Monday, December 26, 2005

Screen captured

Which is better: the Western film with the Eastern director, or the Eastern film with the Western director? How should I know? I've seen neither, nor countless other prestige films of 2005. And that sums up my fractured relationship with the cinema.

Here's an easier question: why have box office returns declined as compared to the past? It's not the higher cost of movie tickets and concessions. It's not the outdated audiovisual equipment. It's not even the increased tolerance for disruptive behavior among audience members.

The problem is quantity.

There is simply too much product supplied by the studios on a weekly basis, and practically every movie gets a wide release. Potential hits cannibalize one another, and it's only the rare non-franchise picture that stands a chance. The advent of the DVD market (and more importantly, the short turnaround time from big screen to small screen) has made the importance of moviegoing a thing of the past. A person could skip the theater altogether by becoming a very active Netflix user and watch movies of all genres on a three-month delay. There's that much out there, especially if you watch horror films and videogame adaptations. The box office analysts and media pundits spend too much time looking at the final dollar figures, when they should be looking at the per-screen average, a number that more accurately gauges audience interest.

But enough industry commentary. Now, it's personal. To give you an idea as to how my moviegoing habits have changed, consider the following.

Paid to see in first-run theaters (7): Revenge of the Sith; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Batman Begins; Mr. and
Mrs. Smith; March of the Penguins; A History of Violence; Elizabethtown.

Caught a free sneak preview (6): The 40-Year-Old Virgin; Monster-in-Law; Sahara; Herbie: Fully Loaded; Yours, Mine, and Ours; Bride & Prejudice.

Saw in the second-run theater (6): Fantastic Four; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants; The Island; Serenity; A Lot Like Love.

Watched at home for free (16): War of the Worlds; Hitch; Robots; The Pacifier; Are We There Yet?; Sin City; The Interpreter; Guess Who; Fever Pitch; Beauty Shop; Because of Winn-Dixie; Elektra; Ice Princess; Man of the House; Kung Fu Hustle; The Perfect Man.

That's 35 of Box Office Mojo's 2005 list of the top 150 releases. When I lived in St. Louis I might have seen almost twice as many films, all in the theater. I suppose part of the reason for the change is economics, but mostly it's a lack of dedication to new releases.

I see no point in ranking films this year, and I lack favorites. But I'm always game for irreverent categories.

Best Example of My Alienation from the Younger Audience: Sin City. I thought Clive Owen and Josh Hartnett were the only ones who seemed to understand the tone of the material, and that Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis delivered some decent hard-boiled narration. I have nothing else positive to say.

The "Watch Your Back, Dakota Fanning" Award: Elle Fanning in Because of Winn-Dixie. The little sister has a small role in a movie that's actually pretty good, and worth seeing beyond any morbid curiosity of watching Dave Matthews act.

Style over Substance Award: Kung Fu Hustle. A lot of visuals that you haven't seen outside a Tex Avery cartoon almost blind you to the nonsensical plot, scant humor, and pointless overall experience. Not quite recommended.

Substance over Style Award: Serenity. Maybe I should give Joss Whedon a chance, despite his obsession with disturbingly anorexic girls as ass-kickers. This is a remarkably well-told story, with a handful of memorable rebels that would make a Star Wars-era Lawrence Kasdan proud. And while most films would be lucky to have one great form of villain, this movie has two.

Most Difficult Film to Like/Defend: Elizabethtown. Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite directors because his stories come across as so genuine and personal. I love that he seamlessly blends a cast of performers with varying levels of acting experience, getting movie stars to create chemistry with relative amateurs. He does all these things here, but the end result doesn't quite work because every major character is miscast. The road trip sequence in the last 20 minutes almost saves the movie. Almost.

Best Eye Candy for Men: Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Best Eye Candy for Women:
See above.

Honorary Brevity Award: A History of Violence. Not a great movie, but a pretty tightly wound story that runs only 90 minutes. Decent turns by Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and Ed Harris, but a miscast William Hurt (who comes across as neither dangerous nor reckless, as his character should) derails the film somewhat.


Neel Mehta said...

It doesn't really fit in with the post above, but my sister saw The Family Stone last week and hated it. It's one of those movies that should come with a depression warning that a fatal disease is part of the plot. And when you look at the way the film has been falsely advertised as a holiday family WASPy comedy, you start to wonder if bringing a class action lawsuit is appropriate.

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

What I find interesting about that movie (and I haven't seen it) is that it was almost entirely recast between the start of production and release. When it was called "Hating Her," Maura Tierney, Blythe Danner and Steve Zahn were in it. And, interestingly, when the WaPo reviewed it, Stephen Hunter's biggest gripe was that the casting was entirely off.

Neel Mehta said...

Luke Wilson for Steve Zahn? Upgrade, I should think. Indeed, it's pretty strange that Dermot Mulroney is the ugly sibling, with Luke Wilson and Rachel McAdams there.

I'm not really sure why films like The Family Stone get made at all. Making these lily-white, actor-centered ensemble dramadies is sort of like letting the inmates run the asylum. I'm just not convinced it amounts to good work.

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