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Bracing for Summer Fireballs: What the Movie Scheduling Rut Says About Film Criticism

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Bracing for Summer Fireballs: What the Movie Scheduling Rut Says About Film Criticism

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You know it’s almost summer when the previews at the movie theaters begin erupting and exploding. The summer action blockbuster is a pop cultural institution, its own sub-genre of film that sets the best cinematic conjurors in competition, each one-uping our expectations and trying to combat increasing desensitivity toward visual acrobatics. These movies have more to do with sport than art, and as a result, they can boast the most thrilling and entertaining experiences of the year (or, conversely, the dullest, most soul-numbing experiences of our lives).

But are studios too locked in the regular scheduling of movie releases that sees springs filled with foreign films, summers crammed with shoot-‘em-ups, and falls featuring Oscar contenders? That’s what the Houston Chronicle’s Amy Biancolli argues:

Why not mix it up a bit? Just for a change, how about filling one of the year-end Oscar slots – normally reserved for a classy Clooney vehicle – with, oh, some incredibly loud Vin Diesel flex-a-palooza? Tell you what, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage would slide in nicely alongside the latest masterful rumination on evil from the Coen Brothers.

As a critic and a film buff, I tire of the same-old same-old release schedules – and I resent the patronizing implication that viewers are mindless, hopeless drones who just can’t handle any changes. Rest assured, if a studio releases The Best Damned Movie in the History of the World in February, there is no chance that I’ll forget it by the time I assemble my Top 10 list the following Christmas. Instead, I’ll recall it fondly as the film that saved me from the gnomes.

I think Biancolli is right. I sometimes wonder if Winter’s Bone and Animal Kingdom both played high on my year end list in 2010 precisely because they offered respite from some of the other winter-spring fair. That raises an interesting point about this game of critical evaluation, something which I was reminded of last night while serving as a judge for the 24 Hour Video Race: as much as we like to believe we can step back and make politely informed and impartial decisions about the quality of a work, quality is a quality that exists in relation to other qualities. In other words, Pirates of the Caribbean looks mighty good after you’ve sat through Thor, but irrelevant and base after viewing The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Was King’s Speech really last year’s best film, or was it the best film of the ones we saw last?

Image via Orlando Special FX