A special pleasure often results when high-aspiration filmmakers sink into the commonality of genre. Those who’ve made their bones doing ambitious, high-reaching dramas or super-cool high-style pieces…whose natural inclination is to crank out critical favorites or award-winners or arty-farties for their own sake…when the elites sink below their station, it’s always a huge kick.
The upshot is that the best kind of popcorn genre films are usually those made by those who don’t live in the neighborhood, so to speak, and are demanding high achievers.
“Meh” reactions ricochet when Jason Statham, say, makes an action film with some journeyman director, but the crowd always salutes when Michael Mann directs Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in an actioner like Collateral.
The artfully inclined, Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh directing Haywire, a kick-boxing martial arts film that’s basically about a tough girl kicking male butt, resulted in a beautiful, lean-and-mean high. But more or less the same thing was attempted in Columbiana, a female-hero actioner with Zoe Saldana and directed by Olivier Megaton, and it was crap.
One of the best futuristic apocalypse dramas with three of the best action sequences seen in many years, Children of Men, was made by Alfonso Cuaron, a guy who doesn’t exactly rub shoulders with Michael Bay and Tony Scott and James Cameron, and whose best film before Men was Y Tu Mama Tambien.
Francis Coppola was always a hired gun, but in the late ’60s he had it in him and was apparently inclined to favor sensitive meditative dramas like The Rain People, and then five years later The Conversation. But when he was hired to direct The Godfather in ’71, he was obliged to shoot a pulp novel about primal forces and primitive plot twists, and it became his best film ever.
For me, the most satisfying movie from Germany’s meditative, solemn-mannered Wim Wenders was when he stepped down into a genre piece about corruption and contract killings and noirish ennui called The American Friend.
If Bela Tarr was to make a cop drama and was forced by his producers to pick up the pace a bit, something exceptional might result.
Disaster films were all the rage in the early to mid ’70s, and they were all fairly cheesy and obvious and mostly a slog to sit through. And then along came the gifted Richard Lester with Juggernaut, a drama about bombs aboard a luxury liner, and suddenly there was a disaster film that was pretty damn good.
You know who needs to direct a nice sleazy genre film? The Descendants‘ Alexander Payne or Moneyball‘s Bennett Miller. With the right material the results might be astounding.