As I am a man who is not religious and not a huge fan of traveling during the Christmas holiday, I decided a few years back that I would begin spending my 9-11 free days off for Intercession (the true perk of working for an institute of higher education) in Boston. The first year, 2010, there were a ton of films coming out at the time, so I ended up spending quite a bit of time at the theater (seeing the likes of The Fighter, True Grit, Rabbit Hole, and the like), and the extra time also allowed me to catch up on some other films I had missed out on over the course of the year via Netflix streaming or Redbox (and this was basically the first time I started using Redbox as a service). By the end of it all, I had seen something like 18 to 20 films over the course of the break, and quite enjoyed myself doing so. It dawned on me that a new tradition was born.
This year was slightly different, as I now have MoviePass as a tool to help me see movies essentially for ‘free,’ so I am much more likely to catch a film sooner to when it comes out, and am also much less likely to see more than one film a day in the theater, as I would have to pay for any additional films past the first out of my own pocket. MoviePass is also likely to change the face of next year’s movie marathon, as I am more likely to see those bubble films I usually catch on Redbox this time of year (like a Savages or a Premium Rush or a Magic Mike) on their first release while still in the theater. Still, it’s a lot of fun for me, and a good way to prepare for awards season to ensure I see as many films as possible to form my own opinions about the best of the year. For I am a nerd and we do these things.
As is often the case, I did eventually get burned out of going to the actual theater, and skipped out on a couple of borderline films I wasn’t super thrilled about (namely Jack Reacher, Not Fade Away, and Promised Land). Part of the reason for this was the fact that the three holiday tent pole films this year were incredibly long, and somewhat grueling experiences, both positively and negatively. Seeing Django Unchained, Les Miserables and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on three straight days can take a lot out of you. It does not, however, slow down your ability to see films in the comfort of your own home and bed at your leisure, which was the dominant mode of viewing I chose. As the credits rolled on my Redboxed copy of Killer Joe last night, I had completed my marathon at 27 films, listed below with a snap letter grade I assigned just after seeing each film. I will also include some random reflections on individual films and the break as a whole (films with an asterisk denote that I had seen them previous to the marathon and were watching them again):
Love Actually* (DVD) B-
Savages (Redbox) B-
Premium Rush (Redbox) B+
Sleepwalk With Me (Netflix) B
Hyde Park on Hudson (Theater) D
Arbitrage (Redbox) B
Liberal Arts (Redbox) B-
Killing Them Softly (Theater) B
Django Unchained (Theater) A
Silent House (Netflix) C-
The Deep Blue Sea (Netflix) A-
Les Miserables (Theater) A+
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Theater, 2D 24 FPS) C-
Butter (Redbox) C+
Magic Mike (Redbox) B
Friends With Kids (Redbox) C+
Pitch Perfect (On Demand Rental) B
Bernie (Netflix) B-
This is 40 (Theater) C-
21 Jump Street (Redbox) B+
Arthur Christmas (Redbox) B+
The Queen of Versailles (Netflix) A-
Looper* (Purchased Blu-ray) A
Cosmopolis (Redbox) C-
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Redbox) A-
ParaNorman* (Redbox) A-
Killer Joe (Redbox) A-
I did find it interesting that, in a year that so many consider so strong for film (it’s tough to argue with them, and I haven’t even seen Zero Dark Thirty yet), I had quite a few profoundly negative theater experiences during the holiday rush. Hyde Park on Hudson, This is Forty and especially The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey were deeply disappointing. Luckily, Django Unchained and Les Miserables were the exact opposite, the kind of life affirming film experiences that reinforce my belief that the moving picture (whether film or well produced television) is the best possible medium to experience a story. Overall, I saw more good than bad, but I was surprised by how these films that arguably should be slam dunks (a Bill Murray vehicle about FDR, a new Judd Apatow comedy and Peter Jackson returning to Middle-earth) missed the mark so entirely.
One of the better things I watched this break that won’t make it onto the above list (due to not being a movie) was the 2012 Doctor Who Christmas Special, “The Snowmen.” It’s tough not to like a show where the first scene involves an Ian McKellen voiced snowman, and it just gets better from there. I was quite the fan of the Ponds as companions, especially Arthur Darville’s Rory (and the statuesque beauty of Karen Gillan didn’t hurt either), but it’s difficult not to love Jenna-Louise Coleman in her first two appearances as companion-in-waiting. I won’t go into much detail, because this is to be about the movies, but it made for a very strong Christmas night.
