Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

By the numbers

It’s a bit premature to begin pronouncing on the general quality of films released in 2010. For one thing, 2010 isn’t quite over yet. And studios tend to backload what they consider their most promising movies toward the final days of the calendar year to optimize the Oscar buzz. So many of the major 2010 releases won’t be seen by most of us until 2011.

But that hasn’t stopped many professional critics from giving their summations of the year already. Lucky them, they may have already seen most or all of the major releases that the rest of us are waiting for. This used to bother me, but it doesn’t so much anymore. In relatively recent years, it seems as though a lot of those high-profile big studio year-end releases that are touted for the Academy Awards—and maybe even pick up a few or many nominations—come and go without leaving much of a ripple, at least in my life. Every so often there is a colossus that seems to stick around all the following year, but for every Titanic or Avatar, there seems to be a slew of Cold Mountains or Benjamin Buttons that get mentioned a lot and figure in the Oscar telecast but don’t make as much of an impression on me as, say, Son of Rambow or Millions. Maybe saying those changed my life is a bit strong, but those low-budget, simply told tales certainly live on in my memory and my heart longer than most of the Hollywood big budget stuff that gets hawked “for your consideration” in the trade press.

Okay, maybe that’s me being a snob again. But my point is not that low budget is good and big budget is bad. My point is more that Christmas time may not be a great time to release movies. Maybe one time it was. Maybe there once was actually a mythical time when families and individuals had more time to give attention to a big new movie during the holidays, when people were off work and/or kids were off school. But that bandwidth seems to have long since been filled up. The popular culture and the ever sprawling media have filled up whatever recesses of peace and quiet once existed around Christmastime—if there ever was such a thing. When was the last time you went to see a brand new Christmas movie and got the same satisfaction you got from pulling out a DVD of White Christmas or The Muppet Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life? Just out of curiosity, do you ever go the shelf in December and pull out your copy of Fred Claus or Christmas with the Kranks? Just asking.

Anyway, I started out here by contending that it’s still a bit early to pronounce on the general quality of movies released in 2010. But it’s certainly not too early for me to pronounce on the quality of movies I personally have seen in 2010 as of this date. Whether it is ever the right time for anybody to be interested in that pronouncement, of course, is a different question entirely…

So, how have the first 350 days of my year gone film-wise?

First, let’s stipulate that there was no Lord of the Rings or anything of that caliber. That automatically means that the year hasn’t been as good as it could or been or, indeed, as good as certain past years. No movie to date has rated “great” on my curiously rigorous yet tolerant rating scale. If that holds for the next fortnight, it will make two years in a row that no new movie has cracked my coveted four-star ranking. The last year any film was so honored was 2008, when both Slumdog Millionaire and Son of Rambow, in that order, rose above the “very good” category. Having said that, I can say that I sincerely enjoyed each the movies in my top-ten list. None of those films are there by default. I really liked my (as of this writing) No. 1 movie The Runway, although, true to form, few other people seem to have gotten a chance to see it. Let Me In, Kick-Ass, Inception and the rest were all worth seeing as well.

On the other end of the scale, so far only two movies (both about vampires: Eclipse and Vampires Suck) have landed in the bottom “not okay” category. That’s about par for the course. Last year there were three flicks (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, the documentary Three Miles North of Molkom and the Irish comedy Zonad) in that category. The year before that, there was only one (the unfunny comedy Over Her Dead Body). But if few movies each year wind up in my bottom category, it certainly has less to do with the general quality of movies than the fact that, like any rational person, I do my best to see movies that I actually think I will like.

If I want to get nerdy and analytical about it, 2010 has been about average, if not a bit better, when compared to the rest of the past decade—at least in my own personal rankings. For the ten years ending on December 31, the ratings break down as follows: 1.43% great, 30.59% very good, 62.6% good to okay and 5.39% not okay. The corresponding values for 2010 are 0% great, 35.29% very good, 58.82% good to okay and 5.88% not okay. But 2010 was not nearly as good a year as 2008, which had 3.64% great, or 2006, which had 2.9% great (thanks to the release that year of two great movies, Paul Greengrass’s United 93 and Paul Weiland’s Sixty Six). I suppose, in a way, any year that you don’t get at least one movie that can be classified as great, is not a great year for movies—no matter how many flicks fell into the “very good” category.

On average, the number of stars I give to movies is surprisingly consistent. The average for 2010 is 2.29 stars per movie, which is very close to the average of the decade as a whole (2.28) and falls well within the range for the decade, which runs from 2.19 to 2.42. I guess I am a bit soft because I am an easy grader.

But there is another measure that is probably even more key to determining whether it was a good year for me in terms of movies. When it comes to movies originally released in 2005, I have seen 78 of them. For the years 2001, 2002 and 2003, I have seen at least 70 movies. But, so far, I have seen only 34 movies that have been released in 2010. That number will continue to grow next year and even in years after that, as I continue to catch up with movies released in 2010. But I still have to think it would a better year if I had seen still more movies. No matter how many stars each of them got.

-S.L., 16 December 2010

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