Happy Christmas
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, a month when studios, eager to rack up as many awards and nominations as possible, fill critics’ yuletide stockings (and inboxes) with dozens of “for your consideration” screeners. It’s a great way for reviewers to play catch-up on pics released earlier in the year, but included among the DVD gravy are several helpings of soon-to-be-released titles.

Between now and December 11 (the deadline for members of the San Diego Film Critic Society to submit their year-end nominations), studios scramble to give every voting member ample opportunity to view their product. By now, my FedEx and/or UPS carriers are all on a first-name basis.

Time was, every film also received a theatrical preview prior to the group’s cut-off date. This year, the bean counters at both Universal (Unbroken) and Warner Bros. (Inherent Vice) chose to swap out theatrical screenings for home theater “premieres” of their two major (and eagerly anticipated) holiday releases.

All movies, even the worst of them, deserve a big-screen baptism. Is there no regard left for the power of visual storytelling? Are the only screens left worth looking at the ones that fit snugly in our palms? With the rise of digital cinema came a demand from distributors that critics be forced to provide their own screening venues. The ever-diminishing dimensions of multiplex shoeboxes helped to cushion the industry’s forced digital conversion, transforming theatrical exhibition halls into living rooms. Movies have become a classier form of television. Size no longer matters. Fully 35 percent of this year’s films were delivered to critics on a disc or in an email link.

A critic’s job is to watch films in the same manner in which they are presented to a paying public. (VOD and iPhone exhibitions don’t count.) Even slop like The Skeleton Twins and Happy Christmas — a pair of small-screen refugees that would feel right at home on a 40-inch box — deserve a proper theatrical introduction.

I cannot in good conscience allow my maiden viewing of a picture written by the Coen bros. (and more importantly photographed by Roger “Apex” Deacon) or one directed by Paul Thomas “Apogee” Anderson to take place in the confines of my living room. It isn’t a case of a once-in-a-lifetime, American Cinematheque archival presentation: both films will receive word-of-mouth screenings in advance of their commercial playdates. Just not in time to influence my vote.

Rates for a standard overnight FedEx shipment of a half-pound package from Burbank to San Diego run $24.75. Between the SDFCS and local members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, at least 30 DVD screeners are shipped at a cost of $750. The average price of a theater rental for a 10 a.m. screening — the best time to watch a movie — is $700. For the same amount of money, screenings could have been arranged and a single box of screeners shipped to the local rep to be distributed as parting gifts to those in attendance.

As for The Weinstein Company: up until the last possible moment, they flat-out refused to provide screeners of my pick for best picture of 2015, Tracks. It’s a pity: fellow SDFCS member (and mirror opposite) Lois Alter Mark shares the love. The film received a limited release. Here’s hoping that together we’ll be able to lobby for an under-the-wire nomination or two. But I suppose one can’t come down too hard on Harvey. That amiable zany Kim Jong Un probably hacked his mailing list.

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