Friday, January 14, 2011

Seeing bad movies organically

I'm having a debate with myself whether or not I should see Killers before my January 25th deadline to reveal my list of 2010 movies, ranked first to worst.

Reasons against:

1) Every critic in the country says it's terrible.

2) I hate Ashton Kutcher.

3) I've seen everything Katherine Hiegl has to show me on the big screen. (Well, not everything -- ease up on that nudity stance, Katherine. Wink wink.)

Reasons for:

1) Every critic in the country says it's terrible.

Wait a minute ...

You see, as I look over the list of 2010 movies I've seen so far, which is rapidly approaching 100, only the last 20 or so are movies I feel confidently in labeling bad movies. That brings up a different issue -- am I too easy on movies these days? Should a movie really get a thumbs up from me, just because it does a couple things right over the course of 95 minutes?

The reason the percentage is skewed in favor of movies I like is pretty simple: Like most people, I try to see mostly movies that will probably be good. The stinkers sneak through, of course, but it's not that often that you hate a movie most other people like. If a movie looks good (meaning you want to see it) and you heard it's pretty good (meaning others have liked it), there's a good chance you won't hate it. And those are pretty much the two conditions we try to line up before we see a movie: 1) Do I want to see it, and 2) Has it gotten favorable word of mouth. If so, plunk down that money.

But the difference between me and an average filmgoer is that I am also a part-time critic, and I want my year-end list to arise from the same conditions a full-time critic would experience. Full-time critics are exposed to both the wheat and the chaff, and so they have both a compelling "best of" list and a compelling "worst of" list. When I choose which movie is the worst movie I've seen this year, I don't just want it to be the worst movie I thought I'd like but didn't. I want to expand my search to include movies I knew I'd never in a million years like.

Enter Killers.

So everyone says Killers is terrible. Actually, I have one friend who saw it and says it was not terrible. But everyone else.

The debate I'm having is whether it's "fair" to my process, to stuff the bottom of my list with crap -- or whether the worst movie of the year should earn its title through totally organic means. I don't know why I consider this to be sort of important, but I do.

Then again, even bad movies have degrees of hatred. Within the group of movies we can all agree are bad, some of us absolutely despise those movies, while others have sort of an indifferent kind of dislike. It's possible I will indifferently dislike Killers, and it will only be the 15th worst movie I've seen this year.

It's also possible I will like it, and that introduces a whole different dilemma. Do I want my rankings to be tainted because I had to be fair, and tell the world that I did not hate Killers? Would it be easier to just shield myself from the possibility?

Then there's the whole issue that I brought up in this post, in which I bemoaned the fact that I was frittering away precious movie hours watching junk food. Many of the features on the "hit list" I posted in that post have not yet made their way into my DVD player, or onto my theater screen, or through my Netflix streaming.

But as I am fond of saying, watching movies is a function of opportunity. I have a decent opportunity to watch Killers tomorrow afternoon, on a split shift at work (working the morning, taking time off and then staying late). I'll have the baby, and I'd like to walk him in his carriage along the bike path while watching a movie. (For a discussion of the risks and hazards of this type of activity, and the precautions I'm taking to avoid those risks and hazards, see here.) It needs to be a movie on DVD, of course, so I can play it in my player. It also needs to be something my wife doesn't want to watch, and something I don't mind watching on a small screen with plenty of possible distractions. Lastly, it needs to be something I can pick up conveniently between now and then, most likely at a Redbox kiosk.

Hello, Killers.

This whole discussion may be moot anyway. Even with how bad Killers probably is, I doubt it will hold a candle to my current bottom-ranked movie. Just wait until a week from Tuesday and I'll reveal it. It's a doozy.


Don Handsome said...

You don't need to see Killers.

Its not nearly good enough to be something that you need to see, but I'd argue that you shouldn't let reputation be a deciding factor at all in whether you see it or not. Following you throughout the year I can predict that your top movies of the year may contain some films that won’t show up on any other critic's top ten list - and maybe aren't even that well thought of by the critical world themselves. In past years you've liked films that have received equally low metacritic ratings as The Killers has.

If watching films is a function of opportunity, then every film opinion is also a function of that opportunity. Because “opportunity” is not a stable or predictable factor (unless all you do for work and life is watch film), then it stands to reason that your opinions are also unpredictable. So, what I’m saying in general is that you never know – and what I’m saying specifically is that you, Vance, never know. You may love Killers. I’ll fess up to being the friend who doesn’t think Killers is terrible. I don’t think its good, but it has a moment or two where I found myself enjoying my viewing. So I am personally sort of glad I saw it. But my experience won’t be yours, and as long as you haven’t decided that you WILL hate it…you never know.

But as you near the end of your film-year, viewing times become a precious commodity and you do need to weigh your desire to see something a bit more heavily than you might normally. You can’t see every movie that is released, so as you cram you need to consider what is really necessary. Killers isn’t necessary. But since you mapped out a specific opportunity to see a film with specific viewing requirements that narrow your options down, you should pick the one film in that field that most appeals to you…if Killers is it for this opportunity, then go with it. I’ll look forward to seeing where it ends up on your list.

Vancetastic said...

Well, *need* is not the issue at all, really. Clearly I don't need to see it. However, I think it makes a good representative sample of a movie I would never otherwise see -- in other words, a movie a critic might be unwittingly exposed to as a part of his/her daily duties. Clearly a year-end list is going to be biased toward films you actually want to see, but my philosophy is that you need to include a sprinkling of movies that fall into the other category, for it to be a true cross-section of the movies released in 2010. I'm not going to see any of the movies I *want* to see while walking my child in a snap-and-go in the middle of the afternoon, where my screen may even be difficult to see because of sunlight. But it also seems like a good opportunity to see *something.* Killers definitely qualifies as *something.*

Simon said...

That's exactly why these kinds of movies are on airlines. Because, seriously, what else are you doing?

Vancetastic said...

You're right, Simon, Killers is a perfect airplane movie. Question: When was the last time you saw a really good movie on an airplane? They must show some, right?

Simon said...

One time, I was on a plane where they had all this free On Demand movies, and most of them were shit you'd usually find on a plane, except for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Vancetastic said...

If you haven't traveled internationally, Simon, it's the best in that regard. I watched seven movies on my way home from Australia last January, some of them good. However, if they're giving you one movie and one movie only that you must watch on a screen in the aisle, it's usually middle-of-the-road fare that won't offend anybody but also probably won't be that good.

I love it when otherwise random movies are included among movies you would expect. For example, Redbox. The bread and butter of Redbox is new releases, but sometimes there are others mixed in without explanation for their inclusion. For example, this week I noticed Vanilla Sky among the choices. As far as I can tell, that's totally random unless there was some kind of new release of it recently. And given the general reaction to that film -- myself being the exception -- that would surprise me greatly.