Thomson is a free thinker, and that tends to chap the hides (and typing fingers) of his peers. So, it's not that Thomson necessarily sets out to be a provocateur, it's just that film critic circles have become such incestuous (group) think tanks that if you've read the gal from New York, you've read the guy in Chicago, and you've read the transgendered in LA. Don't even get me started on those pesky bloggers!
Thomson published a commentary today in the Guardian UK, about how modern Hollywood doesn't have the talent to artistically respond to the current economic crisis the way studios did with The Great Depression-era in the 30's and 40's:
You only have to look at the films the US mainstream has made in this century so far to know that we lack the talent or experience that will count. In 1930, the talent in American pictures was from literature, the theatre and journalism, with educated backgrounds and a shared sense of the moral identity in being American. Today's talent consists of absurdly rich young people who have made the hits of the past dozen years. They know very little about life, except what they have to lose.
Those people and much of the audience have lost the habit, or even the memory, of hard times.
That "shared sense of moral identity" - or lack thereof - is exactly why Hollywood's Iraq War-era films have tanked. Critics and filmmakers alike scrambled to make sense of that, usually coming up with the ignorant conclusion that audiences weren't interested in seeing films about war during war time (this is code for "we think film audiences are dumb").
But back to that "shared identity". John Ford, George Stevens, Preston Sturges, onto Elia Kazan in the 50's, Martin Ritt in the 70's, and someone like John Boorman with a film like Where The Heart Is in the 80's, connected with audiences because the experiences felt like they were from a common place. Check out the indispensable insight of Martin Ritt from that University Press Anthology of Interviews. It's striking how his social liberalism of the 60's and 70's contrasts with the more obnoxious, angry-mob mentality of today.
Still, I don't know how much I agree with Thomson's charge (even he himself, offers a bright spot at the end of his piece). Populists like Steven Spielberg, Kevin Costner, and maybe a Clint Eastwood - despite their class status - have the ability to make the type of empathetic social films that Thomson says are lacking. Of course, comparing the era of The Great Depression to today's fractured economic climate is already a misfire in itself, but Thomson is tapping into something true here. I mean, who in their right mind wants jokers like Toby Gilroy, Steven Soderbergh, Steve Gaghan, and Paul Haggis representing them? ANSWER: More disconnected jokers like themselves... and Mark Cuban.