Here's a dirty little secret: sometimes film critics don't want to see movies. It's true. When we start out, ambitious and full of energy, we'll sit through any old thing, but after a while, when the formulas begin to wear on you, you can smell a turkey from watching the trailer. Sometimes you can smell a stinkbomb just from the title alone. I thought, for fun, I'd go over some titles I haven't seen and give you an idea of what might go through a critic's head. Of course, some of this is self-justification for not being able to see every single movie that comes through town. Frankly, it's impossible for one person to do, and so we resort to a porcupine-like defense, just in case anyone asks us about a movie we haven't seen: "It looked terrible."
Here's one: How to Cook Your Life (1 screen). What is that? Without even looking, it sounds like a bunch of actresses on a single set with too much dialogue, probably a lot of violin music and tears. And what could it mean? Why would I want to cook my life? It sounds painful, doesn't it? (It's really a film by the German director Dorris Dorrie about trying to equate cooking with Zen philosophy.) Then we have Hitman (9 screens), which irritated critics to no end, but seems to have pleased a fair number of moviegoers. Question: how many hitman movies have you seen in the past five or ten years? Is there an actor working today who hasn't played a hitman? What kind of brass cojones must it have taken to actually use the title "Hitman" on a middling, forgettable piece of work like this one?
OK, what about War/Dance (7 screens), which I skipped and which -- naturally -- went on to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary. First, you have that slash in the title, separating the two words. That just wreaks havoc on my sense of organization. Titles should just be words; they shouldn't have slashes. Then we come to the two words: "war" and "dance." That means it's either a war movie or a dance movie or both. I generally don't like war movies because they rely too much on a sense of self-importance and not enough on actual filmmaking, and I don't really know much about dance, so I never feel qualified to review dance movies. (Though I am a big fan of the ballet movie The Red Shoes.) One of the comments on IMDB calls the movie "important," which instantly makes me want to stay home.
That logically brings me to How She Move (120 screens), which immediately hooks you with its misuse of grammar. Most critics pride themselves on their writing and editing abilities, so just having to write out that title in a review is bothersome. Next, it's fairly obvious that it's another dance film, but not just another dance film: it's a film about teens dancing. This means that the teens in the movie will believe that they're the Greatest. Dancers. Ever. It'll be a giant pissing contest, only with dance. The teens in the audience will also believe that these are the Greatest. Dancers. Ever. ...Which means that when they read my inevitable bad review (which thankfully I never had to write) they'll immediately fire off hate mail. Who needs it? (Strangely enough, the critics seemed to like this better than the audience did.)
Taxi to the Dark Side (11 screens) is actually a great title, and it inspired me to look a little further into what it was about. Uh oh: it's another Iraq documentary, and I've seen more than my share. They're emotionally draining -- I get angry -- and I'm not sure I can handle any more. Not to mention the obvious question: are these films making any difference? Are the right people seeing them? Would another ten, twenty, 100 Iraq documentaries change anything? Although I have to admit, I said the same thing before I saw No End in Sight, which may actually be the definitive Iraq documentary -- at least from among the ones I've seen. Naturally, Taxi to the Dark Side also went on to be nominated for Best Documentary.
I had to look up The Game Plan (111 screens) to recall exactly what it was: it's a Disney family movie with Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson as a wealthy, stylish football star, who is suddenly forced to care for an 8 year-old daughter. I wonder if he wins the big game at the end? Despite the crushingly obvious story, this film has quietly gone on to earn nearly $100 million. I missed Lars and the Real Girl (19 screens) mainly due to bad timing, but once I saw the horrible-looking trailer, I didn't mind missing it. Now I'm kicking myself because it earned mostly happy reviews, and an Oscar nomination. I still don't understand how this movie about a guy who carts around a sex doll before learning to fall in love with a real girl could possibly be any good, but apparently it has melted many hearts. Another problem is that I kept getting it mixed up with Dan in Real Life, which I just hated, hated, hated. The word "real" attached to fake Hollywood comedies just doesn't click.