Introductions + Explanations

[2015 note: Some of the below material is no longer relevant; full-essay reviews are no longer posted on a timeframe. Please see the introduction for up-to-date information on this blog’s format, and see here for some explanation about why I stopped writing long reviews for every film.]

A flattering number of people have told me they’ve wanted me to start writing about movies again. I want to as well. So that is happening, as of tomorrow.

Some explanations may be in order, personally and otherwise. We’ll start with the first, and you can feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if that sounds decidedly dull to you.

In 2008, I stopped watching movies. It began shortly after the end of a relationship when I realized I needed a major life change and eventually found myself out dancing (and later, DJing) downtown, sinking completely into those interests at the expense of most others, a vast departure from my routine up to then — for the prior four years I’d been so obsessed with movies that I couldn’t see one without writing an essay about it. But I’d gotten sick of spending so much time on my own, which gradually had become the way I experienced films exclusively. That fall I went and saw two, The Dark Knight and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, on my own — plus college screenings of Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances alone and Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge! with a friend. Between July ’08 and April ’09, those are the only four movies I saw… at all, home or otherwise, excluding things shown at bars with the sound off. And not only that, my tireless forum dwelling and investigation of what was happening in the movies, even with directors I absolutely loved, ceased altogether. The hobby, my confidence to write about it, and my confidence about most other things evaporated overnight. But this too passed.

The dormancy period vis-a-vis film criticism has lasted, of course, far beyond those nine months. But the organization and devotion I think is required to write with authority about something just hasn’t been mine in movie-terms until I hunkered down in the last year and began to carefully pick up the pieces, with the result that all this time later, I’m starting again where I left off. Or shortly behind where I left off. With my music blog running quite well and easily, and with someone in my home now quite willing to watch all sorts of movies of varying quality with me, I began 2011 intending to get this project planned in time for the new year. During these two and a half quiet years I’ve re-watched most of the films that were important to me at one time or another and seen a few new ones.

If you’re not joining us because you’re a reader of one of my other blogs, then you deserve to have some clue what you’re in for, because these movie reviews aren’t designed as a canon; they are firmly a product of my stoopid opinions, which are still evolving and reflective of a scholarship that makes no claim to being fully developed, and which you may or may not find interesting. Such context will be provided in two ways — first, via the decade-by-decade lists you can find above; then, more significantly, with the revision of my Movie Guide, that’s those letters above, a sometimes sardonic collection of capsule reviews of every movie I’m aware of having an opinion about. There’s also an introduction to the guide you can find here which explains the dreaded system of quantification (no longer using letter grades) and other marginalia.

Now, to the business of the full-length reviews. We will inaugurate this blog with one of the greatest movies of all time that I’ve loved for years but have never gotten around to properly writing about, not least because it’s an intimidating prospect. Thereafter, the first two months of entries will be dedicated to my catching up on various movies I missed during my period of total film-ignorance. I’ve only got time right now for the most major and major-to-me titles of 2008-10, but more will surely come across the desk later, so no need to remind me that I’ve skipped The Wrestler; we’ll come to it.

The standard format will be something like this. Three reviews will be posted each week, probably (but not definitely) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and sometime during the weekend (likely Sundays). Tuesday I’ll be writing about some new or new-ish movie, with new-ish defined roughly as springing from the current decade; this will almost invariably involve my girlfriend Amber and myself attending a screening at the local cineplex or even the local semi-art house (Cinematique, a weekly event at Wilmington’s Thalian Hall) or Redboxing slash Netflixing some recent title of interest. There will be some exceptions to this Tuesday setup, for instance if there’s an older film I’ve been recommended or have long wanted to see if an opportunity comes up. Generally, though, this will be the slot for the movies currently or recently in theaters. I live in a semi-rural area of southeastern North Carolina and it’s next to impossible (legally or otherwise) for me to see all of the relevant movies in a given year, so in contrast to my music blog, a year-end list will simply not be happening. Based on my current schedule, I’ll only have time to see ten movies made in 2011 before the spring, so a top ten of 2011 from me would be basically meaningless. Our parlance around here will be decade lists, so expect me to have something to say about the current crop in December of 2019. Until then… trust Manohla Dargis, she’s brilliant and probably right about whatever she says.

