I cared less about movies in 2017 than any year since I first fell in love with them. That feels weird to write, and even weirder to know is true, but there's not much sense lying about it. Since 2011, I've kept a running log of the movies I see throughout the year, both the ones that are new to me and those that I just felt like rewatching. My new-to-me tallies for the past few years:
Last year, though, that number dropped by more than half: in 2017, I saw just 31 movies that were new to me.
Part of this can be easily explained: I used to write reviews of new releases almost every week, which meant that without even trying I'd wind up seeing north of 50 new movies in a year. Add to that the movies that I sought out on my own time, and you can see how the numbers can grow even more.[footnote]I hit 104 in 2013 because I saw my total climbing and decided, almost arbitrarily, to see if I could log more than 100 for the year.[/footnote] But since I don't cover new releases like I used to, I'm not automatically exposed to as many movies as I was just a few years ago.
The bigger part of it, though, is just personal evolution. I still love movies, but most of the ones that come out I either don't care to see or don't feel any urgency about seeing. Yes, the viewing experience of the modern theater is part of this—the days of people silencing their phones and/or not talking during the show are long gone, if they were ever here—but it's more than that. I just don't feel the pull for some of these things like I used to.
In 2015, Karina Longworth—former film critic and one-time Film Editor and chief critic at LA Weekly—said the following about her shift away from film criticism and into the research and storytelling that would animate her podcast, You Must Remember This:
I don’t think I’m cut out to be the type of film critic—and, really, I don’t know how you’d be any other type of film critic—who sees every movie and has an opinion about them. I was seeing on average seven movies a week. As a person who is very interested in contemporary film, there are probably 25 to 30 movies in a year that I am legitimately, personally interested in. And so I was obviously seeing quite a few more films than that.
I found it very overwhelming. And I just wasn’t satisfied. I felt like there had to be different ways to talk about movies—there had to be different ways to get audiences engaged.
I think about that all the time. I still love the power of fiction, and I've written pieces about movies in the past year that I'm proud of, like this one on David Lynch and this one on the intersection of movies and video games. But I don't think that the traditional mode of what we collectively recognize as "film criticism" is satisfying for me anymore, and that's informed my movie-going habits accordingly. I'm not upset about any of this, either. I just think it's worth thinking about.
Boogie Nights (1999): A perfect movie. Mark Wahlberg will never in a million years recapture the mix of innocence, arrogance, and doom that he brings to Dirk Diggler.
A Serious Man (2009): I rewatch the goy's teeth every few weeks.
Sing Street (2016): What a fantastic, wonderful, uplifting movie. Killer soundtrack, too. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016): Brazenly, inventively awful. The first movie in the series was a fun action-thriller, but this ponderous sequel felt like punishment. Cold in July (2014): Slick, twisty neo-noir. It Follows (2014): Brutally effective horror precisely because it relies upon the suspension of disbelief we bring to movies. Objectively, we know we're just watching someone running from nothing, but in the world of the fiction, we know they're fleeing from something only they can see. It's like watching a perfect magic trick.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008): Still one of the most entertaining romantic comedies of the modern era.
Mulholland Drive (2001): I love everything about this movie.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016): No. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994): Guy Pearce is, predictably, amazing. They should do a real-time sequel in 2019.
Blade Runner (1982): When I first saw this, sometime in high school, Roy Batty came across as a legit villain. Now, though, he's just boundlessly sad. He has just enough awareness to know he will die very soon, and the movie is about him doing everything he can to save himself before dying anyway.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004): This plays a little stronger now than it did when it arrived, thanks to the way Wes Anderson's filmography has become more nuanced and affecting in its portrayal of prickly characters who don't know how to process their grief. Still, it's a bitter film, and not that pleasant.
All the President’s Men (1976): Writing is incredibly boring to watch. It's just research, drafting, editing, rewriting, voices swirling silently in someone's head. Hence, Alan Pakula's amazing direction on All the President's Men (shot by the inestimable Gordon Willis) is all the more stunning because it makes phone calls look thrilling. It's still the best journalism movie ever made.
