Friday, December 1, 2017
I rarely watch movies twice for a couple of reasons. The first ought to be obvious -- movies consume time. And since a lot of my movie watching is professional, once I'm done with them I'm done with them. I've no desire to watch The Hitman's Bodyguard again; I'm fine wondering what percentage of Ryan Reynolds' Amsterdam footage was shot in front of a green screen.
The second and maybe more important reason is philosophical. I try to give a movie one fair shot to make its case. Repeated viewings usually only reveal the seams in a film. Schindler's List was a gut punch the first time I saw it; it wasn't the same the second and third. And while some movies repay repeated viewings -- I've watched The Searchers and Citizen Kane and the first Godfather a dozen times each and never found them less than revelatory -- I don't know if we ought to expect a movie to hold up to extended scrutiny. All it really needs to do is to connect with us, and if it employs some trickery to do that, so be it.
This means I'm not really re-watching a lot of this year's movies in preparation for annual critics' voting duties. I'm relying on my memory. And I'm watching a lot of them for the first time. In the past week or so, I've seen Greta Gerwig's charming Lady Bird (the best-reviewed movie ever on the Rotten Tomatoes website) which may not be the year's finest movie but will, in this post-Weinstein age, surely be received by many as a necessary corrective to the shouty and dumbed down bro culture; Martin McDonagh's seething Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; the intoxicating I, Tonya (don't miss it, it hasn't opened yet); Harry Dean Stanton's touching curtain call Lucky; the luminous and odd Personal Shopper; The Lego Batman Movie (clubhouse leader for the year's best animated film, though I've yet to see Coco or The Bread Winner or The Girl Without Hands); James Gray's The Lost City of Z (finally); Last Flag Flying (which I wish would hurry up and open so we could run Dan Lybarger's review with director Richard Linklater) and a bit of Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which is open in the other window as I type this. (It's paused, and I'm going to get to it after I finish the column. Then it's on to The Florida Project.)
I've re-watched the classic James Szalapski documentary about the Texas music scene from 1975, Heartworn Highways, because a publicist sent me a fresh copy. (I think they meant to send me a copy of the sequel, 2015's Heartworn Highways Revisited, which was released on DVD earlier this week, and that's what I thought was in the DVD player. But then the old film came up and hooked me into about 140 minutes of its 150-minute running time. And I still haven't seen the newer film, directed by Wayne Price, who probably wasn't born when the original came out.)
Anyway, the annual end-of-the-year watching binge has commenced. In two weeks, I'll have my Top 10 and award nominations calculated.
I have no idea whether or not 2017 has been a good movie year or not. I've seen plenty of movies I've really liked -- among them Get Out, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, A Ghost Story, The Little Hours, Super Dark Times, Princess Cyd, Wind River -- and there are a bunch to which I'm looking forward. (Having been worn out by The Room's ironic advocates over the years I didn't think I had much interest in The Disaster Artist until I saw the trailer.)
Still, there's a fair chance that there are movies I won't see as affecting as the ones that end up on my various lists. University of Central Arkansas (and interim Hot Springs Film Festival executive director) Jen Gerber's The Revival holds its own with any film I've seen this year. I doubt I can convince many of the members of my critics' organization to track down and watch All the Birds Have Flown South, by Little rock-based brothers Josh and Miles Miller, but I'm going to try. At the very least Joey Lauren Adams' performance in the film should merit her a few end-of-the year mentions.
I might have better luck pushing Amman Abbasi's Dayveon on them, since it was a Sundance film and has been nominated for a couple of Independent Spirit Awards.
I've seen very few foreign-language films this year and won't see too many before I turn my ballots in. We're fortunate that we have an arthouse theater in Little Rock, but a lot of foreign films still never get a proper theatrical release. I was recently impressed by Thomas Bidegain's Les Cowboys -- a canny 2015 film that transposes John Ford's The Searchers to modern-day rural France, Belgium, Yemen and Pakistan -- but then so is almost everyone else.
So I don't worry so much about staying current. The more you aspire to see, the further behind you get.
In 2016, there were 736 movies released in the United States, about twice as many as were released in 2000. The number of big studio movies released in recent years has been decreasing; according to The Numbers (the-numbers.com/market ), a website that tracks movie industry data, there were 93 wide studio releases in 2016, compared to 128 in 2006.
On a couple of occasions, I've tried (and failed) to follow director Steven Soderbergh's example and track my media (movies, TV shows, books) consumption for a year. While I certainly watch more films than your average avid moviegoer, I rely on gatekeepers and tastemakers as much as anyone else. What we write about in this section of the newspaper is mostly the high-end consumer-friendly movie business -- any statement I make about the general state of cinema is going to be warped by the high gravity poles of blockbusters and near-blockbusters.
But that's why you're reading this -- more people are interested in Justice League, no matter how mediocre and overt it is, than a crowd-pleaser like Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck. (Which also needs to open here so I can run the review I've been holding onto for a month.) Even in my critics' groups, the big topic is whether we'll have a chance to see the new Star Wars before our voting deadline. I'm betting we won't, but that's OK. I'll see it eventually.
MovieStyle on 12/01/2017
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