Dear Bilge, Mark, and Amy,
Iris in to a closing shot of me on my front stoop, yelling after the three of you as your shared Uber whisks you away: Hold on, one more round? A nightcap, maybe? Charades?
Since it’s no fun throwing out discussion-starting questions in a post that will have to echo through the as-yet-empty corridors of 2017 until we meet again, I’m going to take a tip from our colleague Matt Singer and use this last entry to make some movie-related resolutions for the year. Off the top of my head—and inspired largely by points that have come up in our discussion—here are five things I want to do in the new year to be a better movie critic, movie viewer, and general consumer and defender of cinematic culture (which, like so many other domains of American culture at this moment, seems likely to be more in need than ever of extra-vigilant guardians).
1. I will see more movies, period. Not more than most movie critics, mind you—when it comes to sheer quantity of titles viewed, there’s no way I could keep up with certain dependent-free whippersnappers who spend their days darting from midnight screening to overseas festival—but just a few more than I managed to cram in this year. There were films I was curious about for months but kept putting off for ultimately silly reasons, like Amy’s beloved Swiss Army Man, which to be real just kind of skeeved me out with its Daniel-Radcliffe-as-a-gassy-rotting-corpse premise. Being right in the middle of the Harry Potter universe with my 10-year-old daughter at the moment, I didn’t know that I could cope with two hours of watching the Boy Who Lived in full-on flatulent rigor mortis. Similarly, I have every reason to believe I would’ve loved the apparently way-gory psychological horror tale The Eyes of my Mother, but in those first emotionally rocky weeks after the election, I just couldn’t steel myself to sit down and watch it. Next year I will muscle through such resistances and see more movies that lie at the edge of my particular squeamishness comfort zone. (Except for Saw: Legacy. That one is right out.)
2. I will see more foreign films, especially those from countries whose cinema I’m generally unfamiliar with. It’s depressing the extent to which the entire cinematic output of the world outside our borders gets reduced, in the American consciousness, to a handful of movies put up by a few countries for the best foreign film Oscar. Sure, those are generally worthy candidates, but interesting films from all over the world open on limited platforms (often with same-date streaming releases) throughout the year. I want to keep a better eye on those releases and snap up the chance to see next year’s Cemetery of Splendor or Divines before it leaves the theaters.
3. I will see more movies made by women. Instead of another Sausage Party—a movie I guiltlessly skipped this year just ’cause it seemed kinda dumb, but now that Amy has top-10’d it, I’ll give it a chance—let’s make cinematic 2017 a festive clambake! It’s not like I don’t already make an attempt to seek out female-directed films; many of my favorites of the year fell under that heading, including Certain Women, The Edge of Seventeen, Toni Erdmann, The Fits, and (seen thanks to your list, Bilge) Cameraperson. But when I read that women’s statistical presence in the top creative filmmaking fields—directing, producing, writing, editing, and cinematography—has remained at a stagnant 19 percent industrywide for nearly 20 frickin’ years, it seems clear it’s time to get more proactive in my lady-viewing habits. I’m going to stay on top of sites like Women Make Movies to be sure the less-hyped releases of the year find some space on my overstuffed to-be-seen list.
4. I will support cool movie houses that are working to keep alive the tradition of theatergoing outside the mainstream multiplex. New York has welcomed two such venues in the past year: a jewel box of a two-screen repertory house called the Metrograph and a sleek seven-screen outpost of Austin, Texas’ famously cinephilic Alamo Drafthouse chain. And, thank the cosmically remote God of Scorsese’s Silence, we somehow still have wonderful independent theaters like Film Forum, Anthology Film Archives, and the IFC Center. If your community boasts such a treasure trove, patronize it. Talk it up to your friends. When you catch a movie there, make a point of buying popcorn or a T-shirt, or signing up for a membership subscription if that’s an option. As critics who need to watch things at press screenings, well in advance of opening, we don’t often get the pleasure of paying attendance at a truly well-programmed movie house, but I plan to pursue that pleasure more often in 2017. Maybe I’ll see some of you across the aisle in the dark.
5. I will try to remember that every film, like every person, deserves an equal chance. I’ve stomped grumpily into movies I knew I’d hate, only to leave uplifted and refreshed; I’ve all but sprinted to others I thought I’d love (like Elle!) and left underwhelmed and vaguely deflated. When I get to a screening with a few minutes to spare before the film starts, I’ll sometimes close my eyes, take a deep breath or two, and, in some pre-verbal and staunchly atheistic form of prayer, ask for the blessing of the movie gods—that is, of whoever or whatever it is that allows a group of strangers in a darkened room to collectively embark on the common dream that is a theatrically projected movie. That’s what I wish for us all as viewers and reviewers this year: that we enter into each movie with a kind of renewed innocence, so that without abandoning our critical faculties we leave a part of ourselves open to chance, fate, seduction, and surprise.
See you at the clambake,