December is generally a time of year for wrap-ups. Semesters end, new-year preparations are made and, in the entertainment world, everyone with an opinion and a pen feels compelled to offer up his picks and pans of the previous 12 months.
I love picking up magazines around this time of year and seeing the headline “Film Year in Review” or some variation thereof. But a subsequent glance at said review usually leaves me with the same feeling of shameful embarrassment as a perusal of the yearbook from my freshman year of high school would.
Ugh, did I really go and see “Collateral Damage” back in February? Yikes, was the year that bad that “Attack of the Clones” is considered to be one of the top “films” (a term to be used loosely when describing the latest “Star Wars”)? Man, were Nike warm-up pants really a fashionable thing to wear in 1995?
I shudder to think of even hypothetical responses. For me, the waning weeks of the year are always about looking ahead, not reflecting on which cross-dressing comedy, “Sorority Boys” or “The Hot Chick,” most makes me want to walk into oncoming traffic.
For some reason, the nature of entertainment journalism requires lists — writers and publications must judge this or that movie the best of the year with the sort of unwavering confidence that makes all other picks look foolish. Ok, here I go, the top movies of the year … were decided by Hollywood producers a long time ago.
Although it isn’t easily apparent, the present incarnation of the Hollywood studio system is critically prescriptive. Sorry to crush any egos, but the superiority of any given movie over another is not determined by its reviews, box-office receipts or even how many damn people are spouting its tagline the next day. It has come to be determined by its release date.
This is the reason summer has come to be known as “blockbuster season” and December through February as “award season.” It’s also the very thing that makes it impossible for me to offer you the top 10 films of the year — they haven’t been released yet.
That’s correct, right now, people like Jack Nicholson of “About Schmidt,” Julianne Moore of “Far From Heaven,” and director Peter Jackson of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” are all eyeing their Oscars — look for their films at a theatre near you sometime soon.
Hollywood’s reasoning is quite sensible. Summer is the season of the event movie. Consumers’ expendable income is matched only by the amount of leisure time in which they have to spend it. Knowing this, film producers seek to get as much of that expendable income into their pockets by offering spectacle, bombast, and, well, Jerry Bruckheimer.
They save films like “Adaptation” and “The Hours” for the winter partly to avoid these box-office behemoths of summer. Mainly, they’re given December/January releases in order to keep them fresh in both viewers’ minds and those of Academy voters come late March.
Recent Best Picture winners “Forrest Gump” and “Gladiator” were released in July and May, respectively, but a film’s would-be Oscar count should not be the sole criterion in making an end of the year list. And that’s just the problem.
So many films striving to make these year-end lists use Oscar as their sole gauge of success, knowing that if they take home one of the golden little guys their home-video receipts will make up for what they may have lost at the box office.
What this means for movie-goers is a long, straight spell of crap from about March to November. Filmmakers that release indie gems in this period of time more often than not go overlooked, because they don’t get the financial and public-opinion bolstering provided by that prized preface: “Academy Award winner …”
What this means for the entertainment journalist is perpetual frustration — any attention I try to call to a great movie in the springtime is promptly drowned out by summer blockbuster hoopla; if I do it now, that film has the stigma of Oscar-pandering attached to it.
Thankfully, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a much better chance of coming away from the theatre happy now than if you were to go to a flick in June. If only that element of surprise were there once in a while …