Friday, January 29, 2010

Is quality even the point?

In this case, I'm gonna say "no."

When you've gotten down to the point of just stuffing your list of 2009 movies for the maximum number of titles, that's all you're really doing -- grabbing whatever's most convenient and stuffing away.

Which is why, instead of watching the probably-quite-good documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 last night, I watched a comedy I knew would be terrible. And Year One was, in fact, terrible. But it was nine minutes shorter than Harvard Beats Yale, and it was already 9 o'clock, and I have to be at work at 7 a.m., so that has to count for something.

In fact, the length of a movie is as good a reason as any to see it when you're trying to watch (I wrote it down) 13 more movies before going to sleep next Monday night. Only eight of those are from 2009, mind you. The other five are from earlier in the decade, since I'm coming up with a list of my favorite films of the 2000's in addition to my favorite films of 2009. Both by the time the Oscar nominations come out on Tuesday morning.

It would be a bit different if I were working on just a top 10 list. Then viewing a film like Year One would only hold value if you were looking at it from the most idealistic, egalitarian, naive perspective possible, which would state that every film out there has the potential to be one of the best you've ever seen. Fact of the matter is, I'm glad Year One wasn't any good, because having to include it in my top 10 would have constituted the kind of critical trend-bucking even I'm not comfortable with.

Since I'm ranking all the movies I've seen, however, any particular viewing adds value to the whole project. By ranking these movies, I'm not just trying to draw attention to the top 10, though objectively, that would be considered the most interesting section of my list. No, I'm really trying to make a comment on all the movies. That [name withheld until Tuesday] is my #1 movie of the year is no more interesting to me, theoretically, than the fact that Year One is #71 or #86 or #127.

All you can really do is line up the movies you want to see, and then the others -- movies you can passively pick up at the library for free, three at a time, like Year One -- just end up hitting you as blowback, during the down times between the movies you really want to see.

Because I've said it before: My year-end list is not just a repeated attempt at auditioning movies for the top slot. What it's really trying to be is a definitive look at the year based on the experience a full-time critic would have, watching anywhere from many to most of the films released each year, depending on how many other critics write for the same publication. And since I've only reviewed 10 films that came out in 2009 -- so far -- I've got to build up the rest of that list inorganically. But I still want it to look like a diverse cross-section of the movies released last year.

Which is where a movie like Year One comes in. It was a prominent release, a comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, directed by Harold Ramis, and released in the summer. It was a movie a lot of people saw -- a lot fewer than the filmmakers hoped, but still, a lot of people -- and a lot of people talked about, even if they didn't see it. It's a useful brick when building a perspective on the Year in Film: 2009. And so last night, I added it to the wall, slathered in some mortar to adhere it to the adjacent brick, and smoothed it all out with my trowel. And now I'm ready for the next brick.

Which may be Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 anyway, when it's not 9 o'clock on a school night.

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