more we talk about “Fall movies” as a homogenous block, the more it will become so.
But to apply the “Fall movie” moniker only to awards contenders ignores another, very important staple of early Autumn, the horror movie. At the same time as the words “for your consideration” get tacked onto every ad campaign, movie fans are also embracing the antithesis of those films. Horror is often lowbrow (not a pejorative!), relatively inexpensive and, most importantly, is designed to be the opposite of the self-congratulatory, middlebrow (a bit of a pejorative!) and prevailingly safe releases that make up the major studios’ “important” slate. The horror genre is one of the few where audiences not only accept but embrace cinema’s power to assault and antagonize the viewer. To overlook it during its most prevalent time of year would be a shame.
Still, as I said before, I do have a tendency to get caught up in the fun of Fall movie season, despite everything I’ve just said. Perhaps that’s because, even if most of them are trite exercises in satiating the pseudo-intellectual NPR crowd, Fall movies and the awards that come with them make this the time of year when most everyone, not just snobs like you and me, are talking about movies as an art form worth recognizing and celebrating. That as good a reason for the season as any I can think of.