Sunday, December 19, 2010

Filling up on junk food

Christmas is the time of year most of us add at least five pounds to our waistlines. We eat whatever's in front of us -- and there's a lot in front of us -- because we know it's just a finite period of indulgence. And besides, what would a weight-loss New Year's resolution be, if you didn't have a couple extra pounds to work off at the gym?

But while it's the time of year for dietary gluttony, it should also be the time of year for nutritional value at the movies -- at least for me, if not for you. Let me explain.

I've got 38 more days to watch all the movies in 2010 I still want to watch. I know that seems like a strange thing to say. I mean, I could still be watching 2010 movies in 2060, couldn't I? Yes, but the difference is, I won't be able to rank them as part of my year-end list. And that has a kind of out-sized importance to me.

You see, a couple friends and I (really just two of us these days -- I'm looking at you, Don) have been ranking our favorite movies released in a given calendar year, for upwards of a decade now. Actually, next year will be 15 years for me. If you don't do it yourself, I recommend it. It's a heck of a lot of fun.

The key to this kind of activity, however, is that you have to have a cut-off date, a date when you can present your results to other people without further tweaks and modifications. You'll still see movies from that year after the cut-off date, they just won't be included in the "official rankings." And traditionally, for us, the cut-off date has been the morning the Oscar nominations are announced -- this year, January 25th. That gives us a couple extra weeks after the end of the year to see the stragglers that didn't get released until late December -- or even early January, depending on your part of the country.

And so, this time of year is when the cramming begins. When we try to stuff our faces with as many movies from the previous year as possible.

However, it's not fattening, because this is the time of year when we're watching the good stuff -- the stuff that was important to see from the previous year, important to rank with its peers. And to keep better track of the nutritional movies I'm targeting this year, I'm keeping an ever-growing list of these titles on my blackberry. Would you like to see it? I thought you would. It's displayed in the order it was written, not in the order of the movies' importance to me.


Winter's Bone
I'm Still Here

Easy A

Tron: Legacy
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Tiny Furniture
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

The A-Team
The Other Guys

Blue Valentine
The Company Men
Knight & Day
The Tempest
Waiting for "Superman"
Get Low
The Switch

Mother and Child
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
The Fighter

That's 24 movies in 38 days. I'm going to be busy.

Are they all really "good for me"? Heck no. No one would ever call The A-Team "nutritional." However, it makes the list as a "film goal" of mine -- which therefore loosely gives it "nutritional value" -- because it meets the standard of being a notable movie released this year that I think deserves to be ranked. When you think about it, the goal is to see a representative sample of the movies released during the year in question -- and in a way, the rankings at the bottom of the list are as enriching as those at the top, in terms of being part of one's overall personal assessment of cinema in 2010.

The problem is, I haven't been filling up on nutritional films. I've been filling up on junk food. Which is where The Expendables and Unstoppable come in.

In fact, three of the last four 2010 films I've seen are not on this list, and never were. Add Centurion to the above movies, and you find me in the midst of a spate of unremarkable action movies that are substituting for the life-giving protein I should be consuming.

How did this happen? How am I endangering the better films on this list by watching schlock whose best hope is to be good schlock?

Well, I'll tell you. I bet that surprises you.

1) Centurion - I decided I wanted to start watching a movie at nearly midnight (!) last Friday night, and I thought at the very least I should be watching something from this year. Scanning the list of 2010 titles I'd put on my Netflix instant queue, I thought Centurion seemed like a suitable option. However, there was never much chance I was going to finish it before I went to sleep, and true enough, I watched only about 30 minutes. Determined (as I always am) to finish, I had to plod through it the next day, with numerous breaks, in the midst of all the other priorities of a typical Saturday. Finishing Centurion -- which looked good, but wasn't much on story, and was silly-bloody -- ended up crippling my day so much, I never even got in a trip to go present shopping, which was a top priority at the time.

2) The Expendables - My wife was going out for her company's board meeting on Wednesday night, so when I was out earlier running errands with my son, I impulsively stopped by a Redbox kiosk and picked up The Expendables. (Fitting in perfectly with my philosophy of what movies to rent from Redbox.) I would never have been at that Ralph's supermarket in the first place if I didn't feel compelled to extend my errands so my wife could get a longer nap. (If that sounds like I'm blaming her for renting The Expendables, I'm certainly not -- I'm just illustrating the role of circumstance in the movies we choose to watch.) Strangely, I actually passed up at least one movie on this list -- Prince of Persia -- in order to choose one that wasn't.

The problem was, when my son wouldn't eat the rare bottle of formula I tried to feed him that night, and when the penultimate episode of this season of Survivor was on, I didn't start watching the movie until a half-hour before she got home. Because it was due back by 9 o'clock the next night, I watched another 20 minutes at the end of the night, then another 20 minutes (ridiculously) at 5:30 a.m. the next morning, before finally finishing while wrapping presents the next afternoon. I really don't know why this movie got such generally favorable reviews -- I thought it was tedious and brainless (though not in a good way), and as I wrote in my status update, it's really saying something when you find Dolph Lundgren the most charismatic actor in a movie.

3) Unstoppable - I had to cram in The Expendables in part because I was due to see my friend perform at a comedy show on Thursday night. Since I was already going to be out for the evening, I figured it wouldn't saddle my wife with any extra burden if I just stayed out longer and went to a movie. She agreed, so, tipsy from three (small and free) beers at the show, I made it just in time for a 9:55 show of Unstoppable. That's right, the movie I predicted I wouldn't like because I don't like its director, Tony Scott. However, a couple critics I respect (including Joe Morgenstern) rhapsodized over it, and it's not coming to video before January 25th, so I knew I'd need to see it in the theater if I wanted to include it for 2010.

This may have been my biggest gaffe from the three movies listed above, because a) it ended up not really doing it for me, and b) I passed up a couple other movies on this list that I'd also need to see in the theater -- and could have seen on Thursday night. Part of the reason I opted for Unstoppable was that I figured I'd need something tense to keep my adrenaline pumping, given the beers in my system and the late start time. Unstoppable's biggest failure was that it didn't keep me from falling asleep. In fact, I was fighting sleep from the moment I finished my popcorn. The movie ended up being more inert than a movie about an out-of-control locomotive, directed by this ADD director, should have ever been.

What am I trying to gain by telling you all this?

Well, maybe it'll be a message to myself to start watching healthier. Yeah, watching movies is often a function of opportunity, and each of these movies represented a particular opportunity to see something in a particular window of time. But in each instance I had other, better options available, which I inexplicably ignored.

No more. This weekend I've got to cleanse my pallet with a good documentary (Restrepo) or indie drama (Winter's Bone).

I can go back to eating the junk food after January 25th. How's that for a reverse resolution?

1 comment:

Don Handsome said...

I applaud your lofty and nutritious viewing goals for the remainder of our official movie “season”. My general effort at this time of year is to see whatever is available and countable towards my year end totals…thus, I always tend to bulk up on terribly junky fare.
This year, once again, I have a modest docket of nutritional films to left to see (Somewhere, True Grit, Blue Valentine, The Fighter), but per usual, I’ve targeted seeing roughly 40 movies in the last month of competition. 90% of those will be crap, I’m sure.
This is the price of “winning” year after year. Someday, I’ll be able to have a year-end list with 150 nutrition filled films on it…until then, I’ll have to see The Expendables.