Thursday, January 17, 2013

212 New Releases in 2012: A guided tour and strategy overview

by Don Handsome

One more year-end wrap-up on The Audient, but the difference is, I'm not writing this one. For more on Don Handsome's incredible feat, here's Don:

Am I right in assuming that all Film Nuts have their own Number? 

I posit that our Numbers equal the maximum amount of time we can physically sacrifice to the gods of the cinema as represented by the number of newly seen films (repeat viewings should not count toward Numbers, as these represent a very different style of viewing) divided by a relevant unit of time. A Film Nut’s Number is stated regularly in conversation about the movies, as in: "I try to see one-a-day," or "I’m doing three-per-week," or "I can't feel good about myself if I’m not seeing at least ten-each-month." We wear our Numbers on our sleeves, but they are not out in the open to be judged. In the unspoken code of the Film Nut, it is understood that none of us would ever short change the movies, and so our Numbers are just facts about us that break the ice and bridge conversations. But our Numbers DO mean a lot to each of us as they represent our time doing something we love to do.  

My Number is 250 Films Per Year.  I’m proud of this Number - it's all I can do for something I love. For me, 250 is comfortable: I’m seeing about 150 new releases and another 100 non-new releases for the first time each year and it just feels right. I’ve been with this Number for about six years now, and with it I never feel like I shortchange the medium or that I’m cheating my personal life.   

This is the story of how I threw my Number under the bus for no good reason.

Because readers of The Audient don’t know me, I feel as if I need to provide some context. While I’m not as rigorous a list-maker as our friend Vance, I do believe in tracking what I see and I certainly take some pride in having seen a ton of flicks in my time. I am not a professional but I am a film geek, a snob, and an obsessive. I pride myself on cultivating a deep film vocabulary. I am an honest fan and a reliable dabbler. In short: I am a Film Nut. And because I have been friends with Vance since we were three, we’ve developed much of our nutiness in tandem. We’ve been sharing our film lists on Oscar nomination day with each other for about 15 years now – since a time when both of our Numbers were probably about 100 per year. Nowadays, I think our Numbers are generally in the same ballpark and while I usually see more new releases each year, Vance edges me out in older films seen for the first time. But I think he was taken aback when I announced to him that I was going to try to set a personal record 200 new releases in 2012 – effectively increasing my number by 50.

SPOILER ALERT – I made it. I more than made it, actually. I SMASHED IT.

I saw 212 new releases in 2012, and since I saw 121 (love that symmetry) older movies for the first time, my Number for 2012 was at 333. It was a big step up. It’s the most films and the most new releases I’ve ever seen in one year. It's more moves than either Vance or I have ever seen in one year. So a few months ago Vance asked that I commit to documenting this run for The Audient and I happily obliged.

Before I continue, here’s the product - all 212 films I saw in 2012, from best to worst:

