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The Big Picture 

And we were just heading into the stretch run, too. The year in movies, 2005, was a rather typically OK year. For every The Dukes of Hazzard I had to sit through, there were surprises like Kung Fu Hustle -- which, if I were prone to making a Top-10 list, just might top it. For every The Skeleton Key, there was the documentary Rize or the quaint Southern non-parable Junebug ... or Grizzly Man, or Head-On. It had already been a pretty fun year for movie-watching, at least in my little corner of the world, and I was looking forward to that stretch run of the Oscar Contender releases and any other little artsy-fartsy film I could lay my eyes on.

And you'd think, nestled in the comfort zone that was Carencro --Êtaken in by strangers offering my dog and me their basement guest room complete with cable and wireless Internet. You couldn't ask for a more convenient evacuation situation given my socioeconomic status. Short of jet-setting, I was set.

So why couldn't I work up the nerve to watch a freakin' movie? It's not like Lafayette was a ghost town when it came to moviehouses. While it wasn't exactly about to open a Film Forum anytime soon, neither was New Orleans. There were movies to watch, and I couldn't. Over six weeks, I saw one film, the delightfully creepy but endearing The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which gave me yet another reason for regretting not getting cable (and access to The Daily Show) sooner.

Maybe it's because The Year in Movies had suddenly been turned into My Life Is a Movie. Like so many other New Orleanians, I found myself caught up in a disaster flick, a political thriller, a human-interest story, a message movie -- definitely a horror flick. There would be no romantic comedy or sex romp here, no screwball, no satire or parody. No, this one was really an epic. And I shudder to think of the potential for a sequel. But because I had become an unwitting character in a new film about New Orleans -- shot on location by CNN, FOX, MSNBC, CNBC and the broadcast networks -- maybe I'd lost the hunger to be a voyeur.

Hurricane Katrina split 2005 in two for just about everyone involved, but it didn't dawn on me until recently that it divided my year into a rabid-moviegoer year and a hesitant-moviegoer year. While I was out in Carencro, National Public Radio hunted me down through a mutual acquaintance and interviewed me about the post-K significance of New Orleans movies. It turned out to be the most cathartic moment of my stay, for as we discussed everything from A Streetcar Named Desire to Walk on the Wild Side, I recognized a theme developing: lost souls. New Orleans had always seemed a city of lost souls, and that's how I came to view New Orleans movies as well. Certainly, many of us became lost in the floodwaters, literally for many, figuratively for still more.

Come mid-October, the movie of my life endured a plot twist: reentry. Everything became smaller, more compressed, more difficult, whether at work or at home. Finding time to watch DVDs for a new column I decided (stupidly) to start became a hassle; where would I find the time, much less the attention span? (Isn't there some ethical rule about the proportion of wine drinking to critical viewing?) Living life has become more problematic than before. It really is a rough draft of a script. Very unfinished.

But, after more than two months back, at least I have an idea of some of the plot possibilities. The ending is far from conclusive, but there are some clues. Maybe it's time to get back in the theater.

As Rick Barton mentioned in his recap, there's a special feeling when you go back into the darkened room with its stadium seating and sensory overload. Maybe it's one of wistfulness, maybe sheer joy. All I do know is Rumor Has It ..., with its atonal script, unsure direction and restrained performances by Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner, Mark Ruffalo and Shirley MacLaine, may as well have been an Oscar Contender for all I cared. For as much as I felt obligated to break down the film for all its strengths and weaknesses, I really didn't give a rat's ass about any of that stuff. I had a Coke, my beloved popcorn, and the cell phone turned off. Enjoy the movie? Hell, yeah, I did.

But I wonder if watching movies will ever be the same. If I see Hotel Rwanda again, will I not well up about the connection of the dispossessed? If I see Earthquake or The Poseidon Adventure, will I think about those who couldn't escape? When I watched a screener DVD of The Constant Gardener the other night, I couldn't help but think of the hubris of government and industry in the face of human suffering. All I do know is, as we start a new year, I need to get back into my routine. Badly. Alone. In the dark. Where it's safe.

Herewith, a top-10 list, in alphabetical order, of the movies I did get a chance to see in 2005: The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Aristocrats, The Constant Gardener, Crash, Grizzly Man, Head-On, Junebug, Kung Fu Hustle, Rize, Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

click to enlarge Even watching something as innocuous as Rumor Has - It ...  takes on new meaning when you're desperate to - get back into the theater and watch movies again.
  • Even watching something as innocuous as Rumor Has It ... takes on new meaning when you're desperate to get back into the theater and watch movies again.
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