Why Can’t Something New Be a Masterpiece?

old vs new

There’s no denying 2016 has been an underwhelming year for movies, particularly blockbuster films. However, there have been some wonderful films like any other year. We live in an era of hyperbole where something has to be a masterpiece or trash and little in between. I fall victim to that line of thinking as much as anyone else.

However, recently I have been thinking about the push-back we sometimes give on classics over modern films. For example, I think that Zootopia is the best non-musical from Disney since 101 Dalmatians. (Sorry Wreck-it Ralph fans but that’s what I think). Some people didn’t like the movie as much as I did and that is fine but some people seem to take an affront to the very idea a modern film being considered with classics like 101 Dalmatians. Why?

Is it beyond the possibility of consideration that Disney could release a film today that is on par with the quality they used to release? Why is what has come before inherently better than what we produce now? In my Pete’s Dragon review I said that it reminded me of movies like Black Stallion and Old Yeller. It may not be quite as good as those movies but it did remind me of them. It may not have for others but this is just my opinion. Part of what I liked about it so much is we don’t see many films like it these days, and I thought it was so well executed for the type of movie it was trying to be. Those movies are not perfect either so I don’t see the comparison as a problem.

I saw this last year where friends loved Ex-Machina. I liked it but it didn’t make my top 10. However, I have no problem with a friend who listed it in his top 100 movies ever made. What’s wrong with that? Why can’t a new science fiction movie be as good as your Blade Runner or Terminator? Sure those movies have time to marinate and debate but I don’t think they are inherently better than something we could produce today.

Let’s take Rogue One as an example. Let’s just say it is spectacular. It could suck. I have no idea. There are people no matter how great it is wouldn’t put it over any of the original trilogy. Why? Nostalgia is part of it but I also think some film fans just think old=better and they don’t allow for the idea of a new classic. Star Wars: the Force Awakens is my favorite Star Wars movie. Some freak out about that but I think it took everything the original trilogy did right and improved upon it. Made it better. It’s not a perfect movie but as I say neither are the originals.

Some people like the new Jungle Book better than the old one. I disagree but I have no problem with their view. To me they are close.

Let’s use Moana as an example. Let’s just say it is also spectacular. There are some that no matter how great it is would never put it with the Renaissance classics like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Part of that is probably a bias towards 2D animation but I’d like to think Disney is as capable of producing a masterpiece today as they were in 1990. Yet for some no matter how good it is they will never give it such high praise.

I think part of it is we don’t tend to nitpick the classics the way we do current films. Hate to break it to you folks but the original Star Wars trilogy for example are not perfect.  I love them but they aren’t perfect. Same with the Disney Renaissance films.

Just because it is old doesn’t mean it is inherently better and I have no problem saying that!

I think Sing Street is as good if not better than anything John Hughes ever did. Shock! Scandal! Sorry it’s true.

I think Love and Friendship is better than Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and may be my favorite Jane Austen adaptation.

I think Mad Max Fury Road is better than the original Mad Max.

I think Inside Out is better than Finding Nemo, Incredibles, Wall-e and Toy Story 2 and 3.

I think Frozen is better than Aladdin

I think Dark Knight is much better than Tim Burton’s Batman.

I think Rescuers Down Under is a million times better than The Rescuers

I think Spotlight is better than All the President’s Men

I think Prince of Egypt is better than The 10 Commandments

I liked the new Ghostbusters about the same as the old one.

You can debate with me about specific films.  What I am objecting to is the seeming impossibility of a ‘new classic’. Why is that such a problem for people? Do we not still have creative minds at work and is there not still the potential for greatness?

I remember when Richard Roeper said Forgetting Sarah Marshall was one of the top 20 comedies and people freaked out. I haven’t seen that film so can’t say but why can’t he see a comedy now and think it is one of his top 20 favorites? What’s wrong with that? Is it an impossibility that someone could find a modern comedy as funny as the classics?

What are some movies you feel are modern masterpieces and live up to or surpass classics in their genre? I don’t even know if I am making any sense but do you see what I am saying? Do we have a tendency of putting classics on an untouchable pedestal current movies can never reach? Are they inherently better? Why?

Anyway, I know this is rambling but just something I have been pondering. I would love your insight and feedback.

ps. Something is also not inherently better because it was released by Criterion (they released Armageddon…) but that’s a post for another day.

