Saturday, November 14, 2015

Ranking knights, lobsters and witches

I'm much more likely to complain about the delayed Australian release schedule of certain films than celebrate the early jump we get on other ones, but 2015 has been an unusually good year in the latter regard.

Which makes it an unusually bad year in terms of some of my classic, and largely academic, list-maker dilemmas.

Interestingly enough, two of the movies currently giving me fits are indebted to Terrence Malick, one by virtue of actually being directed by Malick. 

Both Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster and Malick's Knight of Cups have already gotten releases in Australia, well ahead of expected 2016 U.S. release dates. Knight of Cups just came out Thursday, and since I'm reviewing it, I've already seen it. The Lobster came out two weeks ago, but I saw it back during the Melbourne International Film Festival in August, which is also when I saw the third film I want to discuss: Robert Eggers' The Witch, which doesn't come out in either country until 2016. This is the one indebted to Malick in some of its cinematography of nature in particular.

Since none of these movies will come out in the U.S. until 2016 -- and the U.S. release date is usually the yardstick by which I measure what qualifies to be ranked in what year -- I've been at a loss on whether to include these 2015 viewings in my 2015 rankings, or hold them back until next year.

Fortunately, I have good friends like Don Handsome to shake me out of my tendency to over-think such things.

In an email to me this week, Don wrote:

"It's a matter of truthfulness in list making. How can you see a movie now and rank it later? You must rank it now to know how it really fits in with this year's list. Next year doesn't make sense because you'll be comparing apples and oranges. Sure the movie won't be the same, but the circumstances of seeing it won't either. You'd be trying to recreate in your mind your thoughts upon seeing it, and then compare something that's inevitably gone stale for you with fresh films. It's not fair."

"I'm almost more in favor of ranking twice than not ranking in the year you saw it."

Except for the prospect of ranking twice, which is utter madness, Don's got a very good point.

I had already taken a split approach to the two festival films. I had inserted The Lobster in my 2015 rankings because I knew it was getting a 2015 release in Australia. That was the same logic I used in ranking What We Do in the Shadows last year, even though my American counterparts (theoretical though many of them may be) will be ranking it this year. (And it's something I sort of regretted, as you will remember if you read this post.) The Witch, on the other hand, seemed very clearly to be a movie that belonged with the year 2016, as no one (outside of film festival crowds) will see it until that year. That's an especially strange assessment to have to make about this movie in particular, because the first festival crowds saw it way back in January, meaning that it was actually finished and ready to screen in late 2014. The fact that it's not making it to theaters for more than a year after that Sundance screening is a mystery to me, especially since it was received so positively, but it also gave me the reasoning I needed to start my 2016 list early and place The Witch right there at #1 to start things off.

But Don is right. What chance does The Witch have in 2016, when I'll be finalizing my rankings (in January of 2017) about 18 months after I first saw this film? The same logic about the short memories of Oscar voters applies here, except even more so. If it's hard for a movie to get nominated for best picture if it came out in March or April, imagine how much more difficult it would be if it came out the previous August?

And yet it still pains me that my list can't be "conversant" with other lists in terms of our comparative rankings of The Witch. Of course, there's one list it will be conversant with: Don's. He was here in August and he saw The Witch with me.

The arrival of Knight of Cups was what brought the whole issue to a head. When I was reminded earlier this week that it was due to open on Thursday, my first question was whether I should just delay and see it on video next year so my ranking decision could be blissfully uncomplicated. (Which is what I did a year ago when I passed up David Cronenberg's thematically similar Maps to the Stars, which had a similar early Australian release date, ultimately watching it this past March.) But then I thought about how Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography would look nice enough that it really deserved to be seen on the big screen, and within a few minutes I'd become so certain I planned to see it in the theater that I actually got approval to review it, thereby putting it on this week's viewing schedule.

But because it is Malick and because Malick's 2011 film topped many year-end lists, I worried I'd be seeing an actual contender for my top spot and possibly ranking it as the #1 movie in a different year than other people ranked it as their #1 movie. It would be like if you had early access to Boyhood in 2013 and Boyhood became your #1 movie of 2013 rather than 2014.

Of course, I should remember that The Tree of Life was only my 44th favorite film that I saw in 2011, so what were the chances I was going to like Knight of Cups that much more than that? (And, of course, I didn't -- if you want to read my thoughts on Knight of Cups, my review should be up within a day or two and hyperlinked on the right.)

It's been a very "of"-centric week for me, as I saw Bridge of Spies and Quantum of Solace in addition to Knight of Cups. It's been a very "of"-centric career for Terrence Malick, who also directed Days of Heaven in addition to The Tree of Life and Knight of Cups.

But with his email that helped me sort out a problematic ranking dilemma, Don gave me a different kind of "of": peace of mind. 

1 comment:

Don Handsome said...

Happy to be of service! We'll revisit this conversation next year when I convince you to rank The Witch AGAIN.

And remember, you'll be tipping your readers off to good movies (or bad movies) early if you rank this year films that don't get released until next year. This makes you a taste maker. Drink it up.