Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cut off at the knees

Note: I wrote this post, as well as the post for tomorrow, before I heard the news about the unimaginably horrific shooting in Connecticut. As a father and a human being, I find it hard right now to imagine engaging in the kind of triviality that a film blog has the luxury of being. I've decided to go ahead and post these anyway, largely because I have been so prolific lately that I can barely afford to let a day pass, else I won't write down everything I have to say. Inconsequential in the grand scheme of things as the things I have to say about film may be, this is what a writer does: write. While on the one hand that is sort of a selfish decision in the face of this tragedy, I also don't know what purpose is served, exactly, by imposing a silence on myself. However, I did not want you to think these events are not in my heart, tearing me apart, because they are. My defense mechanism has been to escape into the trivial, watching two movies last night and doing everything I can not to spiral downward into the depths of sorrow inspired by this tragic event.

Shocking realization yesterday:

I have two fewer weeks to watch 2012 movies than I had to watch 2011 movies.

And 2010 movies. And 2009 movies. And so on.

As you probably know, I have a tradition that dates back 17 years (you may not know that part) of ranking all the movies I see that were released in a given calendar year. Since you theoretically continue seeing movies from a given calendar year for the rest of your life, you need a cutoff date in order to publish your list of rankings. The cutoff date my friend Don and I (the two of us who unfailingly participate in this tradition) have always used has been the morning the Oscar nominations are announced.

Which is nearly two weeks earlier this year.

Yesterday Don mentioned it casually in an email, not in the form of "Did you hear???" but more like "Since the Oscar nominations are on January 10th this year ..."

January 10th?

I felt an immediate pit in my stomach.

According to a statement by AMPAS back in September (I must have been snoozing), the shift was made "to provide members and the public a longer period of time to see the nominated films." That may be one of the benefits, but I'm betting that the bigger motivator was getting the nominations out there before the Golden Globes air. I've always thought it was strange that we learn both the nominees and the winners of the Golden Globes before the Oscar nominations are even revealed. Well, no more.

It may just be that only the Hollywood Foreign Press, Don and I actually care about this change.

The reason I care is that I have become more and more obsessed in recent years about watching as many of the available movies from that year as possible, both the good and the bad, so that the list I unveil in late January is as definitive as I can reasonably make it. When I look back on [whatever year it is] in the future, I want to know that the movie I crowned as #1 was truly my favorite movie that was released that year. There's always the possibility that I'll see some unheralded underdog five years later and like it better than the #1 I crowned, but at least I know I've given my best effort at being definitive by seeing as wide a swath as possible of the available movies.

When you remove two weeks (actually 12 days, since the nominations will be on a Thursday this year rather than a Tuesday) from that available viewing time, you're talking about eliminating a good 15 movies -- and maybe as many as 20, since that's the time of the year when I really press, when I force my wife to watch movies on nights we wouldn't ordinarily watch them, when I use my other available waking hours, however unlikely, to squeeze in 30 minutes of a movie here and 30 minutes of a movie there.

We could always change the admittedly arbitrary date we use for our cutoff, but have decided this just wouldn't be sporting of us. We have to play it as it lies.

I knew there was little chance that I would beat last year's record total of 121, so I wasn't even going for it. I sit at 84 now, so either way I would have stood a good chance of reaching 100 (which I always think of as a minimum acceptable total) but not much of a chance of reaching 121. The new date doesn't change those odds very much. I can easily watch 16 more movies from 2012 before January 10th.

But it does mean that I'll likely "waste" a lot fewer viewings. And by that I mean I should probably say bye bye to watching the movies I know will be bad.

See, nearly as important as fleshing out the top of my list is fleshing out the bottom. As much as I'm interested in crowning a 2012 champion, I'm also interest in reaching a definitive conclusion about the worst movie of the year. This is why my December and January viewings often alternate between prestige movies and total shlock.

If given the choice, though, I will probably want to concentrate on the good ones, the ones I think actually have some chance of cracking my top 10. And while that's good for me in terms of useful ways to spend my time, it means that my worst movie of the year will probably be a choice I can't really get behind. I won't tell you what's sitting in my bottom spot right now, because that would ruin the fun, but I can tell you that it's not the kind of bad movie that gets my juices flowing with how much I dislike it. If it does end up being the worst, it'll be the worst more by default than by truly earning the title.

All this said, there's a good chance that the earlier deadline will have a positive impact on my well-being. The period between New Year's and the 24th (the nominations date has always been in the early January 20s) always ends up feeling like a terrible grind. In fact, I usually get to the point where my top 10 is pretty solidified, my bottom 10 is pretty solidified, and everything I see has this middling quality that earns it a place somewhere in the 50s or 60s. Even if the movie is better than that or worse than that, I sometimes lose the ability to make those judgments and just see it all as some colorless gruel, neither particularly bad nor particularly good. Rounding out the middle of my list has never been one of my stated goals.

So those last two weeks in particular, the two weeks I will lose this year, usually find me submitting to a rote obedience to my own rules and deadlines, of "playing out the string." It's probably a good thing that I'll have to focus this year on some really solid contenders -- whether they be contenders for my best movie, or contenders for my worst.

And that phase where I work to squeeze in 30 minutes of a movie here and 30 minutes of a movie there? Maybe it'll just come before Christmas, rather than after. Maybe it'll just start this weekend.

I've already finished my Christmas shopping, so I've got that going for me.

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