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Dustin Hoffman's Right: Movies Have Gotten Worse... But What's He Going to Do About it?

In a recent Independent profile, Dustin Hoffman went rogue and got frank about the current state of American moviemaking, all but declaring a state of emergency in Hollywood.

"I think right now television is the best that it’s ever been and I think that it’s the worst that film has ever been — in the 50 years that I’ve been doing it, it’s the worst," said Hoffman, who recently did a stint on HBO's controversially-cancelled horse-racing drama Luck and made his (credited) directorial debut in 2012 with the lightweight British fogey comedy Quartet, starring Maggie Smith.

Hoffman went on to further note that rushed shooting schedules are a toxic contributor to Hollywood's worsening output, citing The Graduate's shoot as an ideal filmmaking experience that could never be replicated in today's studio environment:

"It’s hard to believe you can do good work for the little amount of money these days. We did The Graduate and that film still sustains, it had a wonderful script that they spent three years on, and an exceptional director with an exceptional cast and crew, but it was a small movie, four walls and actors, that is all, and yet it was 100 days of shooting."

Hoffman's is hardly an unpopular opinion (see here, here, here, and here). And when held against the undeniably inventive and refreshingly inclusive renaissance that television is experiencing across almost all fronts as of late, the now standard-issue Hollywood studio template — comprised of little more than robots, monsters, and chiseled blank slates in spandex — pales instantaneously.

Yes, it'd be a welcome change-of-pace for Hollywood industry heads to take a break from devising new scenarios for Kevin James to get kicked in the groin. And yes, these producers, distributors, and other miscellaneous movie moguls would be well-advised to look back to the bygone days of a studio system that once allowed a film as durable, defiant, and era-defining as The Graduate to be made. (And how disheartening is it to be considering all this not even a day after the passing of one of the industry's last great, rule-breaking titans?) Hollywood itself seemed to concede its own downslide by anointing Birdman a Best Picture Oscar this past February, giving its highest industry honor to a movie that scathingly skewered a lukewarm moviemaking culture obsessed with men in capes.

Hoffman isn't exactly presenting us with any revelations, however valid they may be. And yet, something still rankles about Hoffman's statements, not because they're disappointing, but because there seems to be something crucial left unsaid. Hoffman is the rare leading man to also double as a character actor extraordinaire, and so it's hard not to take the star of The Graduate and Tootsie and Midnight Cowboy and Kramer vs. Kramer at his word. But let's not forget that Hoffman has spent a substantial part of the past twenty years milling about in studio-stamped trash that has surely contributed to the currently dire state of American moviemaking. I'm sure Hoffman would scrub Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium and Racing Stripes and Sphere and possibly a Fockers movie or two from his resume if he could. Even the recent indie The Cobbler, in which Hoffman played dad to Adam Sandler's Serious Actor Incarnation, was savagely pummeled by critics and cold-shouldered by audiences.

It isn't that Hoffman is even remotely responsible for what's become of American movies, but, in truth, he's in a distinctive place to actually do something about it. Yes, plenty of critics like Manohla Dargis, Mark Harris, and David Thomson have bemoaned Hollywood's decline, but they are clearly doing so from way outside Tinseltown's ivory gates and are not in a capable position to act on their qualms in the same way that Hoffman can, if he chooses to. Hoffman's unique and exclusive status as an enduring, two-time Oscar-winning icon of film acting — and, it must be said, an elder white male of considerable power and prestige, however divisive a colleague he remains — inarguably allows him to be more choosy with his projects, to avoid the studio shill, and work with any number of filmmakers who are helping to preserve American cinema's good if slandered name, whether it's being done commercially from within those gates or else independently, on its edges, or far, far away from Hollywood itself. I'm not sure if an actor of Hoffman's esteem (and means) absolutely needs to be making three Kung Fu Panda movies and another three Kung Fu Panda specials when he could be devoting his time and reputation to an up-and-coming director who's not even a blip on Hollywood's admittedly limited radar. I'm also curious to see what Hoffman himself directs next after the respectably-reviewed by far-from-groundbreaking Quartet.

"I’m looking at everything that comes to me," Hoffman told the Independent. "I'm not getting much as far as directing is concerned. I don't think that has anything to do with whether you are good or not, it's just about whether your films make money or not."

Hollywood could gladly and undoubtedly use plenty of more plainly good movies on their slate. But it could also use a few more people willing to put their movies where their mouth is.


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