In which I present a rambling reply that was too long for the comments section and is probably of questionable merit, but here it is all the same...
Winter Soldier is about as good as any Marvel movie has gotten, but I've never for a minute believed Marvel was producing the best movies (let alone comics) despite how popular they are. There's a huge gap between what's popular and what's good these days. They're not always contradictory, and not always contradictory, and not always contradictory (all emphasis variations equally valid), and viewers realize this while not necessarily comprehending it (witness the rise of extreme hate for extremely popular movies even when they absolutely don't earn the hate).
We've grown increasingly unsophisticated as a culture. I'm not talking sophistication such as classical music (which remains just as good as it ever was), or snappy banter (which is what a lot of Old Hollywood was about, like Philadelphia Story, which I would argue is far more an argument for how women rose in societal prominence in general post-WWII, when they began to shoulder far more of the culture than ever before; in a lot of ways we've been experiencing backlash from Hepburn's day, which is what happens every time society makes a huge push to help a given sector out).
What most people deem the dumbing down of succeeding generations because of various pieces of technology is actually a reflection of disparate elements shrinking away from each other again and not having the slighted clue how to come back together. We live in a nation with more land than it knows what to do with. We're spread out, and we like it that way. We like our isolation, even when something new comes along to make the world smaller (the phone, the car, the Internet). And we're in the midst of a huge pushback. We don't want to know what the other guy thinks. And it retards everything.
I keep coming back to this: We're aware that everyone thinks differently, but it's one thing to know it and another to understand it. (We live in a culture that idolizes memorization without comprehension, and possibly it's always been that way.) Obviously you like movies for different reasons than I do. I keep going back to examples like Shakespeare and Melville because these are things generally recognized as genius now that were apparently incredibly easy to dismiss as so much fluff in their own day. We still admire Marlowe and Twain, but for much the same reason we always did. We see depth in Twain because Huck Finn gave Jim a chance, but in the end, Huck Finn is a boy whose grasp of the greater world is immature, not wise, and his journey with Jim one of rebellion, not conviction. Ahab grapples with the fundamental questions of nature.
We retreat to older things, because there was a time when we weren't so afraid to recognize good things for what they are (alongside the above examples, you understand). We don't see that happening anymore. Popular things are assumed to be rubbish. And never given near the consideration as older things. The same with new things in general. Critics invariably like isolated things better. Not necessarily the good isolated things, just the ones that are similar enough to the stuff they love, the stuff that doesn't challenge them, makes some general point but otherwise saying nothing new. Because we hate challenges. It's so much easier when there's a reasonable consensus about what we're supposed to like. We're exactly like all the people who hated Elvis, who hated the Beatles. And the people who liked Elvis, who would have had their say, don't say it, aren't allowed to be considered authorities.
So we become more and more unsophisticated, not because the culture lacks sophisticated things, but because we pretend it doesn't. And then totally misinterpret what is sophisticated. One final example. To me, Pixar was both the birth and death of sophisticated animated movies. It got so far ahead of itself that in its artistic pinnacle, WALL-E, it went for the most obvious, least sophisticated answers about life, the exact opposite of what it achieved with Ratatouille, what I consider to be the studio's best, in the ways it both supported and subverted animated movie norms. Yet no one argues that Ratatouille is Pixar's best. Which is completely incomprehensible to me. Pixar has done a lot of variations on the mold at this point, something for everyone, and yet its best work is also likely to become, inexplicably, forgotten. (At least for now.)
Technique is a funny thing. It's very much a thing suited to the era where it originates. Sometimes there's something so far ahead of its time, it takes a long time, predictably, for everyone else to catch up. Star Wars is just the most obvious modern example of that. Took decades for Hollywood to figure out how George Lucas did it. We're living in that era now. I agree that technique only exists to serve the storytelling. That's why I look for the best stories, the best storytelling, and yes, the best technique. Everyone likes to be entertained. But the best work, to my mind, should be the hardest to enjoy. But not this much. At this point, Beethoven would be exactly what he probably was to countless readers of Peanuts, an insider reference to something otherwise never personally enjoyed.
...And I'll stop yammering now. Because most of the time we talk in order to understand ourselves, most of all. If it happens to help anyone else, so much the better...