When you’re a famous writer-director-producer working on a big-named project, sometimes the biggest enemy of a filmmaker can be yourself. Quite a few of the most-anticipated movies of 2019 have been longer than necessary for audiences to endure. Maybe the most valuable person to any movie studio is a really good editor to keep these filmmakers in check. Unfortunately, it seems these type of people have been far and few in between, all but ignored by the multi-hyphenates, as they’re the ones who are really in control. So, what happens when an editor is denied his or her ability to cut the fat from these Hollywood productions?
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman clocks in at 209 minutes, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood overstays its welcome at 161 minutes and Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life has a runtime of 174 minutes. Marriage Story was only 137 minutes long, although it felt like it lasted forever! These are only a few of this year’s high-profile passion projects, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars for production studios to create and promote, filling industry headlines and plenty of social media posts, but audiences and box-office results have not been as responsive.
No one would dare question the integrity of a director releasing an over-long movie if the story required it, but movie theater chains can only screen a film so many times per day and when you’ve got extra-long runtimes, there’s even fewer chances for audiences to see these projects before the chains pull them for shorter, more profitable titles.
Filmmakers generally agree to get involved with a certain number of commercial productions if their distributor will agree to eventually release their long-gestating passion projects at a certain point down the line. And it’s the release of these passion projects that tend to receive awards shows recognition, but they’re not usually grand money-makers. This is the state of the modern American cinematic experience.
Scorsese took The Irishman to Netflix, where run-time length isn’t necessarily as bad as those movies exclusively released in theaters, although this was ever-so-briefly released into theaters for a couple of weeks in order to qualify for the Academy Awards and others. Too bad he didn’t at least attempt to whittle down his story to something more palatable. Unnecessary excess, I say.
Slow-to-develop storylines where nothing really happens for long stretches of time, but the name recognition of the director involved is the real pull, regardless of the storyline or the actors involved can accurately describe A Hidden Life, although the premise did initially intrigue me. Terrence Malick also needs to show some cinematic restraint as a writer and a director.
All of this leads us to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time. As a long-time fanboy of QT, I have seen the length of his films grow unnecessarily recently, but I have still enjoyed his style and his stories. He clearly misses collaborating with his famous editor, Sally Menke, who was seemingly the only person who could reel in the filmmaker. She received Academy Award nominations for her work editing Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds, but with her passing, his subsequent releases without her have felt incredibly bloated.
Ultimately, what’s the outcome for these elongated movies, where brevity is no virtue? If any of the recently concluded awards shows are indicators, the pictures might be building toward even more awards, but I don’t expect they’ll claim the majority of them by the end of the awards circuit.
The Irishman may win some acting and cinematography awards, but hopefully that will be it (although I’m pulling for Joe Pesci to win as best supporting actor). Malick has been described as, “a director who creates spaces, rather than produces scenes; his editing style is like that.” Now that is very accurate, but I don’t see Hidden Life winning too many American awards, although stranger things have happened. QT’s penultimate rambling opus features too many undeveloped, unnecessary characters and plot lines that could have easily been snipped. While Pitt is receiving accolades for his acting, I only see him acting as Brad Pitt in his films these days, but the production design was incredible re-creating 1969’s Hollywood.
Recently, Once Upon a Time received nine nominations from the Music City Film Critics’ Association, but the film wound up only winning two awards, which is the range of major awards that I foresee these previously mentioned films winning in the near future. I’m really not a fan of over-produced, over-long movies that reek of excess, although I do enjoy quite a few franchise movies.
Filmmakers will keep crafting movies, but I really hope studio and distributor executives will attempt to limit their sheer brilliance, for the sake of cinephiles everywhere. Hopefully, the peers of these filmmakers will feel the same and won’t reward unnecessary excess.