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The Epidemic of Passable Movies

“What did you do to me? Your body won’t last long. You’ll be stuck in there for the rest of your life” “[cat] You get me out of here you son of a- [man] Calm down Mr. Brand. You’re a cat. [cat] I hate cats” I hate to waste my money or my time on something that is truly bad like Suicide Squad bad, where every decision seems to be made for maximum shift “Somethin’ tells me a whole lot *beep* people are about to die.” It’s a shame, but in the end, I think crappy movies are an inevitable part of the cinematic ecosystem. You’re not ever gonna get away from them. And whether or not they make money, some of which unfortunately do, No one is setting out to make a movie that is a piece of crap. “I’m talking about a completely superfluous bottle of cough syrup… That’s like six bucks” “Are you joking?” What’s more insidious in my opinion are movies that are just… Passable. Films just good enough not to be terrible. I mean passable films, they aren’t bad they might even be better than okay But they’re a far cry from great, or noteworthy, or something that you would like to see more than once. They’re the cinematic equivalent of this image They don’t fall apart, but their balance is always precarious In the last handful of years, my annoyance with passable movies has steadily increased in proportion with their steadily increasing number Passable films like to multiply. They do just enough for the audience, and just enough for the studio, and just enough for the stars They have no problem being funded. [Kevin Hart] “Stop Stop! I need to know what is happening. Right now.” For a long time, I’ve attributed the major problem with passable movies to a lack of tonal control. the emotional logic of the narrative in films like these often, often feels a bit out of whack Either the film tries to be too many things at once leading to unintended emotional confusion “John Francis Walker, by authority of Governor Nicks… this unit has been author…” [girl grunts] *CLANG* “ized…” …to extinguish your life *CLANG*CLANG*CLANG* *CLANG**ZAPZAP*CLANG*ZAP*CLANG* *zap*clang*clang*clang*clang* *CLANG*GNALC*ZAP*ZAP*CLANG*CLANG [man quietly] “oh..okay…okay…” *CLANG*CLANG* *still clanging & zapping*… [Man] “alright…thats enough. That’s enough.” Or the filmmakers give characters traits that don’t belong to them in order to serve some plot function [Driver] “What has it been this year so far?… …Bernie Madoff?… …Two wars without end? Million people with no work? And that’s just the first two weeks of January.” Or emotional arcs, initiated early in the story, are abandoned without comment often proving in the end to be entirely pointless In good movies, everything points to everything else. The emotional arcs of the characters, the scenes, the imagery, the music and the plot are tightly entwined And this doesn’t just go for highbrow movies, by the way. Whenever you hear someone say of a lower brow film that “it knows what it is” What they’re really saying is that the film was tonally focused. On that, we agree But recently, I’ve begun to notice another unifying feature of passable movies Indeed, of all passable storytelling. And to understand what I mean take a look at this scene: “I gotta say it feels really good to have somebody looking out for me.” “I’ve got your back man” “I like that… …And I got your back, too” “Hey Doug… …I like you man. I think you’re a great guy. I just want you to remember that this is a business relationship… Doesn’t mean that. We’re gonna be best friends. It’s not how the story ends. I’m just an employee with a job to do.” [Doug] “I get it. You’re not my best friend. You’re just my best man.” “It doesn’t mean we’re not gonna have a good time, Doug!” [Doug] “I said I got it! “You’re anybody’s best friend for a price, but nobody’s when it counts.” [Voice Over] All the beats in this short scene should be familiar to us we’ve seen them all before But there’s something odd going on here. You see, stories are almost always about people or aliens or gods or animals or robots that act like people And great stories are always the ones that observe people truthfully The ones that capture human experience with nuance and insight And the best stories make such acute observations about humanity that they can show us things about ourselves that we didn’t know or teach us how to articulate those things Against a vast. Unintelligible. Anxiety And this, I think, is the big difference between great movies and passable ones When passable movies observe human experience, they observe it not through the lens of real life But through the lens of other movies “Love is my life.” “No! Love is your job!” “You know, I think you’re threatened by what Zoey and I have… …because you’re afraid I won’t be able to hang out every night” “You are my drug dealer… …There’s one reason we know each other. I like the drugs you sell. That’s it” There is this huge library. This huge vocabulary of actions built up over the years That people you know Don’t really do but which happened so often in TV and movies That they’re familiar enough to an audience that they become, well… passable for human motivations I’m not saying it’s bad for filmmakers to cite or pay homage to the movies that they love in their own work I’m saying that too many films released today are being cobbled together from a weird alternate reality. That is only a dim echo of our own. I do not believe in Fairy tales about Chakras or energy Or the power belief there is no such thing as spirit This is the long-term danger of cliche. The more we allow it to happen, the harder it is to escape The more difficult it is for audiences and writers to tell the difference The last thing we want is to see our own lives through the lens of art that’s only passable New perspectives are what we need. Originality is what we should encourage at every chance. Otherwise, I’m afraid our movies and ourselves will change into something quite different What’s it called? The imitation game There is a new nerdwriter episode every Wednesday. Guys, so if you click that box that I’ve set up for you right over there You’ll get a… You’ll get the videos. You’ll get them. You’ll get all the videos. If you get that a little bell on mobile I think you’ll get notified when I release something new so do that too. Thanks to squarespace for sponsoring This video they make sleek intuitive website designs for you to customize and you don’t have to know coding to make a really beautiful one If you sign up for a year, you can get a free domain name and if you use the offer code nerdwriter You can get 10% off your first purchase, so that’s pretty cool. Thank you so much I will see the rest of you next Wednesday. That was a weird end screen. I think I’m going to use it


