2014: The Year of Positivity

This was mostly my husband’s idea, but I figured I’d put up a little post about it so you know where I’m coming from this year. Current internet movie culture is all about extremes – everything is either the best or the worst thing ever made. I’m speaking in generalities, of course – there are many critics and bloggers writing on the internet who consistently bring a nuanced understanding of film (in general and in regards to specific films) to everything they write, but often the overall tenor of the conversation surrounding new releases, especially during summer blockbuster season, is one of two entrenched sides yelling either for or against a film with no middle ground possible.

I hate this.

Ultimately, both extremes are unhelpful to any sort of real criticism or understanding, but the negativity has been bothering me and Jonathan a lot lately. I mean, we’re in this because we love movies and we enjoy watching them and talking about them. So we’ve decided to try to make 2014 the Year of Positivity. I’m not entirely sure what this will look like or if it will turn out to be a beneficial thing for us or if it will end up making us dishonest and pandering about things that actually aren’t good and lose our discernment, but here’s kind of what I’m thinking at this point.

I’m going to skip most of the “big” movies in 2014. This is where most of the internet’s rage gets focused, for obvious reasons, and it’s also where fanboy mentality gets the most rabid, both for and against. This goal is made easy because with a 1-year-old in the house, I won’t be seeing too much of anything. The point is, I’m going to be extremely selective. These are the films that are most likely to have inflated expectations, end up disappointing, and become the center of extremist debates.

If I do see something I don’t like, I’ll probably just avoid writing about it. I am going to try to write more in 2014, but I find I’m much happier writing about things that, well, make me happy. I tend to do that in general, but I’m going to do it with purpose this year.

If I see something that has some elements I liked and some I didn’t, I will likely focus on the things I liked. This may lead to me giving some films a pass that don’t deserve it, but in truth, I really do like most films. I’m going to stop making myself apologize for that by pointing out all the problems.

Vivre_resized

I’m going to steal Ryan McNeil‘s concept of taking a “souvenir” from every movie I see. Even movies I don’t like almost always have SOMETHING I did like. A certain scene, or a performance, or some dialogue, or something. I’m going to take those souvenirs and treasure them.

I’m going to avoid phrasings like “xyz thing was good in the film, but…abc other thing was not.” It’s really easy to write that way, and I’ve done it a LOT in the past. Really, for me it’s a way to feel nicer about tearing a movie down, because hey, I gave it some props first. I don’t want to be like that. Similarly, I’m going to avoid phrasings like “xyz thing was good; too bad abc other thing made xyz thing not matter.” I’m not saying that everyone who uses these rhetorical tactics is wrong to do so, and sometimes they are appropriate, but I know that my tendency is to overuse them so my review feels more “balanced.” Whatever that means.

Really, I probably won’t write “reviews” as such. I haven’t really done that for a while, and even though I hope to write more this year and about more films that I watch, I have little interest in the consumer guide form of criticism, and enough sites are doing a much better job of that than I can I at this point in my life, anyway. Hopefully I can find some other way to make my blog useful.

sullivans-travels-resized

I’m not going to get involved in internet debates over whatever the hot-button film of the moment is. That is, I’m not arguing over whatever 2014’s Prometheus turns out to be. I’ll give my opinions, I’ll give the reasons for them, and agree to disagree if it goes further than that. Basically, if it’s going to get me mad, I probably won’t engage. Life is too short to spend it getting angry over a film we’ll all have moved on from in six months.

I’m not going to get involved in the hype cycle. I already tend not to watch trailers because I want to go into movies as fresh as possible. Beyond that, movie marketing has gotten insane with all the trailers and posters and teasers for trailers and posters and casting news and casting rumors and everything else. It’s too much. I’m exhausted before the movie even comes out. And then two weeks after it opens, everyone’s on to the next one. It’s ridiculous, and I’m done with it.

This post has a lot of negativity in it, in talking about all the things I don’t like about current movie fan culture on the internet. I’m going to try my darndest to have this be the last time I mention that, too.

I love movies. I take great joy in watching them and sharing them with others. If they’re not as a whole bringing me joy, something is wrong. The Year of Positivity is an experiment. I’m excited to see how it goes.

Cinema-Paradiso

  • Bravo! I’ve been trying to do something similar, though I’m not going as far and will still write about movies that I didn’t like. I’m just hoping to avoid going to extremes and to try to dig into what didn’t work for me with enough detail to make it not fall into the usual categories with words like “bad” and “hated” being avoided.

    With both a 10-month-old and four-year-old at home, I can understand about missing the big movies. My big thing is that we may go see Gravity next weekend in the theaters. I’m thinking this is the year that I embrace VOD and watch more indie films on demand. I think that’s the way to veer when your schedule makes it a challenge to get out of the house.

    • Yeah, digging deep in detail is really the way to go. That’s what I’d ultimately like to do, and hopefully will in 2015. I feel like 2014 being the year of positivity is a palate cleanse of sorts, focusing as much as I can on liking things. Then I think I’ll be able to be more balanced overall afterwards. We’ll see how it goes.

      I think VOD is a great solution; there are also plenty of things on Netflix Instant, even from 2013, that I want to see. It’s just hard right now even to watch stuff at home. I’d think it’d be even worse with two! We manage one a week on Sundays for sure and sometimes fill in others when we can, but usually by the time the baby goes to bed, we’re too exhausted to focus on a movie and just watch TV. Or play video games – we’re both pretty entrenched in our games at the moment and steal as much time as we can for that.

