Year-End Movie Survey, Question 1

Tell me a little something about your moviegoing self:
a) How many new movies do you estimate that you watched in 2005?
b) How many older movies do you estimate that you watched in 2005?
c) Of the new movies you watched, how many do you estimate that you watched in a movie theater?
d) How many do you estimate that you watched on video or DVD?
e) How many, if any, did you watch more than once? (And what were they?)
f) Do you most often go to the movies by yourself or with someone else? Do you have a preference?
g) If you see movies with other people, do you tend to talk at length afterward about what you've just seen?

a) I've made a list and count 32, including a couple of late 2004 releases and three more that came out last year but got their first screenings in Toronto in 2005.

b) That's something I don't do nearly as much as I used to, primarily because the Festival rep-houses in Toronto have more or less stopped screening anything older than six months. I saw maybe 10-15 at the Cinematheque.

c) Except for No Direction Home on PBS, all of them.

d) None.

e) Mad Hot Ballroom was the only one--once on my own, once with my grade 7 class. (So technically the answer to the previous question is one, although the first time I saw Mad Hot Ballroom was in a theatre.)

f) Now you're getting into my Travis Bickle-like shadow existence...I probably saw about half of the 30 with other people, half without; my friends who have wives and girlfriends (wives or girlfriends--I don't think any of them have both) still put up with my movie invitations, and I count three movie dates off the list. Okay, two--Wedding Crashers I saw with my mom. My preference by a wide margin nowadays is to see a film with someone else; through my 20s, seeing a film alone wasn't such a big deal, but at 44 it feels very, very wrong.

g) Yes--talking about a film over coffee afterwards is as much a part of the night as the film itself.

I'd look less pathetic had you asked me how much porn I downloaded last year. What's more, I was geeky enough to go back and catalog just how much reel scorched my retinas in 2005. The outcome?

I saw 48 films theatrically released in 2005, checked out 97 repertoire titles from Netflix, and maybe two or three from Blockbuster. TiVo time (aside from my weekly devotions to the small screen episodic fare of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, The Comeback, Family Guy, Arrested Development, The Daily Show, and reruns of Diff'rent Strokes) probably amounted to discovering another 30 to 40 films, possibly more. Then there're the dozen or so of local films (from the North Texas area) that either went straight to video or remain in festival circulation. None, I believe, I watched more than once.

Oftentimes I hit the theaters solo. I'm not as obsessive-compulsive as, say, Annie Hall's Alvy Singer when it comes to missing the first five minutes of The Sorrow and the Pity, but I'm close enough--at least to the point of not wanting extra baggage. As far as kibbitzing after a movie, I'll try to avoid it. (Especially if I'm by myself--then I may as well start smearing fecal matter on the walls.) It's inevitable, however, that I'll run into friends and colleagues at the neighborhood pub to argue on the pointless, feel-good nookie that calls itself Mad Hot Ballroom and how Spielberg's dud, Munich, makes Always feel like Minority Report.

I did miss Brokeback Mountain, Syriana, Cache, and Match Point, among other hot-listed Oscar bait. So if you need to eject me from this pow-wow, then by all means. Otherwise, what is there to learn from my pop culture gluttony? It's that 2005 American cinema might thus far be the weakest year of the millennium. I mean, a year where more critics' top ten lists praise more foreign films than ever--and from quite off-the-beaten-path countries. To name three, with films well-deserved for their acclaim: Hungary (Nimrod Antal's Kontroll), Palestine (Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now), Iran (Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly). Granted, the Middle East is surging in a Neo-Realist movement and should be well-covered by the members of the press, but in a year where our own soil can't match up to the uncountable number of great films from '04 and '03, I now wish that some of those forgotten titles then would be released now--in particular, Alan Rudolph's The Secret Lives of Dentists and Spike Lee's She Hate Me. OK, I'll stop ranting. Besides, my answer to #2 will argue my point further.

2005 was an uncommonly good year to go to the movies. Despite all the talk about the so-called "box office slump," I managed to always find something worthwhile. There really wasn't a slump. People seemed unwilling to take into account that 2004 was one of the biggest years at the box office ever. The success of 2004 was achieved in no small part by a little movie called The Passion of the Christ which managed to get people who don't normally go to the movies into theaters. The same with Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. So, now that we got that cleared up let's talk about 2005.

The rewards of going to the movies were located in the corners of the marketplace. Sure, movies like Batman Begins, Revenge of the Sith, and War of the Worlds were great big studio entertainments, but I also found equal entertainment value in movies like Fever Pitch and Hustle & Flow. These were movies that did a masterful job of straddling the line between scrappy, low-budget integrity and old-fashioned Hollywood storytelling.

On average I saw about two movies a week. That's probably a conservative average. I'm one of the few moviegoers left who has yet to give up on the theatrical experience. Granted, I sometimes sympathize with people who decide to wait for the DVD to come out. It is this tendency to want to avoid the struggle (and financial burden) of going out to the movies that lead a lot of people to perpetrate all this slump talk. It is the pleasure of going out to the movies that seems to be growing rarer and rarer. Cell phones, babies, and the breakdown of the consideration for others that leads one to despair about the moviegoing experience. The moment a national chain decides to enact a zero tolerance policy in regards to patrons' behavior is when you'll see devoted movie lovers take back the shared communal experience of losing it at the movies.

That's enough of my rant. Back to the movies

I rarely see new movies for the first time on DVD. I prefer to see new stuff in the theaters. In fact, there were only two new movies that I didn't see in theaters, Chan Wookpark's psychosexual revenge thriller Oldby and Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener. Both movies are such visceral experiences that I'm a little upset I didn't see them in theaters. Oldboy is some kind of landmark in its willingness to cross the line in what an audience is willing to comprehend. It's like Scorsese's Cape Fear but told from Max Cady's point of view. Some critics objected to its sensationalism but this was a case where it served to illuminate the characters' capacity for cruelty and forgiveness. The violence in Oldboy is actually not that graphic but it is intense. What seems to turn off some audiences is the director's skill in making the viewer implicit in the cruelty. Director Chan Wookpark seems to operate without any regard for taste or restraint. This could lead to him having a limiting career. It also could lead to him becoming one of the most influential stylists since John Woo.

Paradoxically, I tend to buy old movies on DVD without as much as a recommendation from a critic friend. Unlike most people who go to the movies I trust the opinions of movie critics. This is not to say critics are ever wrong (my friend and Entertainment Weekly movie critic, Owen Gleiberman, doesn't seem to share my enthusiasm for Oldboy, for instance). But critics are good for providing insight into a movie's intent and whether it is successful. Consequently, I seem to avoid seeing many bad movies in theaters. Movies like The Pacifier, Fantastic Four, and The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy managed not to get any of my money. I consider myself lucky.