With guild agreements being signed and production ramping up, Hollywood hopefully awaits a moment of youthful innovation.
Oops: The most newsworthy films set for imminent release are directed by filmmakers in their 80s – grizzled veterans who understand their muscle but, like the neophytes, are perplexed by the chaotic landscape.
Will this become a Back to the Future moment?
Ageism debates about Biden (80) and Trump (77) may prompt political headlines, but it’s not intruding on either The Golden Bachelor (Gerry Turner is 72) or the movie release date calendar.
Still, talk to Michael Mann (Ferrari), Ridley Scott (Napoleon) or Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon) and you won’t encounter the sort of “we own the system” bluster held by the old-time studio directors. Behind them is an even older lineup of vintage filmmakers: Woody Allen (87) and Roman Polanski (90), whose movies await release dates, and Francis Coppola (84), who would welcome distribution for his self-financed epic Megalopolis which is still in post-production.
Even the old master Steven Spielberg (76) acknowledges disappointment with the release of his most recent films (The Fabelmans) or of his production company Amblin. He misses the hubris of the ‘70s when Jaws went 100 days over schedule and Universal decided not to notice.
The times are transformative, but is that good news or bad?
The films of the older generation all reflect the wisdom and skills of the past, but also carry some baggage. Scorsese (80) has been the most self-critical of his generation. He believes his $200 million Killers of the Flower Moon starring Leonardo DiCaprio represents a forceful refutation of Marvel movies (“they’re about marketing, not cinema”}.
But he also has some regrets about his previous award-winning DiCaprio movie Shutter Island (“it was a genre movie”). His follow-up, Silence, arguably lacked narrative as well as genre.
While Scorsese scored a gala reception at Cannes with Flower Moon, some critics fretted that its violent moments harkened back to the excesses of Gangs of New York. Major box office success is nonetheless predicted.
Cineastes viewing Napoleon may inevitably compare the Ridley Scott (85) conception with Stanley Kubrick’s legendary Napoleon saga of the late ‘90s — long considered the best movie never made. Celebrating his success in 2001, A Space Odyssey in 1968, Kubrick not only talked up his research to his followers, but even circulated a draft of his script, later published online.
Kubrick’s Napoleon was supposed to star the two hottest young celebrities of that period, David Hemmings and Audrey Hepburn. His script even enticed Spielberg into creating a Napoleon miniseries for HBO, which also never happened.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, whose trailer hit screens last week. As with most new films, its release date has been a guessing game but it is now aiming for Thanksgiving weekend. It did not play the troubled awards circuit. Michael Mann’s Ferrari, by contrast, was warmly received at the Venice Film Festival.
Previous Napoleons were played by Rod Steiger and Anthony Hopkins in sprawling Euro-financed films like Waterloo (1970) and War and Peace (1972). They failed to stir worldwide audiences, as did the first Napoleon, a 1927 silent film directed by Abel Gance.
So do older filmmakers overly favor period subjects? The two new comedies from Polanski and Allen are both set In the present. Coppola’s vastly more ambitious Megalopolis is set in the future and the director describes it as “Utopian.”
An upbeat Utopian point of view in theory should inspire widespread support in Hollywood’s Back to the Future moment. A run of hits will be welcomed irrespective of the age group responsible for it.