Some years ago, I was a movie reviewer. I started out at UCLA, reviewing for the Daily Bruin, and then moved on to be the first critic for Los Angeles magazine. All told, I stuck it out for about a dozen years.
I was always struck by the fact that my readers would insist that I never liked movies, even after I’d just written a rave about, say, “The Apartment” or “Some Like It Hot.” The fact of the matter is that pans are simply more memorable than raves. For instance, I have friends who still recall after 40 years that in summing up “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” a god-awful Dick Van Dyke vehicle, I wrote that it started off with a bang, but ended up chitty.
I finally had my fill when every other movie seemed to be a bad comedy starring Jerry Lewis or some piece of tripe directed by a 25-year-old shmoe who figured that all he had to do was stick the camera behind a fern to be mistaken for the next Hitchcock or Billy Wilder.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that, all in all, I had had it pretty good. But it took seeing a rash of movies recently to drive that point home. At least back then, the inflated egos of the director and the star didn’t make it inevitable that every movie would run well over two hours.
As a rule, I don’t go out to see more than 10 or 12 movies a year, whereas in my reviewing days I’d easily see that many in a month. This past year was fairly typical until, like all the other members of the WGA, I received a slew of DVDs from the studios looking to garner writing awards.
Now, understand they’re not sending us the usual assembly line dreck that they’ve been letting loose since last January. These are their treasures, the movies that are likely to be Oscar contenders, God help us.
To be fair, I had seen some decent movies in theaters. I had seen “American Gangster,” which was okay, although it is not close to being in a class with “The Godfather,” as the ads would have had us believe. I did enjoy “Lars and the Real Girl,” although I can understand why some people didn’t. I thought it was funny, and I thought “Enchanted” was charming. From what I’ve seen, movies that are funny or charming are in dismally short supply.
This brings us to the DVDs. To begin with, the only one I totally enjoyed was “Juno,” which I found to be funny and charming. I’d be perfectly happy if it made a clean sweep of the Oscars, although, speaking as a betting man, I suspect it won’t win any.
I’m not sure if the French film, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” was really any good. It might be that my expectations of a movie about a stroke victim who’s lost the ability to speak were so low that the mere fact I could hang on to the end made it seem better than it was.