Digital Cinematography has changed the world. Just a few years ago, making a movie would have meant spending at the very least $70,000 in film stock alone.
Today a couple of Red cameras and all the necessary equipment can be bought for that amount of money. That's why along with a resurgence of film festivals, another phenomenon emerged: self publishing.
Once the realm of english language teachers turned closet poets, self publishing on Vimeo or YouTube does not involve greedy publishing houses. Today this is the launching ground for many talented filmmakers that can get realtime feedback by their audience and "shave off" the dozen or so of built-in bad movies that every director is born with (to loosely quote Robert Rodriguez in "Rebel Without a Crew").
Along with lowered cost and self publishing, the inevitable was the lowered quality standard. Directors of Photography have been replaced with After Effects plugins that turn almost any shot into a cinematic, professionally lit, blockbuster. But this is no substitute for good storytelling and proper editing.
We are not advocating a return to formal, strictly grammar-based, filmmaking. Anybody who has seen just a glimpse of the short lived Luck series, can appreciate why Michael Mann's series was doomed since day one. It was old, plain and simply old, with directing clichés (such as the overhead shot of horses starting the race when stall gate opens) that just would not resonate with today's audiences. Yes, today audiences are hipster and in deep love with the seventies. Yet, no, they wouldn't watch Logan's Run without making fun of it on twitter.
On the other hand, there's plenty of evidence that newer is not always better. A steady hand is still necessary at the helm, the most successful movies are those that can merge today's style with classical form.
Granted, the three acts format does work. And works very, very well. But to say that today's cinema is just a mix of three acts structure with visual effects and CGI characters would be quite misleading.
Go back in time and think about David Lynch's Dune. A story that's nearing perfection, an all star cast, and top notch visual effects (albeit, not the same kind of VFX we are now used to) could not save a fundamentally flawed attempt at compressing a nine hours movie into slightly more than three hours.
Peter Jackson did not turn The Lord of the Rings into the worldwide success just because technology was better. He did so by compromising as little as possible when production needs clashed with his character's needs. Similarly, E.W. Swackhamer's Spider-Man was not meant to be anything similar to Sam Raimi's one. And the very different role each one of these movies has in film history is entirely deserved according to their own merits. One could even venture to say, it was known in advance by the respective directors and producers.
If something can be told about today's filmmaking scene, is that there seems to be an higher perceived standard of quality to be attained, while a much lower standard actually gets met.