Why Does Hollywood Save All the Good Movies for December?

As I write this, my stomach is fluttering and my head is pounding. You see, more screeners arrived today of movies that studios want me to Consider (that's how they all come -- elegantly and coolly labeled "For Your Consideration"). The stack grows, and so do my panic attacks.

Hey now! I'm not complaining. It's wonderful and awesome not to have to slip down icy streets so I can see The Artist or The Descendants. It's a perk of this job. Nor is watching movies difficult -- I've done my share of difficult and depressing jobs, and movie watching/analyzing/writing is not one of them.

But here's the rub: I take all this For Your Consideration stuff seriously. I want to really, really consider them, and not just speed through them in a deadline-meeting race to slap them onto a Best list. The sheer deluge of worthy movies (and we can argue until the whimper of the world's ending as to whether the really worthy films merit this toffee-nosed schedule) at this time of year doesn't really allow for much thought, enjoyment, or analysis. Movies you think are outstanding don't seem so once you've got an extra three weeks to think about them. Quite often, you find you haven't thought about them at all in those three weeks, which certainly implies they aren't that solid.

So why, Hollywood? Why do you save all the good movies -- the really thoughtful ones for grown-ups and thinkers -- for one month? Three, if you really want to stretch it back into October and the unofficial start of Award Season.

The most obvious reason is one of dates. The cutoff for a film to be considered for the Academy Awards is December 31 and a film has to have had a "qualifying run" (and oh, this can be super short) in theaters prior to that date in order to be considered.

Well, that still leaves 12 months of the year for films to qualify for awards and accolades. Why the traffic rush? Because Hollywood believes that if their film doesn't come out on the last possible date to be considered, it won't be remembered and nominated.

Now, this reasoning is a bit fudgy. Studios send screeners of all the films they feel are worthy, even if those films were released earlier in the year, so those spring or summer releases have the opportunity to be re-evaluated. I'm sure many critics skip over rewatching such films in favor of things they haven't seen, but they're still included For Their Consideration. The idea that a February, March, or April release might be forgotten is a tenuous one. 

However, all of this is "inside baseball" talk. You out there (and me too -- I may have gotten a few DVDs but I still pay to see the rest of my year's films!) are just wondering how the heck you're going to manage to see Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, War Horse, We Bought A Zoo, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo during one of the most hectic -- and money thin -- times of the year. And remember, everyone goes to movies on Christmas now, regardless of religion, so you're battling with hordes who are just as desperate for explosions and Daniel Craig as you are. It becomes no different than the jostling for socks and soaps at the mall.

You see? No one is winning. Whether you're general audience member or critic doing the heavy considering, it becomes rather brain numbing to be buried in snow and good movies during this one month of the year.

I've touched on the need for Hollywood to re-juggle their schedule before, but it seems more desperate than ever. Going to the movies shouldn't be akin to an army survival course (Hop through the tires! Climb the wall! Get a parking spot so you can see Dragon Tattoo in the big theater before they move it out!) and now we have big chunks of time where it is. We already have an exhausting summer movie season. Why must the same sweaty rationale -- plus the glitter of Oscar gold -- dictate the winter too? It goes without saying that people want to see good movies all year round. If you release The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Descendants on February 4,  2011, I'm fairly sure they will do gangbusters with general audiences. If it's truly the film its distributors and makers believe it is, it will still garner those nominations after that December 31 cutoff if the studio backs it with a memorable campaign.  (And just think! No spats over who broke review embargoes!)

In an ideal world where the quality of a film really matters, wouldn't it be nice if we gave the Oscars and acclaim to the film that had hung on in our collective memories for the better part of a year?  Isn't that the true mark of Best Picture, and not the one to come out last, and be freshest in our minds? Even if art doesn't matter, why can't Hollywood figure out there are winter months just lying there, untapped, waiting for a Ghost Protocol or a Sherlock Holmes to mop up money?

Come on, Hollywood. December has a lot on its mind, and the eyeballs you want to consider and enjoy your films are pressed for time. There's an entire year hungry for thoughtful movies and explosive crowd-pleasers.  Let's spread the good stuff out a bit. It will be the gift that keeps on giving.