WTF: Mainstream Directors Selling Out for Art

Who hasn’t cringed when their favorite indie director has come out with a piece of Hollywood garbage with the only intent to make money. That’s right. No one likes a sell out.

But what people forget is that selling out goes both ways. This time of year, directors sell out in a different way. I’m talking about all the major mainstream Hollywood directors (or those who have enjoyed a certain amount of mainstream success) who “sell out” to do the award film released at the end of the year.

Sure, I could rant about Steven Soderbergh who had mainstream hits like Traffic, Erin Brokovich and the Ocean movies but is now trying to win awards again with Che. Or I could complain about Danny Boyle, who had a monster hit with 28 Days Later but is getting award buzz for Slumdog Millionaire. Or what about Gus Van Sant whose latest film Milk bucks the mainstream unlike Good Will Hunting or that hideous Psycho remake.

But my beef is not with them. These guys have a strong legacy in the arthouse. I don’t necessarily take issue with them.

Instead, I’m lashing out at the mainstream directors who are selling out to make award films and earn respect as a quality director. This is as gratuitous of a display as Angelina Jolie acting her guts out each year, desperately trying to win another Oscar.

What the “For Your Consideration”?

It’s not that I have a problem with award movies. Some are actually quite good. And it’s not that I have a problem with a director trying to make a good movie. I just can’t stand it when directors make these films with the aim to win awards, and it seems like some movies are nothing more than that attempt.

Take Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, which is a good film in its own right. Aronofsky has made a career out of visually dynamic films, even going back to his arthouse days with Pi. He deliberately takes a subdued approach to his filmmaking and gives the has-been actor a chance to shine again. You can’t tell me this film wasn’t made with Oscar gold in mind. (Before you flame me and declare that Aronofsky has always been an arthouse director, let’s not forget about his $35 million budget for the shit-storm that was The Fountain and him being in charge of the Robocop remake.)

Or what about Ron Howard, who first directed Grand Theft Auto for Roger Corman and has his movies constantly atop the box office? His holiday turd How the Grinch Stole Christmas is playing round-the-clock on cable this month, and he’s currently finishing his utterly mainstream Da Vinci Code sequel Angels & Demons. Now, he’s suddenly become respectable again with his Presidential “hit” Frost/Nixon.

And let’s not forget David Fincher, who cut his directorial teeth with Madonna videos in the 90s before striking box office gold with films like Se7en, The Game and Fight Club. Now he’s making three-hour epic period pieces, toning down his frenetic camera style and hoping to win awards with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Then there’s Clint Eastwood. The guy started out as a genre-driven actor in the Spaghetti Westerns before taking the Dirty Harry route. He made his fortune with mainstream films, and now every year or two, he serves up his standard award bait. Like his faltered one-two punch from 2006 consisting of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, he’s doing it twice this year with Changeling and Gran Torino.

Who’s next? Michael Bay? Brett Ratner? Or maybe Brian Robbins? Surely this would be the sign of the apocalypse.

I don’t care if you’re selling out for cold, hard cash or if you’re selling out so that stuffy critics and the Hollywood elite will like you more. It’s still selling out.

I’d rather see all the awards go to WALL-E, not just because it’s the best film of 2008, but because it was made to be a great film and wasn’t just a cheap grab at some award wins.

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