10 thoughts on “Why Can’t Something New Be a Masterpiece?

  1. Well, technically, I do agree that some modern films can be instantly identified as being classics such as Inside Out and The Dark Knight like you mentioned. I just feel the passage of time making a movie still relevant and hitting home is the main thing to make a film a classic which is why it seems that anything “old” is a classic.

    I’m sure many of the classics we watch now like Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, 12 Angry Men, The Wizard of Oz, etc. were not all praised when they came out. I’m sure they were praised but I don’t think they had reached classic stage yet. Heck, I think Citizen Kane was even a flop when it came out.

    So I feel that the passage of time for a movie is necessary to determine its masterpiece status correctly (with a few exceptions, like I said). I guess it’s like cheese or wine, the longer it stays is really when you can appreciate how good they are.

    1. Yeah you make a good point. I think that is more a general consensus classic where I was more talking about individual taste. That it’s okay to prefer something new over something old personally. But you are right even personal tastes can change when movies have time to marinate in us.

  2. Fury Road is actually the only Mad Max movie I really like, with no “buts” whatsoever added.
    There are three kinds of movies: New ones, sequels and remakes. The “new ones” have in a way the best chance to become classics in their own right because they offer something fresh (relatively speaking, there is nothing truly new under the sun). Sequels and remakes, well here it always boils down to “Do they add something new”. Fury Road is superior to Road Warrior not because the new technology allows better action scenes, but because the story is way better and has more meaning. Jurassic World was a success, but it didn’t anything new enough to kick Jurassic Park from its spot. And the new Ghostbusters, well, let’s put it this way: I am not a Ghostbuster fan at all, but I really don’t need to see basically the same story three times. If they can’t offer something new, they should leave an idea be.

    Which ones the modern masterpieces will be, we have to wait and see. I am pretty sure though, that Shawshank’s Redemption is one of them, also Fury Road, maybe Guardians of the Galaxy if the franchise keeps going strong, and I am convinced that the movies of Satoshi Kon will get a growing fanbase over time.

    1. Yeah all good points. I know many disagree but I actually feel that way about Force Awakens. It had rebellion within the empire in a storm trooper defection. Kylo Ren is a true apprentice. BB8 was new etc. I feel it took familiar ideas and made it better. I agree with you on Mad Max. The visuals and characters were new. I also think we can get well executed classic storylines like boy and his dog as an example that is in the discussion with previous films

  3. I agree with The Animation Commendation: it’s about movies proving themselves over time. If a movie has been respected for years, and is still talked about when so many other movies are forgotten, it might feel wrong to go against the consensus and speak ill of it.

    I have fallen victim to this way of thinking: when I first compiled a list of my favourite movies, it didn’t feel right that the majority were relatively recent and almost all were released in my lifetime. It felt like if there weren’t more classics, it wasn’t a “proper” favourite movies list. It could be part of the reason why I’ve been trying to watch so many classics this year – though I have at least been pulling many of them to bits!

    Today, I’m happy to accept modern classics – Frozen is certainly up there with most of the Disney Renaissance, and Inside Out is one of the best Pixar movies.

    1. That’s basically what I was trying to say. I agree a film can’t be considered a classic by the general population without time but I personally can prefer something new over something old. I totally know what you mean about feeling you need a proper list. Like I love You’ve Got Mail but I feel dumb putting it on my favorites list because it’s not a normal elevated favorite. That’s why I like to differentiate between best and favorite. If it’s favorite it’s just what I like not what is technically the best movie. But even then sometimes I like the new stuff better.

  4. Don’t forget that Richard Roeper also stated that he preferred 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall to 1974’s Blazing Saddle, the latter an old film many still revere. A very relevant detail to the point you’re driving home in this article.

    1. I forgot about that part of the review. Thanks for pointing it out. I get why a new film can rarely be generally regarded as a classic without time but as far as personal preferences I think it’s fine to prefer new to old

  5. I think a classic can come from any era. For example, I consider both Casablanca and Zootopia classic films. They really couldn’t be more different, but both will stand the test of time. Ultimately, that’s what a classic is: a work of art that is appreciated by many generations. If a modern film will appeal to people for years after its release because of its timeless characters and relatable themes, then I believe it has earned the title of classic.

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