1              Silver Lining Playbook
2              Zero Dark Thirty
3              Looper
4              Moonrise Kingdom
5              Oslo, August 31st
6              Newlyweds
7              The Cabin In The Woods
8              Sleepless Night
9              Holy Motors
10           Bernie
11           Damsels in Distress
12           Rust and Bone
13           Killer Joe
14           Fat Kid Rules The World
15           Beasts of the Southern Wild
16           Waiting for Lightning
17           Sound of My Voice
18           Django Unchained
19           Girl Walk // All Day
20           The Imposter
21           Alps
22           Compliance
23           The Loved Ones
24           Killing Them Softly
25           The Deep Blue Sea
26           Prometheus
27           Wreck-It Ralph
28           The Bay
29           Jesus Henry Christ
30           V/H/S
31           Deadfall
32           The Dark Knight Rises
33           Fitzgerald Family Christmas
34           Shut Up and Play the Hits
35           Red Hook Summer
36           Klown
37           Your Sister's Sister
38           Lawless
39           Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
40           Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
41           Sinister
42           Ruby Sparks
43           Marley
44           Jeff, Who Lives At Home
45           Beyond the Black Rainbow
46           A Cat in Paris
47           The Amazing Spiderman
48           Turn Me On, Dammit!
49           Cure for Pain
50           The Queen of Versailles
51           Magic Mike
52           Coriolanus
53           Kill List
54           Tonight You're Mine
55           Knuckleball!
56           The Hunger Games
57           Friends With Kids
58           Celeste and Jesse Forever
59           The Perks of Being a Wallflower
60           The Kid With a Bike
61           The Five-Year Engagement
62           The Hole
63           Argo
64           The Loneliest Planet
65           The Perfect Family
66           Headhunters
67           Pitch Perfect
68           Goon
69           The Secret World of Arrietty
70           The Pact
71           Lola Versus
72           Take This Waltz
73           Chimpanzee
74           Extraterrestrial
75           The Master
76           Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
77           Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
78           Ted
79           Head Games
80           Footnote
81           Premium Rush
82           The Avengers
83           The Do-Deca-Pentathalon
84           Lay the Favorite
85           Liberal Arts
86           Paranorman
87           21 Jump Street
88           Get the Gringo
89           The Corridor
90           Safety Not Guaranteed
91           Hope Springs
92           Anna Karenina
93           This Is 40
94           Irving Welsh's Ecstasy
95           Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap
96           Dark Shadows
97           Gerhard Richter Painting
98           Bachelorette
99           The Vow
100         The Campaign
101         The Comedy
102         Take Me Home
103         Vamps
104         Lincoln
105         Contraband
106         Jack Reacher
107         One for the Money
108         Flight
109         2 Days in New York
110         From Rome With Love
111         Trouble With the Curve
112         Butter
113         The Grey
114         The Good Doctor
115         The Hobbit
116         The Words
117         Wanderlust
118         Dark Horse
119         Safe House
120         360
121         Norwegian Wood
122         Casa de Mi Padre
123         Men in Black 3
124         For a Good Time Call…
125         Arbitrage
126         Hitchcock
127         Skyfall
128         Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
129         Mirror Mirror
130         Total Recall
131         Jiro Dreams of Sushi
132         Cosmopolis
133         Life of Pi
134         Savages
135         Price Check
136         (Rec)3 Genesis
137         The Watch
138         Red Lights
139         God Bless America
140         Les Miserables
141         Sleepwalk With Me
142         Snow White and the Huntsman
143         Man on a Ledge
144         The Details
145         The Innkeepers
146         American Reunion
147         Cloud Atlas
148         The Snowtown Murders
149         Battleship
150         The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
151         Katy Perry: Part of Me
152         Chronicle
153         Hotel Transylvania
154         Good Deeds
155         Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
156         Lockout
157         The Odd Life of Timothy Green
158         Detachment
159         The Raid: Redemption
160         This Means War
161         The Hunter
162         Giant Mechanical Man
163         The Bourne Legacy
164         The Impossible
165         Chasing Mavericks
166         The Color Wheel
167         Brave
168         Union Square
169         Apartment 143 [Emergo]
170         Safe
171         Silent House
172         Indie Game: The Movie
173         The Pirates! Band of Misfits
174         Ice Age: Continental Drift
175         L!fe Happens
176         The Letter
177         Beneath the Darkness
178         The Woman in Black
179         Haywire
180         The Man With the Iron Fists
181         The Raven
182         Hysteria
183         Snow on tha Bluff
184         The Devil Inside
185         Act of Valor
186         Fun Size
187         Stolen
188         Paranormal Activity 4
189         Sparkle
190         Rock of Ages
191         The Three Stooges
192         The Chernobyl Diaries
193         The Babymakers
194         Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
195         Step Up Revolution
196         Project X
197         The Dictator
198         John Carter
199         Red Tails
200         Piranha DD
201         Red Dawn
202         That's My Boy
203         Wrath of the Titans
204         The Lorax
205         Gone
206         Hit and Run
207         Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
208         The Expendables 2
209         The Apparition
210         Rise of The Guardians
211         Branded
212         The Collection

I don’t know that I want to editorialize about these films beyond the editorializing that the order does for me. This post is not directly about what I liked and didn’t like (and I’m frankly still exhausted by this run) but I will say that even though I am ABSOLUTELY positive that my top films are the ones that I most treasure from 2012, I am disappointed that they aren’t unconventional choices. This is not how I identify as a film fan. Typically I like movies that non-Film Nuts have never heard of. But we can’t all pick the Ruby Sparkses each and every year.

