Over the years, I've developed what I refer to as the 20-minute rule. It basically says that a movie that hasn't hooked me in the first 20 minutes probably isn't going to.
I tend to apply it most forcefully when I'm watching films at festivals or when I'm sorting through DVD (or online) screeners at home. If nothing's happening after 20 minutes, sorry, I'm out. As I've noted, at this particular point in our cinematic history, there simply isn't sufficient time to watch all the movies that come my way - so I'll take an afternoon, say, and sit down with a stack of the screeners that have piled up.
They've got 20 minutes to grab me. If they do, I'll either stick with them or come back to them later on and move to the next one.
At a film festival, it's the same thing: so many movies, so little time. So if it's not doing it for me in 20 minutes, I'm on to the next one.
I can hear the gasps, but be honest: In most cases, you can tell in the first 20 minutes whether a movie will or won't be worth sitting through. In some cases, you can tell in the first 10 minutes.
Not that I bail on any movie that fails to spark my imagination in that first 20 minutes. I am, after all, doing a job here: reviewing films. And you can't really review a movie you haven't seen all the way through. Or you shouldn't. So I do sit through a lot of crap because that's what the job is - sitting through the major movies, good and bad, and rendering a thoughtful opinion afterward.
But there are filters. While I'm mostly required to review the big studio films, the joy in this job is in finding the small film that is worth championing, to bring it to the attention of a larger audience. There are so many, however, that you need to sift through them to find the ones worth giving that kind of attention.
This commentary continues on my website.