A New Philosophy

March 14, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

A few weeks ago, after seeing both Welcome to Mooseport and Eurotrip during the same week, I came to a conclusion: it is time to change the philosophy I use in determining which movies to review. I wasn't particularly interested in either film, yet I saw them because the opportunity was there. For someone like me, who doesn't make a significant income from day-to-day reviewing, "opportunity" is no longer enough. It has to be married with something else, like "interest."

From December 1991 until December 1996, I saw almost every movie available in local theaters. Big budget, low budget, no budget - it didn't matter. Often, I virtually lived in multiplexes on Fridays and Saturdays, occasionally seeing as many as six movies in a 28-hour period. (I then spent most of Sunday writing.) I recall someone asking why I endured so many bad movies. I responded: "This way, when I eventually stop seeing them, I'll know what 'bad' really means."

From 1997 until the present, I based my viewing on opportunity. Essentially, if I had a free weeknight and there was a screening, I would go. Throw in an occasional Saturday afternoon matinee and weekday morning show, and I could still see most of what was out there. There were omissions, but never anything I was terribly excited about. Nevertheless, as I became more selective, my annual review total slowly declined. Last year, for example, I reviewed 171 theatrical releases (compared to 233 in 1993). And that's probably too many.

So, beginning this month, I have decided that I will attend only movies for which I can generate some enthusiasm. It's the difference between looking at the clock and noting, "Oh no, I have to get ready to go to a screening" and "Oh good, time to get ready to go to a screening." That's not to say everything I see is going to be worthwhile. It's impossible to make that determination beforehand. (This year, for example, I would have seen The Perfect Score regardless, because I was interested in Scarlett Johansson's performance.)

This will result in a slight drop in review totals. At this point, I expect to post around 140-150 theatrical reviews for 2004 (still a respectable number). The goal is to average about three new reviews each week. There will be an increase of video reviews. Although some of the time I save from seeing 25 fewer movies will be devoted to mundane domestic tasks (like lawn care), some of it will go into spending more time in my home theater.

So don't expect to see reviews of fare that's geared primarily for kids or pre-teens. No low-budget, mindless action films. No pretentious, only-for-the-arty-crowd melodramas. I will most likely still see all (or nearly all) of the would-be-blockbusters. My ultimate goal is to become a little less cynical about movies, and to perhaps have more fun when I sit in a theater. Hopefully, this will be as good an explanation as any as to why I won't be reviewing as many new films in 2004 as I did in years past.