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You remember Stretch Armstrong, right? That rubberized doll you could stretch and then stretch again, at least until the sludge inside the doll would dry up and he would become Osteoporosis Armstrong? A toy that offered less narrative interest than bingo? Let me stipulate that we will probably come out of three or four of the movies categorized above saying "That rocked!

And yes, it is technically possible that some years hence, a magazine article will begin with the sentence, " Stretch Armstrong 's surprising journey to a Best Picture nomination began when At this moment of awards-giving and back-patting, however, we can all agree to love movies again, for a little while, because we're living within a mirage that exists for only about six or eight weeks around the end of each year. Right now, we can argue that any system that allows David Fincher to plumb the invention of Facebook and the Coen brothers to visit the old West, that lets us spend the holidays gorging on new work by Darren Aronofsky and David O.

Russell, has got to mean that American filmmaking is in reasonably good health. But the truth is that we'll be back to summer—which seems to come sooner every year—in a heartbeat. And it's hard to hold out much hope when you hear the words that one studio ecutive, who could have been speaking for all her kin, is ready to chisel onto Hollywood's tombstone: "We don't tell stories anymore. How did hollywood get here? There's no overarching theory, no readily identifiable villain, no single moment to which the current combination of caution, despair, and underachievement that defines studio thinking can be traced.

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But let's pick one anyway: Top Gun. It's now a movie-history commonplace that the late-'60s-to-mid-'70s creative resurgence of American moviemaking—the Coppola-Altman-Penn-Nichols-Bogdanovich-Ashby decade—was cut short by two movies, Jaws in and Star Wars in , that lit the fuse for the summer-blockbuster era. But good summer blockbusters never hurt anyone, and in the decade that followed, the notion of "summer movie season" entered the pop-culture lexicon, but the definition of "summer movie" was far more diverse than it is today.

The label could encompass a science fiction film as hushed and somber as Alien , a two-and-a-half-hour horror movie like The Shining , a directorial vision as singular as Blade Runner , an adult film noir like Body Heat , a small-scale yes, it was movie like E. Sex was okay—so was an R rating. Adults were treated as adults rather than as overgrown children hell-bent on enshrining their own arrested development.


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Then came Top Gun. The man calling the shots may have been Tony Scott, but the film's real auteurs were producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, two men who pioneered the "high-concept" blockbuster—films for which the trailer or even the tagline told the story instantly. At their most basic, their movies weren't movies; they were pure product —stitched-together amalgams of amphetamine action beats, star casting, music videos, and a diamond-hard laminate of technological adrenaline all designed to distract you from their lack of internal coherence, narrative credibility, or recognizable human qualities.

They were rails of celluloid cocaine with only one goal: the transient heightening of sensation. Top Gun landed directly in the cortes of a generation of young moviegoers whose attention spans and narrative tastes were already being recalibrated by MTV and video games. That generation of toyear-olds—the guys who felt the rush of Top Gun because it was custom-built to excite them—is now in its forties, exactly the age of many mid- and upper-midrange studio ecutives. And increasingly, it is their taste, their appetite, and the aesthetic of their late-'80s post-adolescence that is shaping moviemaking.

Which may be a brutally unfair generalization, but also leads to a legitimate question: Who would you rather have in charge—someone whose definition of a classic is Jaws or someone whose definition of a classic is Top Gun? The Top Gun era sent the ambitions of those who wanted to break into the biz spiraling in a new direction.

Fifteen years earlier, scores of young people headed to film schools to become directors. With the advent of the Reagan years, a more bottom-line-oriented cadre of would-be studio players was born, with an MBA as the new Hollywood calling card. The Top Gun era shifted that paradigm again—this time toward marketing.

Which was only natural: If movies were now seen as packages, then the new kings of the business would be marketers, who could make the wrapping on that package look spectacular even if the contents were deficient. But today, if you're opening, you're inevitably going to overspend in order to try to buy that first-place finish. With so much money at stake, the marketer's voice at the studio table is now pivotal from the day a studio decides whether to make a movie—and usually what that voice expresses is trepidation.