  1. João Felipe Melo Author

    I only got your point in the last 2min and you missed the oportunity of deepening the idea and adding more examples.

  2. manel kh Author

    I've seen this video a long time ago but felt the urge to comment. I can't thank you enough for making it because it made understand why I couldn't bear watching so many movies. You're awesome.

  3. Helen Myers Author

    Wait…are you putting Ant Man in this category? I think it is more of a “ fulfils the role of being entertaining” nicely? Is it not tonally focused?

  4. Mad Poet Society Author

    One thing I've noticed (and the only reason I'm even bothering to mention this here is because this clip is three years old and hopefully people will have mellowed or moved on) is that as culture trends towards more conservatism, creativity really starts to wane. Before you blow off about politics just listen: creativity is, by it's nature, something constantly in motion and elusive and progressive and sometimes even something that transgresses our sensibilities because this is the only way it CAN exist. If creativity is limited by the boundaries of intransigent beliefs, nationalism, prejudice or fanaticism – it dies. Like a flame being constricted to a little box with no air. Creativity is something that must flow in order to survive. In totalitarian societies, the common sentiment is usually fear or hatred – things not necessarily good for exploring ideas. It's been conjectured by historians that as a society becomes more insular and leans toward extremism or authoritarianism, the first indication lies in it's art. Certainly, there is evidence for this as displayed by the new Chinese "operas" staged at the outset of Maoism and the cult of personality it vaunted. Also, it could be seen in some of the "art" fostered or produced during the time of Nazi Germany. Many of the beautiful works done during the Weimar period were burned or destroyed and all art was censored to reflect only the personal tastes of the current dictator. What does this mean about Hollywood? Or us? That's something you might have to suss out for yourself. Personally, this new trend is making me a little nervous – and bored (which I had no idea I could be simultaneously).

  5. Graham Van Dyke Author

    Well.. as a professor once said to my class, it is already a huge accomplishment just getting a movie to the end line and into theaters.

  6. Pat Quinn Author

    A passable reason why I don't watch current movies: even free ones. Hollywood is dying. They know it's dying and they can't save it. Just like music. We can only go back unless something changes.

  7. Chris Nelson Author

    Don't think all the dialogue he cited was as unrealistic as he claimed. For one thing life imitates art so some people do speak in the same sort of condensed sometimes blunt manner that people in movies do.

  8. clash44 Author

    This is more about the use of trope to reach a general global audience. They play it safe by recycling content because it works well enough to get most butts in seats.

  9. Nick Feizabal Author

    Tbh I liked Pineapple Express, Doctor Strange and Interstellar.

    I think the problem is that you have a different taste in movies.

  10. ash ace Author

    I like how you incorporate the term "passable" in your video . You kinda started off good but wandered off into a different direction . It is almost like "not knowing what it is" phenomenon . My opinion is pretty subjective, but this video made me understand the term better . So I don't whether I could call you a genius or a man who is internally dead.

  11. Katherine Alesana Author

    What if Nerdwriter intentionally ended the video abruptly? Cause everyone in the comments is bringing up why they think this video was vague and not specific, and his topic was about movies that are "meh". Just a thought, but it would be cool if this was a little demonstration of what "passable" is.

  12. Roy Batty Author

    I feel like you had too much to say and not enough visual content so you placed clips from a ton of good movies along with some from bad movies and called them passable

  13. Andrei Fasola Author

    Damn right. I find my self on movie sets hearing the director "you know: this is that moment when the guy meets the girl …". No, no, no – stop that already, define your movie.

  14. Pee Pas Author

    I COMPLETELY AGREE and have been saying this for quite some time now, but a few of my friends always seemed just as offended as those in the comments. I do however agree with the critique that I would have liked a more elaborate exploration of the intricacies and motives.

