Thursday, December 17, 2009

Movies In Wintertime, Part 1-- So Many...And Best on a Big Screen

For real movie lovers, the winter season offers an embarrassment of choices, just when free time is at its most scarce!  Starting some time in October, building to a handful of solid releases by Thanksgiving, climaxed by an avalanche of worthy cinematic treats between Christmas and New Year, and culminating in the late-winter Awards races, those who care about serious cinema are like dieters who are starved most of the year, but "fall off the wagon" at holiday-time....

Along with the the activity required to prepare for holiday visits with family and friends---the shopping, the intrigue, the wrapping, the cooking, the budgeting, and the scheduling of parties and get-togethers---now I have almost a dozen movies I need to attend soon, or risk missing them in their "natural habitit"--The BIG screen:

                                My list includes:

"Nine" (the pulsing, rhythmically edited musical number "Be Italian" in the trailer stopped everyone in their brilliant as, I hope, is the movie)
"Precious" (another powerful trailer...can the film deliver?)
"A Single Man" (THE must-see....check my Christopher Isherwood series..)
"What's the Matter With Kansas" (not part of the Awards Derby, but a fascinating subject)
"Brothers" (Toby McGuire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman---a potent combination!)
"Up in the Air" (Already picking up critic's awards...before many of the new releases have been...well, released....more on this in a later post)
"Avatar" (not my cup of tea, really, but I may ride in on the hype wave)
"Invictus" (the story of Mandela interests me, despite the self-
importance of Eastwood/Freeman )

"Everybody's Fine"  (a warm-hearted DeNiro has me cautious...but I love on-the-road stories)
"The Lovely Bones" (Peter Jackson sans creatures, based on a pretty good novel, told from the point of view of a murder victim...happy holidays!)

"The Road"(Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winner...might be a real chore to sit through, but Viggo Mortenson is watchable!)
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"(Meryl Streep has played a nun, a rabbi, a Dane, a Pole, a midwesterner (!), a French Chef, and now...a cartoon character!  Looks great...)

Couldn't just ONE of these have played earlier in the year?  I miss the walks after emerging from a theater on balmy summer nights, and the serious discussions about the merits of a great film.....

Since "Jaws", way back in 1975, the movie production/distribution business model has changed.  After a generation or two of summer movies aimed mainly at the high-school, special-effects-geek and testosterone crowds, it appears that audiences now "use" movies's a thrill-ride, disposable, what fast food is to a great meal, not lasting, not substantial, not life-altering. And for every viewer who still believes mainstream film can help us understand our world, our humanity, using the artistry of acting,  witty and literate writing, and given depth and meaning through montage, music, lighting and photography; another viewer runs blindly to every "serious" film to prepare for the Academy Awards telecast, and maybe win the Office Oscar Pool. (Believe me, I understand this impulse...I was that person...more about that in another future post...)

To be fair, I enjoyed a couple of fine films this summer: for example, "Julie and Julia", "Taking Woodstock", "Captialism: A Love Story", "Every Little Step" (a terrific documentary about the auditions for the 1986 Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line"), "An Education", and "500 Days of Summer".
After the hype, I felt neutral about "The Hurt Locker", having not yet acquired the taste for faux-documentary hand-held camera-work and bleached-out imagery that are used as substitutes for "realism" in current films about conflicts in the Middle East; and "A Serious Man" was, for me, mere hijinx from the Coen Brothers, who persist in inviting us to ridicule characters that are placed in terribly painful situations. (I hope filmgoers DON'T confuse this with "A Single Man".)

And I avoided "Inglourious Basterds", because I think Tarantino is smug and, yes, insensitive.  Maybe I should reconsider?

~ ~ ~

So, why not wait until these movies come out on DVD or BlueRay? 

Not a bad way to go, some of the time. But I still hold on to the idea that motion pictures, as the art form was developed, were intended to be experienced on a big screen, as a shared experience. I can compare it to any number of other art forms that, although enjoyed any number of ways, need the optimum method of exhibition, in order for audiences to derive the best experience,  the full benefit of their artistry. 

A good set of i-pod headphones will deliver "Aida", or the original score to Broadway's "Billy Elliott" or "Fiddler on the Roof", or Sibelius' "Finlandia", or Beethoven's "Ninth"...etc... just fine.  Yet, being in the opera house, or playhouse, or orchestral hall, to feel the floorboards rattle, and take in the spectacle, with attention focused on the stage: the sets, costumes, movement of performers, those voices, those arias, the conductor's froth, the musicians moving as one organic entity.......a complete sensual and emotional experience....what else compares? 

We can listen to an audio book, but we miss the chance to stop and savor a paragraph of incomparable beauty over and again, or to re-read how a classic comic character is drawn in words...or to adjust our pace to the demands of the story at hand....
And we can look at beautiful sculptures or exquisite paintings in art books, and tell ourselves that we have seen them, but have missed the textures, the brush strokes, the reactions of those around us, to compare our reactions to.

The moviegoing experience, if the film is good, the sound and picture projection pristine and professional, and the audience well-behaved, transports one like no other art form, and to my mind is the closest experience we have to a dream, a psychodrama, that we share with others around us.  The home experience is too safe, too prone to distraction.  I, for one, love the way I am consumed, soaked in by the events on the screen in front of me, filling my field of vision, with no escape, the darkness blocking out all other stimulus....  I can abandon myself to vicarious escapes from danger.....give myself over to feelings of romance.... dissolve helplessly in cleansing tears...  thrill to the movement and color and sound of a great musical interlude, or sweeping sequences of spectacle.  It's all much larger than me, and powerful.  And, best of all, sharing a laugh with others in a movie theater bonds me to them like nothing else; which is perhaps one of the best reasons to watch a movie in a theater. 

Among the films that have provided the most unforgettable cinemagoing experiences: "Annie Hall'; "Lawrence of Arabia"; "The Crying Game"; "Wait Until Dark"; "Nashville"' "The Sound of Music"; "Thelma and Louise"; "Tootsie"; "The Deer Hunter"; "Psycho"; "Brokeback Mountain"; "There's Something About Mary"....and many others...

My someday own a movie theater that doesn't need to make a show the films I love...and to finally see, on a movie screen,  many of my favorites and classics that I have only ever seen on TV.  If that happens...I promise all of my readers a free pass...!

Look here for more on Holiday Movies...the Awards Races....and other tidbits from my cinema mind...and past...

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