Friday, August 20, 2010
How important is going to the theater?
Entertainment Weekly just put out its Fall Movie Preview double issue last Friday. This is the one that always whets my appetite for what is traditionally the strongest season of the year -- for films with aspirations toward actual quality, that is. Most of the Oscar nominees come from the fall season, as well as most of the cool indies from indie directors who have received broad acclaim, but still make cool movies.
And I think this fall will be a good one. Just look at some of the movies we've got in store:
Machete - The expanded version of a funny trailer from Grindhouse, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis (September 3rd)
Never Let Me Go - That interesting looking trailer you've seen starring Carey Mulligan, which looks halfway between a period piece and science fiction (September 15th)
Easy A - Teen comedic parody (or sorts) of The Scarlet Letter, starring one of my favorite teen actors (Emma Stone) (September 17th)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps - Oliver Stone's sequel to Wall Street, which should have plenty to say about the new circumstances Wall Street finds itself in (September 24th)
Buried - Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for an entire movie (September 24th)
The Social Network - David Fincher's Facebook movie, starring Jesse Eisenberg (October 1st)
Let Me In - One Hollywood remake I'm looking forward to, of the brilliant Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and starring Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) (October 1st)
And that just takes us through the first release date in October. The movie whose poster is featured above -- Somewhere, directed by Sofia Coppola, whom I love -- is not coming out until December 22nd. And there will be dozens of other interesting movies coming out in between those two dates.
The difference between this fall and the ones that have come before, however, is that this fall, I will have a child. That child is due right around the time Machete comes out. So, I may wait for video on that one.
But waiting for video does not seem like an option with all the movies listed above, let alone all the other great movies that will come out in October, November and December. It's especially difficult because I'll need to see these movies in the theater in order to be able to rank them on my year-end list, which I finalize in late January or early February.
Everyone who's become a new parent, even the hardcore film buffs, will tell you that their theatrical screenings inevitably dwindle a bit after the birth of their child. Of all the lifestyle changes that will accompany becoming a parent, this is the one I fear the most.
But it's not necessarily because I don't think I'll have the time. Both my wife and I will need/seek out breaks from the child, and each of us will certainly be capable of covering for a few hours in the other's absence. In fact, I am sort of looking forward to these periods when I'm the one at home. As long as the baby doesn't immediately need me, I can throw in a quick 90-minute movie without worrying whether it's something my wife wants to see or not.
No, the big problem is that almost everything I want to see is something my wife also wants to see.
Having such movie compatibility is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I always have a movie buddy for almost any movie I want to see, not to mention a person always willing to discuss film in general. On the other hand, with almost every movie I want to see, it makes sense to wait until my wife can also see it. Every time I want to take a solo trip to the movies, I have to make sure it's something suitably crappy -- either that, or my wife just has to give me permission and let that particular title go.
So I imagine there will be a bunch of solo trips to the movies this fall, where we each see the same movie, by ourselves, a week apart. However, I also imagine that I'll be a lot more motivated to make these trips than she'll be. And that a pressure will start to build -- a pressure for me to just wait until we can both watch them on video, together.
This is what I really want to talk about today. Namely, how do you decide which movies you need to see in the theater, and which can wait?
It's pretty obvious that there are certain movies that demand a theatrical viewing. Let's take two examples from the past year: Avatar and Inception. Neither would be quite the same movie viewed at home, right? Even with our increasingly sophisticated home theater setups?
But there's no Avatar or Inception in the movies I've listed above. The fall is generally a time for smaller, more intimate movies, and that describes most of the movies I've listed above. (How much smaller can you get than being confined inside a coffin for 90 minutes?) I certainly don't need to see Buried on the big screen, and it's coming out early enough in the fall that it will probably be available on DVD by the time I finalize my 2010 film rankings.
But that's where the intangibles come in. The window between theatrical release and DVD release becomes smaller all the time, so if you skip a movie in the theater, the gratification does not have to be delayed very long. Yet there are certain movies you feel like you just need to see on the big screen -- partly because you want to remain current in film discussions at parties, partly because you want to help support the kind of risk they're taking by rewarding it at the box office (Buried being one example), partly just because it seems like the right thing to do.
Let's take Somewhere, the movie I am possibly most excited for this fall. It's just a small movie about a movie star (Stephen Dorff) whose partying lifestyle is curbed by the arrival on the scene of his estranged 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning). I love Coppola's Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette -- the way she uses music and composes shots is absolutely dreamy. Yet I have to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I didn't see Marie Antoinette for the first time until DVD. (I have since seen it a second time.) Seeing it on the small screen did not, however, prevent me from becoming passionate about it. My favorite film of 2008 (The Wrestler) was also something I saw for the first time on the small screen (through an awards screener, which is how I saw it in time to count it for my year-end rankings), as was my favorite film of the 2000s -- Donnie Darko.
Yet I feel like if I waited until video for Somewhere, it would be some kind of cosmic insult to the cinematic universe. (Never mind the fact that I wouldn't get to rank it for 2010, since it comes out so late in the year.) It would mean some essential part of the movie fan I am had been broken, betrayed. Some movies need to be seen in the theater just because ... well, because it's how it's supposed to be. Because seeing movies in the theater is our way of differentiating between what we're choosing to see, choosing to call our own, and what we're just passively consuming when it becomes available on DVD, when it doesn't represent such a conscious decision.
So how do you decide which ones you can wait for, and which ones you must see straightaway? Is it just a matter of the way the scope of the film will be enhanced by seeing it on a big screen? Or do you feel the same intangible factors I feel?