If there has been one recurring theme in 2012 among movie folks, it's that cinema is dead. As we've noted, it's an alarm that has gone up more than once over the years, but there seems to at least be a sentiment that American cinema is in crisis (a feeling director James Gray recently shared with us). Someone who would agree with that is the always enjoyably cantankerous Sean Penn, and while doing the rounds for "Gangster Squad," he takes his fellow colleagues and movie studios to task for not stepping up their game.
"I just did this picture that I enjoyed doing. 'Gangster Squad.' But I do think that in general the standard of aspiration is low. Very low. And mostly they're just doing a bunch of monkey-fuck-rat movies, most actors and actresses. And I blame them just as much as I do the business," Penn candidly told Esquire. "I know everybody wants to make some money, everybody's got a modeling contract, everybody's selling jewelry and perfume. I'm blinded by it. Bob Dylan said in an interview one time — somebody asked him, 'Are you really this reclusive?' He says, 'No, I'm not reclusive, man. I'm exclusive.' Exclusivity is like intimacy."
Certainly, Penn has used his fame and fortune to help leverage his various philanthropic endeavors, but overall, he's seen the business change dramatically since he entered showbiz. "In my teens, I fell in love with the movies. And so when I got involved in the movies, I was a genius in terms of how the movies that were made in the generation that inspired me got made — but now the financing wasn't there to do 'em anymore. Trauma. I'm caught in a business that I'm in love with the idea of — the whole process that's possible," he said. "Only now they're not making movies — they're representing them."
But if you think he's given up on the next crop of actors and actresses making their way onto the big screen, guess again, and one talent in particular has caught his (and everyone else's) eye. "I don't know the young actors as well, I'm not as aware of who's out there, but when I think of the crew around my age: Daniel [Day-Lewis], Philip [Seymour Hoffman], Javier [Bardem], Josh [Brolin], Jessica Chastain — who is fucking Stradivarius — what a group! There's a group that could be in all the classic pictures right now," Penn enthused. "Like the classics of the seventies or the classics of the forties. I think of that group of actors and it's like, 'Gimme a camera, I got an idea!' "
Will one of those ideas be "The Comedian," the film he's supposed to direct with Robert De Niro and Kristen Wiig? Let's hope. And if you think Penn is unable to have a laugh, let us remind you of his appearance on "Between Two Ferns" with Zach Galifianakis.