Picking DVDs

October 14, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

Every once in a while, someone writes to ask how I choose which older DVDs I review. After all, there doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to it. At the moment, as I engage in an alphabetically themed stretch, there are two rules: (1) The movie title must begin with a letter of the alphabet not already "taken", and (2) It has to be a movie I recommend (3 stars or better). After December, when I post the final movie of this series, those rules go away. Starting in January 2007, I will be picking a few less-than-stellar choices and there won't be any title restrictions. (My goal for next year is to write between 25 and 30 older reviews, or about one every other week.)

There is a third unwritten rule, and that's that the DVD must be in my collection. I'm not a "rental" person. It has been about eight years since I rented a video tape or DVD. From time-to-time, my wife gets a short-term Netflix subscription (she uses it for a few months then lets it lapse), but I have watched only three or four of the titles she has rented over the years. If I want to see something, I usually buy it. I purchase a lot of used DVDs, and those can be snapped up for low prices. In some cases, the shipping exceeds the cost of the disc.

At $20 a month, Netflix is cheap, and it's not labor intensive, but if I can have a movie to keep for $5-$10, I would rather go that route. There's a little risk in this approach, especially if I'm picking up a title I know little about and haven't previously seen, and that's how I have ended up with some dogs in my collection.

My collection includes a fair number of studio supplied screeners, but no pirated movies. As a film critic, it would be hard for me to maintain a level of credibility if I pirated or purchased pirated material. While my attitude toward home piracy (as opposed to commercial piracy) is considerably more lenient than that of the zero-tolerance MPAA, I recognize that piracy is illegal. What's more, for someone in my position, obtaining an illegal copy of a motion picture is unethical. I hold myself and other critics to a higher standard than I do fanboys. When a critic pirates a movie, irrespective of the reason (and I have heard a lot of creative ones), it's a breach of ethics. Not everyone agrees with me, but that's to be expected.

So, how do I choose the titles of movies I review? Is there a master list? Not really. Typically, I go into my basement, wander past shelf after shelf until something catches my eye. It's often a movie I haven't seen in a while and want to revisit. My mood plays a part in the choice. At times, I feel like watching something fluffy. On other occasions, I'm ready for something more substantive. That's how the aphabetical series ended up featuring Xanadu and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

So, for those who asked (and those who didn't), there's a little insight into how I choose my titles. If you're into guessing games, feel free to play along... The last two reviews I will write in the alphabet series will be posted on December 16 and 23. They will begin with "B" and "C", respectively. At this point, I have planned them out, which is unusual. One is the most requested title for a review I have gotten since I came on the Internet scene and the other is appropriate for the time of year. Those are big enough clues that anyone should be able to figure out what they are. (If you feel compelled to e-mail me, you'll get a one-word respose: "right" or "wrong.")