LITTLE ROCK This is the time of year when it’s good to be a film critic.
Every day, slim packages arrive at my house via UPS, Fed Ex and the U.S. Postal Service. My dogs repel each of them as they arrive, but not before they drop off their slim packages. We are in high screener season, boys and girls, when I can’t wait to get home and see what the studios have sent me.
This is the time of year when I catch up, when I see the films I didn’t have time or opportunity to see during the year. This is the time when I see the movies I didn’t review.
And I think that’s important, because I think that anyone who holds himself out as any sort of authority on movies ought to at least see a lot of movies. So I’m spending a lot of my time watching “For Your Consideration” DVDs of movies like Cloud Atlas and The Dark Knight Rises in order that I might, well, consider them for my year-end lists and the ballot I turn in to the Southeastern Film Critics Association.
I’ve said many times before that I consider the hierarchical ranking of movies a little silly — any Top 10 or 20 I come up with is simply a snapshot of my thinking in a particular moment — but I take the job of watching movies pretty seriously.
I watch movies I consider unpromising; I try to give everything a chance. While there are always movies I miss — no one can watch everything — I imagine that between now and the end of the year I’ll watch more than 100 movies. And while that’s not anything to complain about, I will submit to you that it’s honest work.
And while most of the movies I’ll watch in the next few weeks will be on DVD — or, increasingly, online via Vimeo or other Internet portals — some of the major studios still hold actual screenings in actual theaters. (I’ve got a double-feature scheduled for Tuesday. I only wish they paid a little attention to us the rest of the year.)
When MovieStyle was founded in 2000, the idea behind it was that it would be about the movies — not about celebrity gossip or show biz news. One of the reasons we settled on this approach was because we reckoned that while we were ill-equipped to compete with People magazine (TMZ wasn’t around then) from Little Rock, geography was no impediment to writing about what the movies mean. This has always been a reviewdriven section.
And we try to review everything that opens in Arkansas.
We don’t always get to do that, for various reasons. (We need to find a way to cover the occasional Bollywood movies that show up.) But we obviously can’t review movies that we haven’t seen. And the larger studios generally pick and choose when they’ll screen a movie for us — they screen only when they see an advantage in it. And some smaller distributors (and their publicists) seem not to know how to find us. (I spend a fair amount of time trying to chase down contacts for some films — and sometimes even when I find the right people, they decline to help us out. I am looking at you, Atlas Shrugged people.)
I’ve never liked using a lot of wire reviews in our newspaper, even in the days when there were good wire reviews available (if you haven’t heard, film critics are endangered, and only a few newspapers employ them anymore), and in recent years we’ve really not had much to choose from on the wire services we subscribe to. To say it bluntly, some of the stuff that moves across the wires these days doesn’t meet our standards.
So maybe you’ve noticed I’ve added a couple of new freelance critics in the past year. Dan Lybarger and Piers Marchant have ties to Arkansas — Dan worked with me 20 years ago at Spectrum Weekly, and Piers is from Little Rock — and have access to regular critics’ screenings in Kansas City and Philadelphia, respectively. So while we do occasionally run a wire review in MovieStyle, we are no longer held captive by mediocrity. Now I have options, and readers can expect to find various and consistent voices in the section.
And please welcome back to MovieStyle Karen Martin, who for the past few years has been working for a friendly competitor and was unable to contribute to our newspaper. Now she’s taken a job in another industry and is at liberty to freelance for us. She will be writing a DVD review column, a retooled version of Homemovies that kicks off this week. She’ll also be contributing the occasional review and, er, consulting with me on the section.
Karen, as a lot of you know, is my wife and partner and one of the best editors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. She thought up the MovieStyle section and was its founding editor. I’m happy — and relieved — to have her back. She makes my life so much easier.
Anyway, I’m not abandoning my DVD column — it will still appear on the blood, dirt & angels blog (it’s been there more often than not in recent weeks anyway). That is where we are. Now I have to go to work and watch a movie.
MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 11/30/2012
Print Headline: Time to catch up on watching films