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Tuesday, 18 September 2012


Yesterday, I saw my 36th film released in 2012. (John Hillcoat's Lawless).

If I want to get to last year's total of 121 before my late January ranking deadline, I'll have to see 85 more films from 2012 in just over four months. That's more than 20 per month -- a high total even if I were to forgo watching my usual complement of older films.

So yeah, I ain't gonna be seeing another 121 films before the morning the Oscar nominations are announced. But at this point it's looking like even 100 films is pretty unrealistic.

Which is why it was sort of disappointing I ended up watching The Dictator a second time on Saturday night. 

My wife and I had talked about watching something new for our Saturday night movie, and I was all excited to add to my paltry total of 2012 films. But the Redbox options were pretty thin. The most interesting choices I scouted at a kiosk on Saturday afternoon were The Woman in Black, Lockout, Mirror Mirror and Man on a Ledge. Really, I'm not even interested in Man on a Ledge, but I took it down as a possibility because both my wife and the movie's star (Sam Worthington) are Australian. (Similar logic held for Guy Pearce and Lockout, though I am interested in seeing Lockout.)

She did some of her own research online, and mentioned two titles: The Dictator and Bernie.

Both of which I'd already seen.

Both of which I'd really liked, but both of which I'd already seen.

She knew I'd seen them -- actually, she'd forgotten I'd seen Bernie -- but her response to my four movies was less than listless. Which I certainly understand. If you don't watch that many movies these days, you want the ones you do watch to be good. Most people aren't just checking things off lists, like I am. (And toward that end, at least now I know I'm clear to watch those four movies on my own.)

She wouldn't have forced me into The Dictator or Bernie, but I was in an agreeable mood, so I gave her the choice of which one she wanted to see more. She chose The Dictator. And so it was written, and so it was done.

And so I got another large helping of Sacha Baron Cohen offending all races, religions and people of refined tastes in equal measure.

As it happens, this stuff plays a lot better on a first viewing.

But I didn't go into the viewing feeling pessimistic about it. After all, there's a precedent for this kind of thing. It was around this time last year that I watched Greg Mottola's Paul for the second time, under similar circumstances. I had already seen and loved it, and I wanted my wife to do the same.

The big difference? I felt the active desire to see Paul a second time, while I suspected that The Dictator would not survive another viewing in my good graces.

Indeed.

But another big difference is where I find myself within the ranking year. Right now, I'm staring at my lowest total of movies in a year since I started writing this blog back in 2009, and probably for a couple years before that. Which shouldn't be a huge surprise. With each passing year, my responsibilities increase, and my free time to fritter away on movies grows less and less. Even if I know it's probably inevitable, it's still depressing.

I'm choosing to look at my second viewing of The Dictator as a blessing in disguise, though. Since watching it the first time -- the night before it came out, if you remember this post -- I've heard several people say they utterly detested it. Which got me wondering if it was just my release-eve screening and the vibe people had going that made me like The Dictator so much -- that made me, in fact, declare it the best of Cohen's three star vehicles.

My second viewing disabused me of some, though not all, of those notions. The four stars I had deliriously given it on Letterboxd should clearly be revised down to at least a 3.5, possibly even a 3. And some of the things that made me laugh the first time just made me groan this time.

But even as I treaded more water on assembling my 2012 list, I did gain a benefit from seeing The Dictator a second time. Now I won't go and do something foolish like put it in my top 10 for the year. In fact, I came very close to putting last year's Hall Pass in my top 10, until I watched that again before my deadline. It only went down to #12, but that felt better than at #8, where it had been previously. (Out of 121 movies. Yes, I know how that looks.)

In an ideal world, you'd see all the movies you could possibly see in a given year -- and then before you finished your rankings, you'd see them again. Only then could you really have a good sense of what belongs where.

The reason for this is pretty simple: context. Our feelings toward movies are so dependent on context that a single viewing of a movie can often be skewed in one direction or another by a very good or a very bad viewing scenario. Over two viewings, the context averages out a bit and becomes less important. You could say that The Dictator desperately needed a second viewing, to offset the unusual circumstances of watching it in a packed theater with a game crowd on the night before it opened. You could say that for me to assess it in a way that more accurately represented my true feelings toward it, The Dictator desperately needed a second viewing at home on the couch, one where I was cringing with the sense of personal responsibility for every offensive thing Cohen's character said or did. (You see, a certain ownership comes with recommending a movie.) My wife has a good sense of humor and laughs at many of the same things I do, and to be honest, this kind of cringing is key to the bite of Cohen's comedy. But I still felt embarrassed a couple times at the enthusiasm of my prior endorsement, given the true comedic quotient of what was up on screen.

The true quality of The Dictator probably lies somewhere between the two.

Maybe I'll discover that on my third viewing next month.

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