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Their first question is not "Will the movie be good? When Rudin first got hold of The Social Network , he says, "I would get calls from people at other studios saying, 'Is that movie going? We'd love to do it. How much do you need to make it? Such an unrelenting focus on the sell rather than the goods may be why so many of the dispiritingly awful movies that studios throw at us look as if they were planned from the poster backward rather than from the good idea forward.

Marketers revere the idea of brands, because a brand means that somebody, somewhere, once bought the thing they're now trying to sell. The Magic 8 Ball tragically, yes, there is going to be a Magic 8 Ball movie is a brand because it was a toy. Pirates of the Caribbean is a brand because it was a ride. Harry Potter is a brand because it was a series of books. Jonah Hex is a brand because it was a comic book. Here lies one fallacy of putting marketers in charge of everything: Sometimes they forget to ask if it's a good brand.

Telepathy in fiction

Sequels are brands. Remakes are brands. For a good long stretch, movie stars were considered brands; this was the era in which magazines like Premiere attempted to quantify the waxing or waning clout of actors and actresses from year to year because, to the industry, having the right star seemed to be the ultimate hedge against failure. But after three or four hundred cases in which that didn't prove out, Hollywood's obsession with star power has started to erode.

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In the last several years, a new rule of operation has taken over: The movie itself has to be the brand. And because a brand is, by definition, familiar, a brand is also, by definition, not original. The fear of nonbranded movies can occasionally approach the ridiculous, as it did in when Martin Scorsese's The Departed was widely viewed within the industry as a "surprise" hit, primarily because of its R rating and unfamiliar source material.

It may not have been a brand, but, says its producer Graham King, "Risky? If you're at a studio and you can't market that movie, then you shouldn't be in business. Inception was not a brand, which is why nobody with a marketing background is too eager to go find the next Inception —although ironically, any studio in town would eagerly green-light Inception 2. On the other hand, as you read this, the person who gave the go-ahead to Fast Five , the I hate to prejudge, but On June 10, , he will bestow on several thousand screens a product that people have already purchased four times before.

How can it miss? Of course, it can miss; can't-miss movies miss all the time. But when a movie that everyone agrees is pre-sold falls on its face, the dullness of the idea itself never gets the blame. Because the idea that familiarity might actually work against a movie, were it to take hold in Hollywood, would be so annihilating to the studio ecosystem that it would have to be rebuilt from the ground up. Give the people what they don't know they want yet is a recipe for more terror than Hollywood can accommodate.

And while that bland assembly-line ethos hasn't affected the small handful of terrific American movies that reach screens every year, it's been absolutely devastating for the stuff in the middle—that whole tier of movies that used to reside in quality somewhere below, say, There Will Be Blood but well north of Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too? If films like The Bounty Hunter and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time define the new "okay," then the system is, not to put too fine a point on it, in very deep shit.

You would definitely get more use out of the drive through unless you live in a place like Orlando, Florida. But would that be a good thing? Can you eat healthy at drive-throughs?

Basically, do you want to be a normal person over the age of 30 or not be able to be woken up for 11 hours each day. I seriously miss being totally rested. I wanna rock! I wanna be organized! I think your friends might already know your answer to this one.

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If you choose the first option, what materials would you want to build your house from? I thought that these were some of the harder would you rather questions to answer. Both would probably get equally annoying after a while. Accidentally tasting a fart and hearing car alarms from a mile away while you try to sleep would get old really quick. Ugh, both would be so bad.

So annoying. Whew, how much do you want kids? Zero or five definitely makes the choice a little trickier! Of course, if you never want kids, I guess this is a super easy one to answer. Both hard jobs with their own set of difficulties, but which do you think you would be more suited to?

If you have an amazing memory, this one might be an easy one to answer.