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In the mood for movies

If anyone were to ask me about the secret behind my long and happy marriage, the most important among them would be the Bafta screeners that my husband gets every year. As a member of the voting lobby, he receives a lot of films every December, which he has to collect in the nominations for the film awards.

Who cares about the short days, cold nights and frayed temperaments of midwinter when you have a year of cinema to enjoy?

Many have lamented the fate of the cinema: how the pandemic has almost killed it. The relentless rise of Netflix and streaming TV has seen a tectonic shift in interest as binge-watching boxes have replaced our appetite for movies. Blockbuster dramas that should have been big hits, such as Ridley Scotts The last duel, has endured dishonorable humiliation. Even Bond has reportedly struggled to break the balance, and the only film that has made gigantic profits this winter is the one with nets tied.

In a speech to the Hollywood Reporter, film producer Peter Chernin led a well-known refrain. “The industry is narrowing down creatively,” he said. “People are becoming more conservative and taking fewer chances.” Scott, now 84, who had two films on release last year (House of Gucci as well as The last duel), has blamed millennials “who were brought up with these damn cell phones” for failing in his recent work.

I think they are wrong. But this is not about the joys of cinema. Or if you have a better experience by trudging to the local flea pit and sitting in an expensive stall. It’s about whether film still has a purpose as a medium, and what it can offer when good television seems to handle it all so well. With the exception of the Marvel series, a giant that is so gigantic that it can not be compared to anything, the films that are now getting features are the opposite of Scott’s dramatic all-star coup.

The most exciting films of this season are not calm tales starring famous actors, but dreamy tone poems built around a mood. Paul Thomas Andersons Licorice pizzatells, for example, a dull tale of adolescence in 1970s California, combined with an amazing soundtrack of principals who are relatively unknown. For the most part, nothing really happens; it’s just a wonderful experience to fall into a nostalgic warmth landscape where Anderson is in charge. It has also performed surprisingly well and has been embraced by younger audiences: On the opening weekend, according to Variety, 72 percent of audiences were between 18 and 34 years old.

Jane Campions The power of the dog is similarly expansive, with the main star being the Otago Peninsula in New Zealand, where the director filmed. The plot is slow and often uneventful, but the great pleasure of it, for me anyway, was that for 125 minutes I was immersed in the world of Campion.

Likewise Paolo Sorrentino, if God’s hand is an autobiographical dream that conjures up the Naples of the eighties while the World Cup takes place in Mexico. So rich is the universe that Sorrentino has created, I could not care less that there was not a huge mass plot. I worried more about it Belfast was so boring (and the ridiculous suggestion that Protestants could dance in the wake), but no doubt Kenneth Branagh’s film also falls into the same category of ambient drama framed within a highly curated point of view.

All of these directors drew on smaller, more intimate stories as the basis for films that herald, I hope, a new era for the author. Away from the tyranny of Marvel or TV studios, filmmakers will become more introspective and self-expressing as they come up with new approaches to their work.

Which does not mean that movies become more self-indulgent. The more successful ones simply reflect our desires. As French writer-director Nicolas Saada remarks to me this week: “Television exploits our restlessness and anxiety – it steals our energy and time. Cinema still allows us to just feel things, experience them without explanations or intense storytelling.”

Efe Cakarel, cinefil and founder of the film hub Mubi, is convinced of the future of the film: “Most viewers who watch television are looking for comfort: worlds they can return to on a regular basis. Fantastic cinema is exciting for the exact opposite characteristics: we are caught up in the unexpected, which is why films by great filmmakers resonate so strongly – in their hands we discover something new about the world and possibly ourselves. ”

Others are more skeptical about the future. “Lately, there have been so few good one-off films,” says Pawel Pawlikowski, director of Cold War and Ida, for which he won an Oscar in 2015. “Personally, I steer clear of TV series because they are addictive and do not provide any kind of experience,” he continues. “Watching a great movie is like immersing yourself in a dream. But as a filmmaker who grew up with the cinema, I’m worried – I did not want it to go like opera.”

Why bother going to the cinema when there is an eight-part series you can eat for three nights? All the familiar feed that used to dominate the price seasons can now be found on Netflix, Apple TV or elsewhere.

Even the traditional biopic has lost its luster. Where actors could once stick to a plastic nose and call for an Oscar, the proliferation of long documentaries or podcasts now offers viewers richer and more enlightening documentary truths. Nor is it likely that I’m in a hurry to see a sword-and-sandals epic when I can revisit Game of Thrones.

But I still long for a movie moment, now more than ever. And whether I’m sitting in a booth or on the couch, I’ll still have the same feeling: seeing the world, albeit for just 90 minutes, through a different set of eyes.

Email Yes on jo.ellison@ft.com

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