Tuesday, April 21, 2015

An Adjustment of Expectations (and the To Watch List)

Roughly forty films left to go on my 2014 movie "To Watch" list.  I've had to prune back the selection significantly due to my reduced availability, and because I'm shooting for October as the deadline to put together a final Top Ten list.  As a result, a lot of the films I would have watched in previous years are being left by the wayside.  Which titles are being chucked from the list?
Lots of little indie sci-fi films.  I love this genre and all the great work I've seen in recent years, but I just can't sift through every single promising title anymore.  So "Automata," "In Your Eyes," "Young Ones," and "The Signal" are being left out, along with Brit Marling and Mike Cahill's latest, "I Origins."  I've pointedly tried to support Marling in the past because I admire her aims if not her actual work, but after watching the "I Origins" trailer, my patience finally gave out.  Instead I watched "Coherence" and "Predestination" and "The Rover" and "Under the Skin," which were all getting much more positive attention.  Yeah, I hate having to depend on buzz as a measure here, but it's proven to be a pretty good yardstick so far.
Another big chunk of titles fall into the indie drama category.  Lynn Shelton's "Laggies,"Joe Swanberg's "Happy Christmas," and Zach Braff's "Wish I Was Here" have gotten the boot.  These are the ones I feel the most badly about because these are the films that I'm not inclined to watch in the first place, and always have to prod myself to check out.  And as a result, I tend to find more surprises here.  Indie dramas are very hit-or-miss with me, but when one connects, it really connects.  2007's "Once" was one of these, so I made the effort to see John Carney's new film "Begin Again."  I did not like it, and I'm sorry to say it and "The Skeleton Twins" probably biased me against trying any of the others that I was on the fence about. 
I'm pretty weak when it comes to Oscar bait, but this year I had to draw the line at "Cake," which was widely accused of only existing to be a vehicle for Jennifer Aniston to snag an Oscar nomination, not that there's anything wrong with that.  In previous years I would have wanted to decide for myself, but this year I had my hands full just trying to keep up with the performances that were nominated like Julianne Moore in "Begin Again" and Reese Witherspoon in "Wild."  Also, apologies to Chadwick Boseman for skipping "Get On Up."  Other prestige pics I probably would have watched based on the talent involved include Jason Reitman's "Men Women & Children," Rupert Wyatt's "The Gambler," Susanne Bier's "Serena," and Thomas McCarthy's "The Cobbler" - even though the critical consensus says they're not worth it.
The biggest category of 2014 films I would have watched, though, are the ones that never made it on to the list in the first place, all the weird little documentaries and all the foreign obscurities and the odd titles that pop up on Netflix or Amazon Instant.  This year I simply didn't go looking for more movies to watch outside a few major channels, so if a movie was significantly under the radar I probably never even heard about it.  This includes mainstream releases.  There was a Helen Mirren foodie film, for instance, called "The Hundred Foot Journey," that apparently came out last August but I didn't hear a peep about until a few weeks ago.  I've cut back on blockbusters in general, even benching good dumb fun like the "300" sequel and the Rock's "Hercules." 
However, I did watch both parts of Lars Von Trier's "Nymphomaniac," despite massive reservations.  It wasn't bad. 

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