Lesson #1 from 2012 is the more new releases one sees, the more the element of surprise is eliminated from the ranking equation. I have a firm scoring system (to be discussed) that is designed to remove all the mystery from why one movie ranked higher than the other. The problem with seeing so much is that you begin to lose definition on the fringe, and though you still appreciate small innovative films, they tend to lose out to all the noise.  Thus I found that I’ve been gravitating towards films that leave a lasting impression on the whole instead of movies that may have made a significant stride towards advancing the medium, and I’m not sure this is a good thing.

Why Would I Want to Mess with My Number?

The short answer is that I did it because I could. Or maybe I did it because I’ve always wanted to just let it rip and see how many films I could see in a year. But there was no real driving reason behind it. While I argue that 2012 was a fine year for film, I wouldn’t say that it was an exceptional year. But nonetheless at some point in the year I made a choice that 2012 was the year I was going to really push myself. It was one of those organic-but-arbitrary decisions that is probably a result of deep psychosis, but because I believe that there has to be a tangible explanation for everything, I’ve come up with the following excuses:

·         The Slow Start – I saw my first film (Norwegian Wood) right about when I normally start seeing new releases – in late January. But then the next movie I saw was Chronicle nearly a month later in mid-February. And then I wasn’t on the board again until I saw Goon on March 6th. By the end of March I was at only five movies for the year and that made me freak out. I remember giving myself a pep talk around tax day, in which I vowed to turn this around before it got out of control. I guess I listened to myself, because by the beginning of July I had seen 50 films;

·         Chasing The Cabin In The Woods - On April 20th I saw and adored The Cabin in the Woods. It was so clearly the best movie I had seen at that point in the year, that I wondered if it would actually top my year-end list. There is something so intoxicating about seeing a film that captures your imagination that you can’t help but chase more of the same; and

·         The Holy Ranking System - Prior to 2011, I ranked the films I saw in the year by piecing together a list.  I would find relative positions by deciding that one film was better than one but worse than another and with enough tweaking throughout the year, I would eventually end up with an order. It was never perfect and I never liked this method because it always insulted my empirical sensibilities. I would actively target movies that I felt were too high or too low, but would ignore others that didn’t jump out at me and I was always nagged by the possibility that I could be inflating the actual quality of films that I wanted to like above films that might be superior achievements. 

Surely top ten lists and year-end rankings are understood to be models of personal finesse and taste, but I was bothered enough by this that in 2011 I developed a scoring system to do away with much of the guessing. My system is based on a ten-point score with movies gaining points based on categories such as "gut reaction," "style," "look," "editing," "story," "performance," "sound" and "wow factor." I won't go into much detail, but please understand that I have clear parameters set for each category (except wow factor, where I allow up to one point for just being sucked into a movie's aura) and I believe that they work really well at approximating the very things I watch films for and the very qualities I want to be scoring. I ran a test of the system in 2011, and I really liked the results I got – they both felt true to my impulses AND were defensible. I liked the results so much, that I grew a little infatuated with my system and I couldn’t wait to see how well it would work for me in 2012 – the more films the merrier. Of the three excuses I’ve provided, I think this had the most influence on my record-setting run in 2012.

How Exactly Does One Raise Their Number?

