Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Treading water

Yesterday, I saw my 36th film released in 2012. (John Hillcoat's Lawless).

If I want to get to last year's total of 121 before my late January ranking deadline, I'll have to see 85 more films from 2012 in just over four months. That's more than 20 per month -- a high total even if I were to forgo watching my usual complement of older films.

So yeah, I ain't gonna be seeing another 121 films before the morning the Oscar nominations are announced. But at this point it's looking like even 100 films is pretty unrealistic.

Which is why it was sort of disappointing I ended up watching The Dictator a second time on Saturday night. 

My wife and I had talked about watching something new for our Saturday night movie, and I was all excited to add to my paltry total of 2012 films. But the Redbox options were pretty thin. The most interesting choices I scouted at a kiosk on Saturday afternoon were The Woman in Black, Lockout, Mirror Mirror and Man on a Ledge. Really, I'm not even interested in Man on a Ledge, but I took it down as a possibility because both my wife and the movie's star (Sam Worthington) are Australian. (Similar logic held for Guy Pearce and Lockout, though I am interested in seeing Lockout.)

She did some of her own research online, and mentioned two titles: The Dictator and Bernie.

Both of which I'd already seen.

Both of which I'd really liked, but both of which I'd already seen.

She knew I'd seen them -- actually, she'd forgotten I'd seen Bernie -- but her response to my four movies was less than listless. Which I certainly understand. If you don't watch that many movies these days, you want the ones you do watch to be good. Most people aren't just checking things off lists, like I am. (And toward that end, at least now I know I'm clear to watch those four movies on my own.)

She wouldn't have forced me into The Dictator or Bernie, but I was in an agreeable mood, so I gave her the choice of which one she wanted to see more. She chose The Dictator. And so it was written, and so it was done.

And so I got another large helping of Sacha Baron Cohen offending all races, religions and people of refined tastes in equal measure.

As it happens, this stuff plays a lot better on a first viewing.

But I didn't go into the viewing feeling pessimistic about it. After all, there's a precedent for this kind of thing. It was around this time last year that I watched Greg Mottola's Paul for the second time, under similar circumstances. I had already seen and loved it, and I wanted my wife to do the same.

The big difference? I felt the active desire to see Paul a second time, while I suspected that The Dictator would not survive another viewing in my good graces.


But another big difference is where I find myself within the ranking year. Right now, I'm staring at my lowest total of movies in a year since I started writing this blog back in 2009, and probably for a couple years before that. Which shouldn't be a huge surprise. With each passing year, my responsibilities increase, and my free time to fritter away on movies grows less and less. Even if I know it's probably inevitable, it's still depressing.

I'm choosing to look at my second viewing of The Dictator as a blessing in disguise, though. Since watching it the first time -- the night before it came out, if you remember this post -- I've heard several people say they utterly detested it. Which got me wondering if it was just my release-eve screening and the vibe people had going that made me like The Dictator so much -- that made me, in fact, declare it the best of Cohen's three star vehicles.

My second viewing disabused me of some, though not all, of those notions. The four stars I had deliriously given it on Letterboxd should clearly be revised down to at least a 3.5, possibly even a 3. And some of the things that made me laugh the first time just made me groan this time.

But even as I treaded more water on assembling my 2012 list, I did gain a benefit from seeing The Dictator a second time. Now I won't go and do something foolish like put it in my top 10 for the year. In fact, I came very close to putting last year's Hall Pass in my top 10, until I watched that again before my deadline. It only went down to #12, but that felt better than at #8, where it had been previously. (Out of 121 movies. Yes, I know how that looks.)

In an ideal world, you'd see all the movies you could possibly see in a given year -- and then before you finished your rankings, you'd see them again. Only then could you really have a good sense of what belongs where.

The reason for this is pretty simple: context. Our feelings toward movies are so dependent on context that a single viewing of a movie can often be skewed in one direction or another by a very good or a very bad viewing scenario. Over two viewings, the context averages out a bit and becomes less important. You could say that The Dictator desperately needed a second viewing, to offset the unusual circumstances of watching it in a packed theater with a game crowd on the night before it opened. You could say that for me to assess it in a way that more accurately represented my true feelings toward it, The Dictator desperately needed a second viewing at home on the couch, one where I was cringing with the sense of personal responsibility for every offensive thing Cohen's character said or did. (You see, a certain ownership comes with recommending a movie.) My wife has a good sense of humor and laughs at many of the same things I do, and to be honest, this kind of cringing is key to the bite of Cohen's comedy. But I still felt embarrassed a couple times at the enthusiasm of my prior endorsement, given the true comedic quotient of what was up on screen.

The true quality of The Dictator probably lies somewhere between the two.

Maybe I'll discover that on my third viewing next month.


Travis McClain said...

I would imagine the highest number of new releases I've seen in a year would probably be back in either 1996 or 1997, and that figure wouldn't come anywhere close to 100.

I have seen 111 first time viewings so far this year (including some short films), but only a scant few were new releases. In fact, I haven't even seen a majority of new releases among my trips to theaters this year! Assuming I attend the forthcoming screenings on my wish list, I'll wind up with nearly a 2:1 ratio of classic movies to new ones on the big screen.

I can't even say there have been any movies I really wanted to see during their theatrical runs that I missed. The Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black III were pretty peripheral for me, and if I get around to them on disc later, fine and if not, whatevs. Moonrise Kingdom kind of interested me, but other than The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and the short, Hotel Chevalier, I'm not what you'd call a Wes Anderson fan.

I just can't say that 2012 has offered many new releases that even caught my attention, to be honest - and The Dictator is certainly not among the few exceptions.

Vancetastic said...

That's a very interesting statement -- that you have seen more re-releases in the theater than new releases. Which of course also means that you have seen more GOOD movies in the theater, I'm sure.

The list obsession has been controlling me for a number of years. A couple years ago I decided that the more movies I saw, the more I could be sure that the one I chose as my #1 was the best of the year (for me). However, then I decided that I also wanted the movie I ranked LOWEST to be definitely the most awful movie I was willing to see, and, well ... you can see where it goes from there.

You can skip The Dictator.

Travis McClain said...

I'm fortunate in that we have a theater in Louisville that does biweekly midnight screenings of older movies, plus there were several classic film series around town this summer.

Of the classic movies I've seen in a theater this year, two of them were first-time viewings for me. Believe it or not, but one of them is Citizen Kane. The other is Roman Holiday. Both were seen at The Louisville Palace, where either may have played during their original releases. I enjoyed both. Kane was captivating, but I can't go along with the "greatest film of all time" talk.

I was going to also attend a screening of Some Like It Hot at the Palace, followed by a midnight screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but I missed both films because I had a migraine that entire day that wiped me out. Some Like It Hot would have been another first-time viewing for me, though I've no idea how many times I've watched The Wrath of Khan over the years.

Your point about wishing to have a thoroughly researched answer to the question of the best/your favorite film of the year is certainly an understandable objective. My thoughts on having a fluid Flickchart are well documented and you've read them enough I won't bother with the position here, except to note that it allows me to shirk a sense that my viewing of any given year's offerings is incomplete. I'll get to whatever I get to, whenever I get to it, and how I feel about it may fluctuate with the passage of time. Sometimes my initial enthusiasm wanes almost overnight; sometimes a film I initially find disappointing germinates and grows in my mind. C'est la vie.