Another notable development of this year’s Intercession marathon was finally embracing the acting talents of both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey. I’ve always thought that DiCaprio had a tendency to be outacted as the lead by his supporting cast, whether it’s Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York (difficult for that not to happen), Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy in Inception, Matt Damon in The Departed or Mark Ruffalo in Shutter Island (which wasn’t even good), it always seemed like he was undeserving of top billing. So of course, when he is given a supporting role in a major film he does not have to carry on his own (in this case, the detestable Calvin Candie in Django Unchained), he shines. Similarly, I always had difficulty buying Matthew McConaughey in most of his serious roles; I’m not sure if it’s the residual silliness of Dazed and Confused or all of those terrible Kate Hudson romantic comedies, but he never clicked with me. Over the break, I watched Magic Mike, Bernie and Killer Joe, all of which featured McConaughey in supporting roles. He’s great in all of them, though I think his Magic Mike performance is a little overblown, and is specifically wonderful in Killer Joe, a film I almost didn’t watch specifically because of McConaughey’s involvement. I ended up going for it due to the combination of positive buzz and the rest of the cast, and was not disappointed. McConaughey is specifically awesome in that one, and while neither actor has completely won me over, my eyes have certainly been opened to their potential as pliers of the acting craft.
While my favorite film of the break was Les Miserables (my review posted during the break should do enough to explain that), I would say the best pure film of the break, in terms of overall quality of acting, directing, script, etc., was Django Unchained. Django felt like the shortest of the three marathon films of the season in terms of how I felt watching it in the theater (in actuality, it’s in the middle: it’s eight minutes longer than Les Miserables and four minutes shorter than The Hobbit). It’s wonderfully paced, expertly acted (Sam Jackson came out of nowhere in this one, easily his best performance since Unbreakable) and makes legitimate and unsettling points while spraying that signature Tarantino blood all over every white surface that can be found on screen (which in itself carries quite a bit of emotional and symbolic heft). For some reason (and to be honest, that reason is the one-two punch of Kill Bill and Death Proof), I thought Tarantino had lost his touch, so much so that I didn’t actually see Inglorious Basterds until earlier this year. He certainly has not lost his touch, and thankfully has made sure to refocus on some level of depth beyond his cinematic mixtapes of kung fu films, war films or blaxploitations/westerns. As a bonus, Django Unchained also includes the single funniest scene in any film I’ve seen this year. It’s still a Tarantino film, so the Tarantino-averse need not apply, but those who can stand the violence and the intense moments will find a true gem.
New Year’s Eve was a day on which I watched both Beasts of the Southern Wild for the first time, and Looper for the first time since its opening day at the end of September. Both of these films are notable for their high profile performances from incredibly young actors; Quvenzhane Wallis, the undeniable star of Beasts of the Southern Wild is only nine years old, and Pierce Gagnon’s Cid from Looper is seven. Wallis is getting all of the buzz, mostly due to Beasts of the Southern Wild getting the heftier buzz and her role essentially carrying the entire film, but I was especially struck by Gagnon’s performance while revisiting Looper. Gagnon’s role as the troubled child is a thankless one, involving lots of glowering at the camera while scaring Emily Blunt into diving into safes, but he does an incredible job for someone of his age. I haven’t put too much thought into awards season (again, blame the ethereal Zero Dark Thirty and its damnable January 11 wide release for that), and I’m not sure either child deserves to be in the running for Best Actress or Supporting Actor respectively, but these two are certainly to be followed in the coming years.
To be honest, this year’s marathon felt like a bit too much, and started to feel more like a job than a choice. I’m hoping that the motivation of getting more than my money’s worth on MoviePass will lead to being less reliant on using Redbox to catch up on films I should have seen while they were in theaters so I can lighten the load a bit next year, keep the number closer to 15 than 30. I almost burned myself out (I certainly felt this way after This is 40, and especially after Cosmopolis), but luckily for my sanity I had both League of Legends and XCOM: Enemy Unknown to break the monotony of the doldrums that set in during the later moments of Intercession. Still, I had a great time and would not trade it for the world. I have some mini-reviews for some of the pre-marathon films upcoming (Lincoln and Anna Karenina namely), and will be unleashing an onslaught of end-of-the-year retrospectives once I cross Zero Dark Thirty off my list. Be prepared.