As I’ve been suggesting in my past two posts (“How Many Movies Are There?” and “How Many Movies Have You Seen?“), regardless of how one defines the parameters of a feature film—let alone a movie—there are far too many of them for anyone to watch. The IMDb lists 8143 titles in their list “Feature Films Released in 2011“; assuming they’re all at least 40 minutes long, that’s a combined run time well in excess of 226 days.
Now, obviously those movies aren’t for everyone (and many of them probably aren’t for anyone, save close friends and family). But—still. Movies. Lots. How does someone interested in cinematic criticism—or just even watching cool things—begin to navigate this abundance?
Well, for one thing, our selection is limited by release. Not all of those 8000+ films played in the US—far from it. The MPAA hasn’t released its 2011 data yet, but it counted 5332 films released between 2001–2010 (see this PDF), so we can assume that roughly 500 new films get US theatrical releases every year.
And it may even be far fewer than that: that IMDb “Feature Films” list allows one to sort by US Box Office. Doing so reveals income for only 246 of the 8143 films. Watching all of them is fewer than one/day!
While we’re here, it’s worth noting that the lowest-grossing film in 2011 was Angels Crest, which earned $498. Well, it was released on 30 December. Box Office Mojo clarifies that it played for one week in one theater (presumably New York, since there’s a Village Voice review), where it went on to gross another $334 for a grand total of $832. This despite the A.V. Club hailing its “vividly chilly look” and “strong, professional cast” (including Mira Sorvino!).
Poking around on the movie’s Facebook page, I see it played NYC’s Cinema Village, and was at least scheduled to run in a few other places: the Music Hall in Beverly Hills; the Park Circle Film Society in North Charleston; plus venues in Boca Raton, FL; Portland, OR, and Loveland, CO. It’s also been available “ON DEMAND EVRYWHERE” since Thanksgiving.
Adult tickets at the Cinema Village cost $11; that means Angels Crest sold roughly 77 of them. It has 24 reviews at the IMDb. So just over 100 people have seen it so far? (I’m ignoring the people who made it, and those who’ve watched it “ON DEMAND.”)
How many more will ever see it?
2011 is littered with stories like this: movies you never heard of, and probably never will hear of, except randomly. Who knows? Angels Crest may be a hidden gem. (Check it out and let me know.)
Returning to that (sorted) IMDb list, the lowest-grossing film I recognize is #228, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, the latest from critical darling Nuri Bilge Ceylan. You may remember his name from his previous films Distant (2002), Climates (2006), and Three Monkeys (2008). I saw Distant and Climates and thought them ham-fisted, unimaginative ripoffs of Tarkovsky and Bergman, respectively; I thus decided to stop checking out his movies. Nonetheless, it’s been hard to miss Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (is Ceylan pilfering Leone now?), which has been doing well both critically and commercially. It grossed only $14,000 in 2011, but like Angels Crest it debuted on a single screen right in the twilight of the year. Since then it’s racked up $35,826; its worldwide gross is north of $1 million. What’s more, it’s been praised by several critics as one of 2011’s finest. I know I won’t see it.
Continuing up that list, I can recognize a few more titles:
- #224. Tyrannosaur: Sight & Sound Magazine (which I read every month) ran an article on it that I skimmed. They’ve been pushing it as one of the best British films of 2011, which is part of what I expect from S&S, which always promotes British social realism (Ken Loach is one of their favorite directors).
- #223. House of Tolerance: I don’t know anything about it but recognize the title from numerous critics’ “best of” lists.
- #221. We Need to Talk About Kevin: Lynne Ramsay’s latest. I saw Ratcatcher and thought it good. Sight & Sound has been promoting it heavily, although it’s apparently not finding such a warm reception outside the UK (I recently read an article about how European critics supposedly hate it).
- #218. Sleeping Beauty: Jane Campion produced this, kind of update on Belle de jour: a beautiful young woman works in a brothel where the prostitutes are drugged asleep. It’s received mixed reviews, though it has some passionate defenders. I’m interested in seeing it because I, uh, like Jane Campion. And its director is an author, and I make a point of seeing films by women directors, since there’s a disproportionate number of them. And sex sells—that’s why the film’s promo still is what it is.
- #215. Margaret: a biopic of Margaret Thatcher starring Meryl Streep. Oh, no wait, that’s The Iron Lady. This is some new indie drama by the guy who made You Can Count on Me, which I saw and at the time thought pretty OK for an indie drama. Anna Paquin is in this and some critics really like it; I’ll probably never watch it, although articles like this one make me curious. (Margaret might be a variation on The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which I’d argue was the most influential novel of the 20th century.)
- #210. In the Land of Blood and Honey: Angelina Jolie directed this; it’s about the Bosnian War; I read a negative review in the A.V. Club.
- #209. Tomboy: I recognize the title; I probably read & forgot a review.
- #208. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence): I’ve read two reviews, both of them (surprisingly) pretty positive. I’m as certain that this will be a midnight show at the Music Box (if it hasn’t already) as I am that I’ll never see it. (Impossible Mike, if you watch it, let me know what you thought.)
- #207. 1911: Jackie Chan directed this; I guess he’s now in his “serious phase”? His next should be a war drama with Mel Gibson and Jim Carrey.
Moving even further up the list (#151–200), I recognize even more titles: Restless, Bellflower, Blackthorn, A Separation, Pariah, The Mill and the Cross, Le Havre, Weekend, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Machine Gun Preacher, The Future, Terri, Hobo with a Shotgun, Higher Ground, The Beaver, Attack the Block, Another Earth, Snow Flower and the Secret Fawn, The Art of Getting By, Delhi Belly, Take Shelter, A Better Life, and A Dangerous Method. I haven’t seen any of them; again, some intrigue me:
- #200. Restless: I really like Gus Van Sant and the fact that no one enjoyed this only makes me more curious.