The Thursday review is what I meant above by stepping slightly backward. In 2006, I began a “lists” project, which was set to involve me seeing everything on various respected cinephile 100 Greatest lists that I hadn’t already. The first installment was the AFI List, which I’d seen about half of previously; it took a little under a year to fill that out. Well, we’re doing it again now, only this time everything on the list will receive a review. This time I’ll be using the 2007 revision of the list, with the movies newly extracted from that version to follow. My second project, completed just prior to my hanging up in ’08, was the IMDB Top 250, a user-based list which has of course changed radically since then. I’ll be doing a 250 runthrough again but not for a couple of years — in the meantime, I’ll be grabbing the list annually (on March 1 — the perfect time to get the 250, after Oscar season but before Oscar backlash, and after the excessive hype of the prior summer’s superhero flicks has died down) and posting it on the handy Lists Project page above.

(That Lists Project page is a really fun tool, incidentally, which we should mention before going further. Whatever lists or initiatives I’m currently working through, the relevant films will be listed there so you can click through to read the reviews immediately. The reviews will also be cross-referenced alphabetically in the Guide. I may or may not feel the need to add a Full Reviews index after a year or so; we’ll see.)

Finally, the weekend review will be a very long-term secondary concern called the Oscars project. This will consist of a run through the major Oscars and, eventually, the corresponding nominees. I’m not doing this as a way of vaunting the Oscars as having any authority of the quality of movies. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of the blandest American films ever made, but I also have high hopes of considering and catching up on some hidden, forgotten treasures so important at one time. Additionally, lesser awards like Supporting Actor/Actress and Screenplay frequently nod to extremely interesting movies, some of which I might not have seen. This again is a very long-term project and won’t be finished for quite a long time.

Hope all that makes sense. I reserve the right to change this format if I should become frustrated with it, but I’m really quite anal and I doubt that will happen. As implied, you will already find a list of the movies covered under the AFI and Best Picture Oscar projects in the cross references, and beginning in March, the Top 250 will be referenced there as well, to be recaptured and updated once annually.

Thanks for reading this. I am incredibly excited about getting this blog started and getting back to movie blather.

***

Now to some minutiae… If you are curious about the reviews I wrote prior to this, the majority of which will be revised or rewritten here (so I don’t necessarily stand by them!), they are permanently preserved as-is at their former home, my regular day-to-day weblog, under the “reviews” category. Click here; that tag also encompasses music and book reviews, but you won’t have to do much scrolling to find the film talk.

Those already familiar with the Movie Guide will, beyond the change in grading style (which is explained on its main page), find a number of new reviews scattered around, most of which correspond to movies (with the significant exceptions of Grindhouse and David Lean’s Great Expectations) screened in 2007 and 2008 that were never reviewed at length; you’ll have to find them yourself. (I’ve also modified, upgraded, and downgraded some of the old capsules based on evolving opinions, and those won’t be listed either.) But I will offer below a list of the movies I’ve added based on screenings since April 2009, since I’ve never actually written formally about them at all, but capsules are now in the Guide:

{A+ = A+ / hr = highly recommended / r = recommended / c = caution / NO = avoid}

ADVENTURELAND [hr]
THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT
AWAY WE GO [hr]
BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 [NO]
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS [r]
CORALINE [r]
THE DARK KNIGHT
THE DESCENDANTS [hr]
DOWNHILL [r]
EARTH
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED [r]
FANTASTIC MR. FOX [hr]
THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN [hr]
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO [r]
THE HANGOVER [c]
HUMBOLDT COUNTY [hr]
I HEART HUCKABEES [r]
IN A DARK PLACE [NO]
KISS KISS BANG BANG [hr]
KNOCKED UP [r]
KUNG FU PANDA [r]
LAKEVIEW TERRACE [NO]
LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS [A+]
NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? [r]
ORPHAN [NO]
PAPER HEART [r]
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS [c]
THE PLEASURE GARDEN [r]
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD [r]
SAVED
SEVEN CHANCES [hr]
THE SOCIAL NETWORK [hr]
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE [hr]
STRANGER THAN FICTION [r]
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK [A+]
THE T.A.M.I. SHOW [A+]
TOY STORY 3 [hr]
UP [hr]
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA [hr]
WALTZES FROM VIENNA
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE [r]

If you’re keeping score, that list includes only five movies released in 2010 or 2011, so you’ll contend I still have my work cut out for me.

A few of those movies listed did receive formal reviews that can be categorized as “prototype” entries for this blog. For completeness, they are linked here:

WALTZES FROM VIENNA
THE PLEASURE GARDEN
DOWNHILL
THE T.A.M.I. SHOW
THE DESCENDANTS
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Please enjoy the blog, and again, thank you so much. Oh, and I’m Nathan; hello to you.

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