      • I keep trying to start playing video games again (at least on my PC), and I can’t find the time. I bought Dragon Age: Origins in September, and I’ve barely gotten out of the first town!

        I’m watching maybe three movies a week at this point, and that takes some serious diligence. We’ve cut back on a lot of our TV watching. If a show isn’t grabbing me, I drop it pretty quickly. I’m also trying to find time to play tennis, get in the pool, and see family and friends.

        As you know, it’s quite a challenge!

  • I set out a few years ago to counter the pass/fail hyperbole with deeper analysis and discourse, and along the way I found that positiveness rose to the surface almost on its own. Like you, I go into every movie actively rooting for it to be a great experience. You’ve read some of my reviews, so you know how long-winded I can get. I do sometimes acknowledge elements that stumble, but I think my typical review is largely positive. I mention this primarily because you indicated a trade-off from writing a proper review in order to sustain the emphasis on positiveness, and I believe you’re both passionate enough about movies and talented enough as a writer to avoid making that sacrifice.

    I think you’ll find yourself connecting differently with the movies you watch this year. You may become more protective of some of them. I’ve adopted a few “misunderstood” movies the last few years myself. In any event, I look forward as much to your reviews this year as to seeing what spillover effect this approach has for you in general. I think you’ll dig it.

    • My thoughts on reviews in general are pretty muddled at this point. I don’t really enjoy writing them, I rarely read them, and I don’t particularly like them. I have trouble staying true to what I actually think when writing reviews, because I feel like I have to account for what others will think – I don’t really think that’s a healthy way to approach reviewing, but I have trouble moving away from that model, which is why I tend to avoid the straight-up review format completely now. Maybe someday I will mature enough in my writing to come back to it, but right now I feel better off if I just don’t do them. Or maybe I just don’t call them “reviews.” :)

      I don’t know that I go into every movie rooting for it to be a great experience – maybe. I certainly don’t go into every movie expecting or even hoping for it to be a great movie. But an experience is a different thing than a movie. You can have a great experience with a bad movie, or even (exceptionally) at a mediocre movie). You can have a bad experience with a good movie. I think I go into everything expecting to have a good time. A great time might be pushing expectations too far. :) I think inflated expectations are a huge problem in today’s moviegoing culture. I went into Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters last year expecting to have some laughs and see some ridiculous gore. I got what I wanted out of it, and I enjoyed it.

  • I think this is great. My blogging is pretty much solely review-based and my approach is very ‘nuts and bolts’; pointing out what I think works and what doesn’t (rather than deeply analysing content), which sounds like what you’re rallying against this year. However, I do share your general feeling of enjoying most films that you watch. If you read my reviews you’ll notice it’s rare that I give scores less than 3 stars because although I can often find a few niggles with a film or it can be a bit of a disappointment, I usually still enjoy the experience of watching it.

    And as for your boredom with covering the “big” films I’ve been with you in that camp for a while. The vast majority of my reviews these days are re-released classics (other than when we get around to recording a podcast). I can’t be bothered to chip in my lone opinion on the latest blockbuster when there are a thousand others doing the same. More importantly than that, I’m getting increasingly bored with blockbusters anyway. I used to be counting down the days till the Superbowl to watch the latest “big” trailers. This year I haven’t bothered to watch any of them.

    So I’m looking forward to reading about your “year of positivity”. I’d be tempted to try something similar, but I’m addicted to getting free screeners so will probably be keeping up my standard reviewing for a while.

    • I actually enjoy reading your reviews, David. They’re very fair and informative, and not at all pandering, which is what I think mine tend to devolve into if I’m not very careful. I don’t have a problem with people who write reviews and are good at it (especially when they review older things as much as you do, which I think is great), it just isn’t the best format for me right now, I think.

      I haven’t been really covering big films myself for a couple of years. I used to keep up with them, though, and I think I’m even done with that this year. I want to see Captain America because I enjoyed the old-fashioned feel of the first one and I generally like how Marvel’s doing their stuff, but that’s probably the only major tentpole blockbuster I’m interested in this year. Certainly the only sequel/franchise movie. But I haven’t watched any trailers or sought out any coverage of it at all. :)

      I think a lot of The Year of Positivity is going to come down to avoiding petty internet conflict. “Watch what you like” should be obvious, but it’s an adjustment for someone like me who used to have aspirations of writing movie criticism for a living, and all the feelings of needing to keep up that goes along with that. This year is a cleanse.

      • Thanks, that means a lot. I’m never sure how many people actually read my reviews as they don’t tend to get a lot of comments. I guess that’s understandable for older releases though as they’re not ‘hot topics’ at the front of people’s minds.

        All the best with your Year of Positivity. I hope your little lady is doing well (1 year old already!) Ours is keeping us on our toes and I can see it getting crazier in a few months when she learns to crawl!

        • Yeah, that’s the downside to posting about older things. I enjoy it more myself, but the comment return is for sure lower.

          They definitely keep you busy! Ours is right on the cusp of walking. Total loss of control. :) That said, she can entertain herself somewhat now, which is easier.

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