The Cream Rises


The cream rises.

Not always and not as quickly as we might sometimes like -- but eventually, good work is found and disseminated, if not always celebrated.

This thought came to me as I tried to sort through the numerous films on display at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. So many movies, so much money -- why aren't more of them better?

Supposedly the New York Times ran reviews of more than 900 movies in 2013, which almost squares with my observation a year ago that, on any given Friday in New York, roughly 20 new movies open on a screen somewhere in the city. To see that many movies in a year, well, again, some rough math: You could do it if you watched three movies a day and took off one day a week plus a two-week vacation.

The Times, obviously, has a staff of critics and freelancers. No single critic could watch that many films, let alone review them, in a given year. Nor would he or she want to. Most important, nor should he have to.

Because the cream rises.

I've written in the past about the challenge of winnowing my way through the daily onslaught of screening invitations, DVD screeners and online links to stream a film. The number only seems to increase each week. I will take a day and a stack of screeners (or links) and apply my 20-minute rule: I'll watch for 20 minutes and then decide if it's worth continuing. Many don't even take that long.

Because a movie worth watching announces itself almost from its first frame. What you see in that first 15 or 20 minutes generally tells you what the rest will be like.

(Which doesn't mean I don't sometimes last longer -- but even at screenings, I have my limits. I walked out of the tedious Oscar winner The Great Beauty, after an hour, calculating that I'd seen nothing that made me want to sit through another 90 minutes of it.)

Still, there are way too many movies making it into the pipeline in one form or another. I would venture that, of those, roughly most of them will disappear into the infinite spaces of video-on-demand and the Internet, never to make the slightest dent on public consciousness.

Do I worry that some potential masterpiece is being mislaid, mishandled, ignored or boxed out? Not a lot, for a couple of reasons.

This commentary continues on my website.