Hollywood 2010: slimmer and healthier?

Was 2009 the best of times or the worst of times for Hollywood? That probably depends on whom you ask: the scads of people who lost their jobs at studios, networks and production companies over the last year or the audiences who hightailed it to the movies in increasing number, looking for a fantasy escape from bleak economic realities.

In a crisply reasoned article on The Wrap, Sharon Waxman argues that, despite the impact of the grim economy — the budget cuts, the staff cuts, the 20 percent cutback in the number of films made overall — Hollywood has benefited from all that slimming down over the past year.

“Looking ahead, the companies will be leaner, the budgets will be tighter, the stars will work harder and so will the agents. Those who still have their jobs will be more focused on keeping them. Those with tighter budgets will be more creative with a buck,” she predicts. “As a result, the movies will be better and — isn’t that the point?”

It is, of course. And Waxman isn’t alone in spotting the lower-budget/higher-quality trend as a signpost of the future. This year, Sundance Film Festival, with its new NEXT category, is also looking to spotlight “innovative and original” films made for little or no money. “Our NEXT section returns us to the days when independent was synonymous with low-budget and acknowledges that these voices have not gone away but in fact resound with the freshness that made our Festival what it is today,” said Trevor Groth, Sundance’s director of programming, when the NEXT lineup was announced.

Certainly, 2009 — a year that, as Waxman notes, brought the low-budget surprise hit PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and the mega-budget surprise ultra-hit AVATAR — has reminded us that audiences love a good underdog (especially one wrapped in a smart marketing campaign). It has also reminded us that, more than anything, they love a good film.