As The L’s film section gears up to run our individual writers’ Top 10 Lists (coming next week!) and our second annual film poll (coming in January), I, The L’s film editor must make difficult and important decisions about what films are eligible. This year, as we hope to “engage the reader in a conversation,” we’ll stick to films that’ve seen a theatrical release, and wait for next year for major festival titles set for a 2011 theatrical bow—this is a fairly standard policy with polls, though in recent years indie distributors, trying to decorate films with valuable year-end critical laurels, have borrowed a strategy from studios chasing Oscar eligibility, giving late-breaking, sometimes limited-run theatrical openings to festival favorites, the idea I guess being to that if critics who loved Hunger or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days at Cannes and Toronto and NYFF don’t get to vote for it the year of its festival run, it’ll be buried in next year’s release calendar.
I don’t really like this strategy—not everybody gets to go to Cannes, or even NYFF (especially at The L, where even I have to pick my spots)—but I see the appeal. (If I recall, voters in the indiewire poll were mostly just confused.) This year, The IFC Center is doing something a little different, offering buzzer-beating runs to five subtitled movies (so far), mostly from IFC Films, less to make the most of 2010 fest-circuit momentum than as now-or-never propositions for films that are mostly leftovers.
-On December 10, they’re giving what appears to be a token theatrical run to Vengeance, a thriller from Hong Kong action stylist Johnnie To, which hit the festival circuit in 2009, playing at Cannes and then Toronto (where the L’s Nicolas Rapold saw it). IFC held onto it until this spring, when they started airing it on-demand as part of their midnight label (which is how the L’s Henry Stewart saw it). It’s already out on DVD.
-On December 22, they’re giving a theatrical run to the Best Undistributed Film of 2007, according to indiewire’s critics poll: Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine, which won a Best Actress Award at Cannes and good reviews at NYFF, but was never released here. Now IFC Films has it, and are dropping it just for the hell of it, or maybe for DVD, before Lee’s 2010 fest hit Poetry comes out in January.
-IFC Films picked up Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch after it played to good reviews at last year’s NYFF. Nobody was sure when it was coming out, once they acquired it; it’s coming out on December 24, apparently.
-And finally, on December 29, the active arthouse distributors Cinema Guild and Lorber Films are getting just under the wire with two pickups from this year’s festival circuit. We liked Manoel de Oliveira’s Strange Case of Angelica at NYFF this year (and, following Anthology Film Archives going directly to the sales agent for his distributor-less 2009 NYFF entry Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl this spring, it’s one of two Oliveira flicks eligible for this year’s polls). I was ambivalent about Sundance semi-sensation The Red Chapel when I saw it at SXSW a couple months later this March.
Conclusions: Well, the logic of getting 2010 theatrical releases for the last two films is clear enough, and I’m glad to see that the Dumont, which is by some accounts his best work, is out of limbo. More people should see Secret Sunshine, and as for Vengeance, well, IFC doesn’t always know what to do with the Johnnie To movies it picks up (see also the single-weekend midnight theatrical run for his Mad Detective a couple years back), but I’m glad to see it see an official US release. In any case, from the way distributors are ensuring their films are poll-eligible, you’d almost think critics still matter.