  15. Pee Pas Author

    In my opinion, I think that a lot of this comes possibly from both audiences and those making the films feeling a collective anxiety of sorts. We are living in arguably one of the most confusing, frustrating, and terrifying times. I mean this for the left, right, center, what have you; bottom line everyone is scared on some level, better yet, unsure about the future. Fear, panic, anxiety draw people to grip tighter onto what they know already, because what we know is "certain", It's also reliable, and most often comforting. New ideas and new things in general can be quite frightening, in a small way or not, because it forces you to re-evaluate your pre-conceived notions of what is or what can be. We don't like being challenged, because it in some way makes us worried that we have possibly formed our lives under false pretenses, and therefore maybe we aren't valid in some way. Everyone is in defense mode because they are being attacked, real or not it is the reality of how lots of us see the world (for a multitude of reasons). It is because of this vulnerability, that we look back to the things we KNOW made us happy, and attempt to fashion a juuust different enough version of them so that we don't feel as though we are just making a xerox copy, and we can pat ourselves on the back for the minute progress that has been made. It has been shown through studies that our brain produces a greater amount of dopamine and serotonin when we listen to music we have already heard, simply because you can expect whats coming next. No fear, just pleasure. But there is a certain kind of darkness in such a prospect, being intravenously pumped full of pleasure meanwhile cycling through only what you already know, with such little progress to boot one might say it is entirely negligible. One could imagine this might be exactly the case for movies as well, and possibly more nuanced things such as character types or what have you. The ultimate opiate of the masses if you will. Not to say that we should remove ourselves entirely from what we know, after all I am a huge supporter of archetypes and myth, but rather, we should not give room for "good enough", if like myself people are hungry for the "great" the new, and the inventive. After all, It is our uniquely human trait of searching out for the new, the exotic, that separated us from the neanderthals wherein homo sapien travelled ridiculous miles to find unique stones to use in toolmaking, something the former had never cared to do. For the neanderthals, the stones they had nearby were "good enough". I guess at the end of the day, it comes down to what you watch movies for. Do you watch them to feel good, to feel content and comforted? Or do you watch them to think about things in a different way, to be confronted by the things you don't know, and to learn something possibly revealing about others, and in turn yourself?

  16. Martin Hansen Author

    I think there is another layer to your very great depiction of the "people acting like movie, not like real life": I many movies, the studio want's to take the safe road – not to upset anyone. Safe bets and all that. People know the 'movie life interactions' and plays of that because it's familiar and safe for both test audiences and interest groups.

  17. Saturn Productions Author

    Interstellar isn't passable its a masterpiece but the son (don't even know his name lol) should've had some closure by the end

  18. Bradley Lyndon Author

    I agree but this is not some new and insidious phenomenon, it'sbeen with us as long as there has been popular entertainment of any kind. There have always been mediocre films, but time and distance filter them out of our popular consciousness. Bernard Rose calls this mediocrity "the grotesque tyranny of the well-made film," movies that are competently crafted, hit the right series of notes in exactly the right order but are ultimately bereft of any depth or emotional authenticity. That authenticity is what I am always looking for in cinema or indeed in any media, and because I'm willing to suffer through a lot of trash I often find it in surprising places. You never know where that kernel of truth might be hidden, but you do know it probably won't be in any of what you term "passable movies."

  19. Rae Smith Author

    Passable movies have such a lack of emotion. Even if the actors are good and can portray emotion very well, directors and other staff responsible for making the movie would rather focus on plot, comedy, etc. making the tone of the movie rather cold.

  20. Rigatoni Jacobs Author

    THIS!!!!! 100% THIS!!!!
    As a kid I always mimicked movies and tv, arguing with people in my head in cool ways as everyone does.
    As an adult I have come to be annoyed that movies and shows don't show people as I act. I get so pissed when I see characters act or talk in slightly unrealistic ways.

  21. Abram Rex Joaquin Author

    What you misconstrued is that art should be factually singular and creatively individualistic and beautiful still.
    Arts are for consumption.
    Like food, there will be junk, healthy, rotten, but also like potatoes, rice, bread, etc. An additive to your daily life. Not to inspire you that you change society, but enough to get you through your days.

  22. Lucía Naomi Agena Author

    You just said there some things I never knew how to put in words.
    But, I have to admit I do consume some of those crappy movies tho. But only when they're aired on tv, on Sundays, when there's nothing better to do hahaha

  23. random human being Author

    am i the only one that actually kinda of liked suicide squad. it wasn’t amazing but it was good if you just take it at face value.

  24. Jen 33 Author

    Too many decision makers and writers don’t understand personality and character development. Or, there are simply too many writers and decision makers for a project. The story and characters lost their ways and or became a weird animal at the end. Coherency is out of window. Dialogues and conversations feel disingeniune, flat, or unable to connect.