While I believe in the purity of the theater experience, and prefer the theater in all circumstances, I don’t hold myself to seeing everything in the theaters. Like all of us Film Nuts, I feed my Number by going to the theater, renting movies from the store (and sadly, my beloved neighborhood video store closed this past fall, becoming another Dunkin Donuts that I won’t patronize), utilizing Netflix, visiting a Redbox or two, and watching through iTunes, OnDemand or Amazon.  But Lesson #2 of 2012 is that you just have to embrace the many different watching options that are out there, and appropriately I embraced some new-to-me "delivery mechanisms" that are primarily responsible for getting me up and over my goal:

·         I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas in 2011 – I’m not too much of tech guy, and I never thought that I’d venture into the tablet world. But the Fire really works for me. It's not overly complicated, but I can read books on it and I can rent new movies cheaply from Amazon, download them onto my device and watch half while sitting on the bus on the way to work and half while sitting on the bus on the way back from work. I did this approximately 18 times in 2012;

·         Mastery of the Business Trip Cram Session - I have a job that takes me out of town every month or so. I travel for meetings and workshops that take place all over the southern part of my state during the daylight hours, but since I generally travel on my own, my nights on the road are generally mine. Years ago I embraced seeing one movie while travelling, either in the theater or via hotel pay-per-view rentals, but in 2012 I truly familiarized myself with the theaters of downstate Illinois. With no obligation to be home with my kids for dinner, I found I could start watching films at around 5PM and not stop until I’d seen three, sometimes four, movies;

·         I discovered Drive-In theaters.  I’ve long been obsessed with the Drive-In. This is an offshoot of an obsession I have with California, which is not where I live. I associate Drive-Ins with quintessential Route 66-style Americana that is so evident in southern California. As I discovered this year, drive-in movie theaters are actually part of the lore of Route 66 all along that old road -  which just so happens to have historically begun in Chicago, where I live. So this year I really pushed the Drive-Ins, seeing as many movies as I possibly could there. Around here, the Drive-Ins are only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day and none of them are less than an hour away from where I live, but I still managed to see eight movies at the Drive-In:

§                   The Amazing Spiderman (End of the year ranking: 47/212);
§                   The Avengers (82/212);
§                   The Bourne Legacy (163/212);
§                   Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (202 / 212);
§                  Prometheus (26/212)
§                Snow White and The Huntsman (142/212);
§                   Ted (78/212)
§                   21 Jump Street (87/212)

On the whole, it doesn’t appear that the Drive-In yielded too many gems – most of the above films are middling at best, but only three of the above were films I planned on seeing anyway (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy and Prometheus), so it could be argued that the Drive-In helped give me an edge this year. Incidentally, it could also be argued that there is a profound “Drive-In Effect” on these films. Nearly all of them are actually higher than maybe they need to be (Prometheus especially) - maybe that ranking system of mine needs some tweaking.    

·         We Dumped Cable - Last December, my wife and I decided that we would like to save over $100 per month by swapping cable for a Roku Box and a Hulu subscription. This has its drawbacks (I felt incredibly disconnected from a healthy baseball obsession that I have) but it had a measurable effect on my film totals in 2012. With this life change we never ended up adding new television shows to our repertoire in 2012, and in fact we jettisoned two sitcoms and one procedural from our watching rotation. This action saved us roughly two-hours a week for 22 weeks throughout year – that’s time for about 22 movies, if you’re counting at home.  

·         Let Time Be the Decider - In April I decided that I wouldn’t let desirability drive my film choices.  Instead, in some cases, I would adopt the philosophy that a movie starting NOW is as good as any and whenever I had the chance, I simply would walk into a theater and get a ticket to see the next unseen film starting at that theater regardless if I wanted to see it or not. Utilizing this methodology, I saw the following films:
      Branded (211/212);
§                     The Collection (212/212);
§                     Fun Size (186/212);
§                    Hit and Run (206/212);
§                    Red Dawn (201/212); and
§                    The Watch (137/212)

Lesson #3 of 2012 is that this methodology is junk. I may have added several films to my Number using it, but nearly all of them are bottom feeders.  Clearly, this is not a worthwhile strategy and I will never engage it again.  

More Lessons Learned 

I have always maintained a working list of the films that I want to see in a given year. Typically, I only add films to this list about which I hear or see something that peaks my interest. My theory is that I am my own best resource and that films I recommend to myself are generally the films that hit best with me. Admittedly, I do a lot of talking about movies that I want to see at home, at bars, with Vance, and around the office, so I am aware that discussing my watch-list may bias me towards them and incite a self-fulfilling prophecy. But with the establishment of a working scoring system, I thought that I might be finally able to see if  "The List" really works.