Begin Again (2013): A romantic drama that actually ends in a surprising way, and gives each of its characters agency. Akira (1988): Stunning to watch, deeply fucked up, and unforgettable. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016): Ricky Baker for life. Affliction (1998): Nick Nolte is a powerhouse here. It's such a stunning, wrenching movie, with such a seemingly small story (small-town cop wrestles with personal issues) that becomes this universal look at how we're all fighting to escape the shadows cast by our parents. Midnight Special (2016): This was ... not good. Phoenix (2015): I love the high-concept premise—a woman who survives a concentration camp undergoes life-saving reconstructive surgery, such that her husband doesn't recognize her when she returns to him—and the directions the story takes are outstanding. It's also got one of the best endings I've ever seen. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017): Joss Whedon was a talented but by no means household name when he directed The Avengers. That film's massive success seemed to sever something in him, and he spoke openly about the pressure he faced and felt while helming the second Avengers movie. He even quit social media for a while after the second one came out. It's understandable. You make a hit, and suddenly the pressure is on to make it happen again but even bigger, and so you ramp up the scale and tone, and you wind up forgetting to tell an interesting story. Anyway, that's James Gunn and Guardians Vol. 2. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992): Absolutely mesmerizing.
Crimson Tide (1995): Such a weird mess, but quintessentially '90s.
The Mighty Ducks (1992): Ditto.
Doctor Strange (2016): I liked this more than I thought I would, though it suffers from the same thing all Marvel movies do: it hits you with effects and insanity full-force right away, so there's nowhere to go after that. Kill List (2012): Incredibly well made, and the elliptical approach to storytelling makes the core conceit (two hitmen working various jobs) feel more real. But it's not fun to watch, and the hard turns into different genres don't totally work. Wonder Woman (2017): Great. Baby Driver (2017): Also great.
Dunkirk (2017): Christopher Nolan's patriotism is beautifully rendered, and of course he finds a way to tell the story of Dunkirk evacuation in his own way, shuffling between three overlapping stories intersecting at different times.
Dune (1984): An amazing mess of a movie. David Lynch never should have agreed to this, and they never should have tried to squeeze so much of the book into the final product.
The Yards (2000): A wonderful crime drama from James Gray, who makes outstanding movies every few years that people sadly seem to overlook.
Score: A Film Music Documentary (2017): A huge disappointment. No through-line, no insight, no knowledge. If anything, it's just an excuse to trot out John Williams's greatest hits. (He only appears in archival footage, too.)
Blade Runner 2049 (2017): It's not just that it's overlong, though that's definitely a problem. It's that, for me, there's no real thrill or magic in seeing an unrequested sequel done entirely in the style of a much earlier film. Blade Runner was a mash-up of cyberpunk and noir that became its own thing, but 2049 feels like an ice-cold copy. Spielberg (2017): Solid documentary.
Get Out (2017): There's a reason everyone says this is one of the best movies of the year. Free Fire (2017): I finally found a Ben Wheatley film that I liked. Downsizing (2017): There are three movies here: a satire of modern technology; a dark political comedy about immigration; and a dramedy about the end of the world. Any one of the three would be fine. Together, though, they smother each other.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005): Sadly, not nearly as fun as I'd remembered it being. It feels very much like a clumsy adaptation, i.e., it only seems to make sense if you know the story already.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001): Holds up beautifully.
I, Tonya (2017): Look, you can watch Goodfellas all you want, but you'll never be able to make your own version. The Post (2017): Great story, direction, cast, all that. Spielberg is a machine for stuff like this. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): A fantastic movie. It's refreshing, zippy, different, and rock-solid in its determination not to re-create the rhythms and characters of the original series. We already had a hotshot pilot; now we get one learning the value of retreat. We already had a beneficent old teacher and an eager pupil; now we get a conflicted apostate and a confused young student. We already had someone born to a family of legacy; now we have someone who came from nowhere to find themselves in the middle of everything. The jokes work, the characters work, and it moves like a freight train. Just wonderful. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017): Not even bad enough to be entertaining. Just boring. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017): Searing, raw, excellent. It's a movie about people who don't know how to process their grief, so they turn to vengeance, anger, and self-harm. The Oscar should have its name changed to the Frances McDormand.
By the Numbers
Total films seen (new to me): 31 Documentaries: 2 Foreign (non-English-language[footnote]As opposed to, say, a British film, which is technically foreign for U.S. viewers but not what comes to mind when you think "foreign film."[/footnote]) films: 2 Movies released in 2017: 15 Movies released before 2017: 16 Movies released before 2000: 2 Movies released before 1950: 0 Of the ten highest grossers of the year (as of Dec. 31), I saw: 3
Favorites (in alphabetical order):
Affliction Get Out Phoenix Sing Street Star Wars: The Last Jedi Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me