- #195. A Separation: An Iranian film that lots of critics have been praising and I’ve seen and enjoyed a lot of Iranian cinema, which seems to be enjoying a New New Wave?
- #192. The Mill and the Cross: I heard a lot of promising things about Lech Majewski, so I watched one of his films—Angelus, I think?—and I was so thoroughly unimpressed that I now feel no excitement to see more, though a good friend saw a few (including this one?) and recommended him.
- #182. Le Havre: One of these days I mean to check out this Aki Kurismaki guy (said so unenthusiastically that I probably never will).
- #175. The Future: I didn’t like Me and You … all that much, but this one looks more promising, plus I love Miranda July’s early work. (Miranda, if you read this, please please please do a commentary track for this film in the style of “WSNO”!)
- #174. Terri: I’ve heard this is really good. But I take John C. Reilly’s presence as a sign to stay away.
- #169. The Beaver: I’m perverse.
- #166. Attack the Block: This is the one I’m most likely to see.
- #161. Another Earth: I’m vaguely curious because I like melancholy sci-fi. I also know I will never watch it.
- #152. A Dangerous Method: I quit watching Cronenberg films after eXistenZ because I love his older films too much to bear watching him wreck his career (and eXistenZ now seems like Eden). Probably I’ll eventually play catch up.
- And I’d watch a YouTube mash-up of Machine Gun Preacher and Hobo with a Shotgun.
I’ll stop there, because already I’m feeling exhausted. There are just so many films! What do we do with them all?
Well, we mostly ignore them.
This ended up being a tangent; I originally went to the IMDb just for some Box Office data. But let’s loop back around and see what we can conclude about all of this.
A completely random little film, Angels Crest, now seems to me somewhat worth seeing, purely because of its circumstance. It’s the lowest-grossing movie of 2011! In writing this I’ve read enough reviews that I kinda want to see it, even like it. It has some significance. (It’s #11,110—out of 11,151—on Box Office Mojo’s “All Time Domestic Box Office Results” list!)
As for the rest, why did I recognize the ones I did? Two reasons:
1. I recognized someone involved with the film, usually the director or an actor. Usually I’ve seen a previous project of theirs and had some reaction to it. Note that even when this led me to not want to see their new work—as in the cases of Nuri Bulge Ceylan and Lech Majewski—I still have some interest in knowing what they’re doing, because I have some (small) personal connection to their work. Even being able to grumble about something—”I can’t believe critics are still falling for that Ceylan hack!”—is an investment, a form of attention.
Sometimes, however, this can work against my seeing a film. For better or worse, I’ve decided that I’m not watching new Cronenberg films. Having missed Spider and A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, I can guarantee that I’m going to miss this new one. (Don’t bother trying to convince me otherwise; I’m just not interested in seeing new Cronenbergs right now. What could change that? I don’t know.) In the case of Kurismaki, I’ve not seen any of his films, so I wonder what would make me want to start watching any of them. A friend once recommended Leningrad Cowboys Go America. But the problem is, that’s the first film in a trilogy! Which creates an additional burden. The incentive here is that I’ve seen only one Finnish film, so watching Kurismaki would a way of fleshing out my film knowledge. But he’s also made so many films—another burden.
2. I regularly read Sight & Sound and the A.V. Club, which review a lot of films. And people can say what they want about the death of print, but the reason why I regularly read S&S and AVC is because I carry print copies with me for while riding the train, or using an elliptical machine. Thus, I know about Attack the Block, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Sleeping Beauty, others. Note that, even here, the involvement of someone whose work interests me—Lynne Ramsay, Tilda Swinton, Jane Campion—leads me to take special notice. Also, concept matters. The premises behind Attack the Block and Sleeping Beauty are catchy; they seem hip and sexy (unlike, say, Margaret).
That said, I find myself thinking more about Margaret, feeling increasingly compelled to see it. Mainly I’m curious about why I liked You Can Count on Me. Because if there’s one category or genre of film that I hate, it’s US independent films. I remember I saw YCCOM at the Normal Theater, a wonderful venue that always put me in a good mood. Would I despise that movie now? Feel the same? I’m curious. Watching Margaret, then, would offer some way of discovering something about myself—reexamining my relationship with US indie films.
That all said, the truth is that, as of late, I haven’t been in the habit of watching new films. I used to go regularly to the Music Box and the Gene Siskel Film Center. I like watching films at those venues, and trust their programming. So I’d allow them to whittle down for me the overwhelming number of new releases, presenting a narrowed list I could then choose from. And since I was in the habit of going to see films—since I was already devoting devoted time and energy to theater-going—it wasn’t too hard to then go see an occasional other film at another theater.
The past few years saw me gradually stop doing that. Various theater-going friends moved away, and I began focusing more on writing and exercise. So it I want to start watching new movies again, I’ll first and foremost have to rewrite my weekly schedule, carving out some regular time for it. (If only there were some way I could watch new movies while on an elliptical machine…like combo theater/gyms!)
All of this, I can see now, is a matter of identity. I look at the world—or the parts of it that happen to surround me—and I wonder what relevance any of it has to me. I need a reason, some motivation, to not ignore things. (I just talked about 21 films, which I selected from a list of 96 (#s 150-246)—which is to say, even while I was paying attention to some movies, I was ignoring 75 others.)
In the coming weeks, I’ll try to keep thinking along these lines. What causes us to stop ignoring so much of what surrounds us?