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?


The Mad Hatter said...

First of all - great post. I'm not doing an 'Everybody's Talkin' roundup this week, but now I sorta want to figure out a way to double-down one day over the weekend so I can link to this entry.

It's always interesting to see how viewing habits change as our lives go on, and making weekly runs to the theatre (or more frequently as has been the case for me lately) become logistically impossible.

Of course, take all of this and stack it on top of not excludng a movie-loving partner and it gets that much trickier, right?

As far as what's coming down the pipe, the only ones that I'd wager demand big screen/big sound are HARRY POTTER and TRON. All of the others will likely survive just beautifully on a decent home system...or even on a computer.

I think where the trick comes, and this will likewise be hard with your little one, is in focus. What I like about seeing smaller films and docs in a theatrical setting, is that it forces me to concentrate:

There are no phones ringing, no IM's chirping, no fridges stocked with food...but in your case there will be a crying baby.

Without becoming a negligant parent, I vote you try to give what you watch at home your full attention...and odds are you'll enjoy them much the same as if you were sitting in stadium seating. Lord knows that was the case for me recently with titles like IN THE LOOP, SUNSHINE, and CITIZEN DOG.

As for not pissing off the love of your movie-going life, I vote you come up with a system. Pick one or two movies a month that are "together-sees". Everything beyond that is fend for yourself.

Hal said...

Yeah man, a few of the married-with-kids friends I have almost never make it to the theater. Bummer.

And I'm with you and Hatter, movies like Harry Potter and Tron are made to be seen in the theater. Anything with a big fan base and/or is loud is a much better experience when in the theater. The thoughtful, smaller, independent films are usually just as fine at home.

Vancetastic said...

MH - Thanks for the kind words. It's always nice to be linked to from other blogs, especially one as esteemed as yours!

You're right on with the distractions at home. Because I also watch a lot of not-so-great movies in order to review them for the website I write for, I've gotten into the habit of watching movies over two, sometimes as many as three different sittings -- in fact, I'm going into my third sitting on a movie this very afternoon. Needless to say, it would be impossible to take as much from a movie in that situation as you would in the theater, although I do have one notable exception: The Motorcycle Diaries, which took me nearly two weeks to watch for one reason or another, yet I still liked very much.

The good thing about being a hardcore cinephile is that we will always find our ways to get to the movies, one way or another. And the fact that my wife already knows this about me works in my favor. :-)

And that's definitely true about Tron. Love that trailer and am super excited for it. I tend to be a Harry Potter or two behind, so I might wait for video on that. Still haven't seen the last one. Though the plot is starting to get really hardcore, so maybe I should prioritize the last two in the theater.

Hal - I know, I hear that from my friends with kids as well. However, I like to think that they weren't as devoted to it as I was to begin with. I've got one friend who actually attained his highest number of movies ever seen in one calendar year, even though it was the first full calendar year of his child's life. I don't know how exactly he did it, but I'm hoping to use him as a model.

moviesandsongs365 said...

I'm with you that big effects movies,especially if 3D, are better in theatres. Like Avatar or Inception. Avatar was actually really disappointing on 2nd viewing on small screen to me.

The problem I think of viewing in theatres is you can't talk or rewind/pause during movie.

For upcoming movies 2010/2011 releases feel free to stop by my "to see list", you might even have some more suggestions for me? ( :

Kids, good luck with that, just wait until the child is old enough to watch movies and you can gradually introduce him/her to your favourites ( ;

Mike Lippert said...

Another good post. As far as your year end list goes, just do what I do, it's not the top ten movies of 2010, it's the top 10 I saw in 2010, with reason that is. So for exaple Up In the Air will be on my list this year because I didn't catch it until January. If people don't like it, too bad.

I think that it's a misconception that big special effects movies are the ones to see in theaters. I kind of, and not in all cases, believe the opposite. I watch Transformers 2 in Imax and it was unbearable but when I caught a bit of it on TV, it was still a bad movie but more managable on the small screen. I caught both the last Harry Potter and Star Trek on TV as well and didn't feel as though the experience had diminished. However, it's the quite movies, that are articulately designed, that require the theater. Interesting that you talk about Coppola because her Lost in Translation was praised when it was released and then a lot of people scratched their heads when they saw it on video and wondered what the big deal was. And I don't blame them. That's a film that does so many interesting things with space that you need to see it a couple of times on TV before you really get a sense of what it is up to; something that is more immediatly apperant on the big screen.

Vancetastic said...

MAS365 - Yeah, it's funny that we've gotten to the point, with our attention spans, that we need the ability to pause and rewind as a crutch. I think the worst possible scenario would be not being able to pause/rewind at home, where there are the genuine distractions that would prevent you from giving a movie your full attention. When I watch TV shows on the TV in the bedroom, where we have no DVR, it's really weird to me that I can't pause.

Mike, that's an excellent point and I hadn't really thought of it that way. It's essentially like we're rewarding the directors who give us giant flaming balls of crap (like Michael Bay) with our $14, yet not giving the box office to the actual quality filmmakers because we think their movies are just as good at home. Personally, I am VERY glad I saw Lost in Translation in the theater -- I now consider it one of my favorite movies of all time, and if seeing it at home would have detracted from that one iota, that would sadden me.

Vancetastic said...

Oh, and I'm too anal to take your suggestion on changing my year-end list. It's a good suggestion, but I ruled that out years ago when someone told me that Pulp Fiction was her favorite film of 1995.