Lesson #4 from 2012 is that The List really works. As 2012 started I had four films on my anticipated film list to start the year (The Cabin in the Woods, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper and Django Unchained).  Throughout the year I added 12 more. With the exception of Gangster Squad, which didn’t open in 2012, I saw all of them. Here is how they performed:

§           Bernie (10/212);
§          Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (39/212);
§          The Cabin in the Woods (7/212);
§          Cloud Atlas (147/212);
§           The Dark Knight Rises (32/212);
§           Django Unchained (18/212);
§           Killing Them Softly (24/212);
§           Lincoln (104/212);
§           Looper (3/212);
§          The Master (75/212);
§          Prometheus (26/212);
§          Rust and Bone (12/212);
§          Silver Linings Playbook (1/212);
§         The Sound of My Voice (17/212); and
§          Zero Dark Thirty (2/212)

There is a pretty excellent track record here. Five of The List movies were in my Top Ten for the Year (in fact, my entire top three comes from the list), an additional other four of them are in my top 25. The List isn’t perfect -- I didn’t really see the charm of the intentionally vague The Master, and I didn’t like the minutia of Lincoln set against Speilbergian pomposity -- but even those two are in my top half for the year. The lowest ranked of all of these is Cloud Atlas which I almost missed seeing because, even though it was on The List, it kept feeling like a chore (it was). Still I think that the success rate here speaks for itself. 

Lesson #5 for 2012 is that regrets are OK. I did, at some point, come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t see every film in 2012. There are regrets here. I clearly wish I had never seen The Collection, and I have a hard time justifying that I saw that vile film, but didn’t see Seven Psychopaths, Amour (I actually couldn’t see this without traveling to New York or LA), Promised Land (apparently my Gus Van Sant obsession no longer applies to films he’s directing for other people), Not Fade Away (I’ll make it up to you, David Chase), Room 237, How To Survive a Plague, The Paperboy and Samsara. These are my biggest regrets for the year, but I’ve come to realize that we need to save things for later. New Releases are only part of my Number and I look forward to the above list filling in some of my 2013 Number and beyond.

Lesson #6 for 2012 is that you should always stay true to your Number. So my new Number is 333 per year, right? Absolutely not. I’ve alluded to this in the above, but let me come right out and say it – pushing myself in this way was not fun. I’m tired. I spent more money on movies than I have in any other year, and I stressed myself out numerous times throughout the year. I shirked some friendship responsibilities and in the end, I found that I didn’t even enjoy watching the movies anymore. It was an awful experience. So my Number stays at 250. As I said, 250 is comfortable and I owe it to the movies to enjoy seeing them.

What’s 2013 Look Like?

In order to keep my number at 250, I’m obviously never walking in to a theater to see the next available movie again. This was a fruitless exercise. And I think I’m going to eliminate the Kindle Fire from the methods that I use to watch films – there are plenty of books to read on the bus. But I do vow to expand The List in an effort to get back to what’s most important about being a Film Nut: Loving The Movies.  

So what’s going to be first in 2013?  Like Vance, I think I’ll see Gangster Squad first -- it’s the only movie currently on The List.  But I won't see it for a couple weeks -- not until I spend some time at home researching what is on tap for 2013 and not until I recharge my battery by indulging in some rewatches of tried and true classics (Blue Velvet, I’m looking at you).  Oh yeah, I’m also going to finish the complete series rewatch of The Sopranos that I started last night (David Chase, I told you that I’d make amends). 
What can I say?  I come heavy or not at all.

1 comment:

Vancetastic said...

I remain in awe of your tremendous feat. I'm glad you aren't going to try this again, so I won't feel so deficient when my own number comes up so far short of yours.

Even though the results were not great for you, I do think there is a certain wonderful randomness to the idea of seeing whatever movie happens to be playing next. I've only done that when I couldn't make my own movie for one reason or another, and this year that happened for me with Rise of the Guardians. Which you hated more than I did, but we both didn't really like.

Thanks for the great contribution, and for doing something most non-critic Film Nuts only dream of doing.