Cartel Land

A few weekends ago I went on a fried chicken crawl around the downtown core. The goal was for each team to sample the wares at four different eateries and rate them based on a predefined ranking system. Everything from the crust, taste, sides, and overall value was up for scrutiny. As one observer joked on social media, we were all running the worst type of marathon for our health.

I have been thinking about that day a lot now that I find myself in another marathon of sorts. Granted this one is more of the cinematic variety, but it is probably as equally bad for my health considering the lack of actual exercise involved.

As award season is in full swing, I have been in my own Rocky-style training montage slurping films as if they were glasses of raw eggs. While choosing which film should get a nomination spot in a given category is as almost as difficult as choosing the perfect outfit to wear on a first date; picking which films to see prior to filling out my Online Film Critics Society ballot has proven equally challenging.

While it is impossible to see everything, there are only so many hours in the day, figuring out what actually falls under that “must-see” umbrella varies depending on one’s taste. Does one simply go by the buzzed titles critics and/or other awards groups have been raving about? Or does one place more emphasis on the lesser publicized titles? What about the big budget escapist fare that normally gets ignored from such conversations? Up until a week ago, the thought of a film like Creed being in the award race would have been laughably far-fetch. Now it is the subject of serious discussion.

Furthermore, if The Dew Over podcast has taught me anything, sometimes the most buzzed about titles going into award season end up being the films that do not stand the test of time.

To be honest, with each passing year, the definition of what classifies as an award worthy film gets more complicated. Films either get deemed as traditional Oscar-bait or are considered too niche to appeal to a wide voting demographic. While a film like Anomalisa might fill me with endless joy, others might consider it much ado about nothing. As one fellow writer recently lamented on Facebook, the more a title is praised the less he finds himself wowed by it. This has made award season both exciting and frustrating for him this year. Thankfully I have not reached that point yet, nor do I plan to anytime soon.

The Second Mother 01

Although cramming in multiple titles is a short span of time is not the best way to consume art, nor is it wise to observe films through “award lenses,” I have been making a conscious effort to catch up on the films that simply pique my curiosity rather than trying to squeeze in all the “must-sees” as defined by others. Also, I am not losing sleep over the ones that I miss. The odds of me seeing The Hateful Eight before the nominating and voting period are slim. However, that does not mean any potential slots that the film, or any other film that slips my gaze, might have taken cannot go to an equally worthy, but lesser known title.

The beauty of not necessarily following the much praised path is that it has opened the door to discovering titles I may have otherwise overlooked. While Rick Alverson’s Entertainment left me cold, it did awaken me to a director whose works I am curious to delve more into. The same can be said for Anna Muylaert, whose drama The Second Mother not only knocked my socks off, but also featured a stellar performance by Regina Casé. Speaking of strong female performances, I was delighted to see that Sarah Silverman was a revelation in I Smile Back, as were the women of The Duke of Burgundy and Mustang respectively. Even the documentaries continue to surprise me, and this is coming from a person who has watched a fair share of them already this year. Films like Cartel Land, which is outstanding, 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets and Sunshine Superman have crept into my thoughts in a way I had not expected going into any of those films.

Though Saturday night’s nominating deadline inches closer with each passing minute, I am taking it all in stride. Best case scenario, I discover some more surprises along the way that manage to make their way onto my final ballot. While I am not going to see everything, I know that I while have seen more than enough – according to Letterboxd I have seen well over 200 films this year, and that does not include the films which are not currently listed in that database – to make an informed decision. Plus, at the end of the day, my voice is merely one tiny ripple in a large sea of ballots. Finding consensus among the group is an even bigger challenge, one that, thankfully, I am not responsible for calculating. Now excuse me as I go and catch up on some films.


  1. Well over 200? Oh man I have some catching up to do. I’ve been running my blog for over four years at this point and I am constantly impressed with (perhaps envious is the better word for it) others’ viewing and consuming habits. From my standpoint I like to ingest films a bit more slowly and think on them for awhile. It’s an approach that really hinders me in terms of volume though. I think in months and years coming I would like to get better at writing quality reviews at much higher frequencies. That’s the great challenge I think in this business, to do both. And you guys here at Cinema Axis do a great job of it. Kudos to you

    1. I am all for ingesting films at a comfortable pace as well. 200 may seem like a lot, although I know people who routinely watch 300-500 films a year, keep in mind that film festivals help to bump up that number. Also, I do not write about everything I see, so that allows for a little more time to sneak in an extra movie here and there.

      It is great that you have set a challenge for yourself for the coming years. The more you do what you love, the better at it you will get. At least that is what I try to tell myself when it comes to writing about film. Lastly, thank you for the kind words and your continual support of Cinema Axis, it means a lot.

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