Friday, May 4, 2012
Where have all the bad films gone?
I have this little ritual I perform at the end of each month, which helps me "close out" the month.
I look back at the new films I've seen during the previous month, and make note of which I liked most and which I liked least. Then I record them on the same document where I record the order I've watched them. I list the month and year, the number of movies I saw for the first time, then the best and worst afterward in parenthesis. Example: 4/09 = 20 (Best Movie, Worst Movie)
This often produces really funny pairings of movies, since they are at the extreme ends of the quality spectrum. Let's take June of 2008: 6/08 = 13 (The Godfather Part II, 10,000 B.C.). (And yes, that means I did not see The Godfather Part II for the first time until 2008.) Or March of 2004: 3/04 = 9 (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Battlefield Earth).
However, this exercise isn't as funny anymore, because it appears I am no longer seeing bad movies.
When I stopped reviewing movies for All Movie Guide last November, I suspected that the quality of the movies I watched would improve overall. But I didn't expect to basically stop seeing movies that stink. And movies that stink are an essential part of the many-splendored experience of watching movies.
The end of April rolled around earlier this week, so it was time for the ritual again. I saw only 12 new movies in April, in part because I watched nearly that many movies on repeat viewing (I've been binging a little lately) and in part because it's the beginning of the baseball season, so my attention is diverted.
The top movie was easy. As I discussed on Tuesday, I saw one of the first 5-star movies I've seen in a long time, The Passion of Joan of Arc. So that easily claimed the top spot for the month.
The bottom slot? It went to the Will Ferrell/Gael Garcia Bernal/Diego Luna mexploitation film Casa de Mi Padre, a film I gave only a marginal thumbs down. In fact, I had convinced myself to give it 3 stars out of 5 on Letterboxd, only to gain some toughness at the last moment and knock it down to 2.5. But there are a lot of things I respect about that movie, including the fact that the whole thing (excepting a few lines by Nick Offerman) is in Spanish, which means that Ferrell commits to speaking Spanish throughout.
Here, I'll show you the other contenders and the star ratings I gave them on Letterboxd:
4/3 - The Hunger Games - 3.5 stars
4/7 - OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies - 4 stars
4/14 - Marwencol - 4.5 stars
4/14 - The Big Year - 3 stars
4/17 - The Cabin in the Woods - 4 stars
4/19 - Day of Wrath - 4 stars
4/22 - The Tempest - 3 stars
4/25 - Bunny and the Bull - 4 stars
4/27 - 21 Jump Street - 4 stars
4/30 - Ordet - 4.5 stars
So maybe I just had a really good month. My Getting Acquainted series was with a director (Carl Theodor Dreyer) I ended up really loving. I saw a surprisingly good documentary (Marwencol) and a couple unexpectedly delightful comedies (OSS 117, 21 Jump Street). And I saw only 12 new films. It's not such a stretch to say you liked 11 of a given 12 films you see, especially since most people try to watch movies they think they'll like. And now that I'm not writing reviews, I'm more like "most people."
But in situations like this, especially given my prior and hopefully future job as a working critic, I always wonder if I'm going soft. Would I have ranked some of these films more harshly in the past? Let's take The Tempest. In many ways, it was not a very successful film. But I enjoyed a number of the performances and really dug the visual style that Julie Taymor brought to it. But Taymor always brings plenty of visual style. Does this mean that I have to give all of her movies that minimum 3-star "passing grade"?
Another thing that makes me worry about encroaching softness: My overall percentage of movies I liked, which I keep track of on a different spreadsheet. A few years ago, I liked around 64% of the movies I'd seen. Now it's around 67%, and growing. That's not an insignificant change, considering that I've seen over 3,500 films. And the higher it gets, the more I worry that I just don't lay into movies like I used to.
Of course, I can't ignore the fact that there is less incentive for me to see bad films nowadays. Back when I was reviewing for All Movie, a bad movie was almost as good as a good one, because either earned me $20 for the review, and reviews of bad movies are generally faster and more fun to write. Now, however, I have to kind of trick myself into seeing bad movies. I see fewer movies that I know will be bad, and with the ones I do, it's mostly for the ironic value of seeing it and being able to reference it (such as Howard the Duck, which I saw in February).
Nowadays, it seems like most of the bad movies I see will be movies I thought would be good, but didn't end up liking. It's these pure disappointments that seem to be increasingly rare. If it's a movie I'm excited about, I feel like I usually find enough about it to appreciate that I give it that minimum 3-star grade. And we can debate about where the cutoff should be on the five-star scale between movies you like and movies you don't like. I've probably given thumbs up here and there to a movie I would only give 2.5 stars out of 5.
I think I'm starting to ramble here. But the point is: I'm starved for something bad.
Come on, month of May. Bring it on.