    You showed a clip from the last ghostbusters movie when you were talking about "passable movies". Please don't let my trust on you down and tell me it's a very fucked up mistake. Please tell me you don't think that movie is passable. PLEASE!!!

  26. fexbio Author

    That's why it's called an "industry": things are made out a production line, with minimum uniqueness. Most films are products, even though they're supposed to be artwork. We see this in other art based industries too: music, comics, and even literature. Standards and patterns minimize the risk for the investors and return more money in average.

    And yeah, it sucks

  27. Logan Nowicki Author

    It's easy to forget how hard it actually is to make abgood movie. The more people getting involved, the more difficult it is to make a good or great film. The more films you see, especially non-theatrically released films, the more you will notice how bad most films are. You need to have a great writer with a good script, then you need a good creative team (director, cast, art directors, editors, gaffers, sound designers, etc.) that can actually execute and build on what the writer wrote. Then you need to hope the producer is well versed enough in story to not ruin the film in the final edit before its release.
    The you go into a whole new category: non-filmmakers working on films. Specifically marketing teams who are hired to drum up audience interest and can inadvertently set unreasonable expectations, spoil the film to the point of making the film redundant to watch, they may set a standard for tone or any other factor like that for the audience that isn't like the film. So it's tricky because you have to rely on all these other people to understand the story well enough to actually be able to build off of what you wrote initially

  28. Sparky Hraje Author

    This epidemic of yours isn’t real. The reason you are noticing them now is because movies are coming to you unfiltered and you have to choose for yourself out of hundreds every year, and sometimes the movie you pick just doesn’t work out. You think that the passable movies are a new thing, but no. The reason you don’t know many old passable movies is because they’re dead and long lost in the movie history. Only the really good ones or the really bad ones survive, and that’s why we remember them. There were always passable movies, we just don’t know about them.

  29. Lallalla Author

    Idk what to think about this video. It seems like the more nerdwriter i watch the less i enjoy it. Some videos are great and have good points.. others not so much.

  30. John Persolus Author

    I have a question for you Nerdwriter!

    I've enjoyed many of your videos and commentary on films. You're points specifically articulate vague feelings that I've had. I'm wondering if you've created ( or could create) a recommended watching list, films you feel are exceptional. I'm often looking for better quality entertainment than the movies on the first page of Netflix

  31. Morgan Glines Author

    "Passable" movies are a thing because studios spend way too much making movies with the broadest appeal possible. When you try to appeal to the largest range of people possible you're not going to create anything interesting. I complain about this with superhero movies all the time. They spend so much on them that they can't take any risks, so they all end up the same.

    I feel like most "Oscar bait" movies need to be lumped into the "passable" category too. Watching actors try to earn an Academy Award is almost as painful as watching actors just showing up to earn a paycheck. I find the cinematic landscape today to be pretty dreadful. There is the glut of generic superhero movies. None are bad, but they're very monotonous. They're so expensive that no one is trying anything new, so none are The Dark Knight good, and they're not trying to be either. There are the bland comedies. Like, the buddy movies, the gender neutral rom-coms (Let's call a spade a spade here, Judd Apatow, and everyone imitating his style.) the girls night movies, etc. Then you have your Oscar bait, movies about great personal struggle where actors play middle class or lower middle class characters who cry a lot and hug in closeup for half the movie. There is so little originality. Most moderate to large budget Hollywood movies are basically deli meat, offensive to practically no one, but not exciting to anyone either.

    The bright side is that independent movies are really good nowadays, but there are so few places where you can have the grand cinematic experience in a big plush chair, and a grand sweeping screen while watching independent movies. You can just see explosions, Seth Rogen, or people crying in the rain in those theaters. It's gross, but I get it. Most people watch bad movies. TV has become more like the movies and the movies have become more like TV. Good for TV. Terrible for movies.

  32. Molly C Author

    I might be an idiot for saying this, but sometimes I’m ok with stories being told that don’t focus too hard on attempting to be masterpieces. Sometimes it’s ok to make something that has a fun plot and good characters, not every film has to mean something profound or have stellar cinematography- of course movies that are masterpieces are better, but I still like Ant-Man. it makes me happy and i think that’s ok

  33. Radovan Matula Author

    It feels like this category of passable films is quite a wide and unspecific and they are passable just because you said so, there's no other reason.

  34. Serum Zero Author

    Towards your conclusion you link 'passable movies' to an inability to portray human emotion in a realistic, profound way and instead falling back on cliché's and archetypes from different movies. Which is why I find it very strange to see Interstellar mentioned as even remotely related to that category. The writing and performances are leagues above anything else you showed. Even if it was just to illustrate that the borther's storyline doesn't go anywhere, that footage felt very out of place in your list.


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