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Theatrical Geography: The Blanket Of Trash And The Dabs Of Quality

Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison play a foul-mouthed jerk and a less foul-mouthed semi-jerk in the wonderful comedy In The Loop, which you may or may not be able to see. Nicola Dove/In The Loop Productions hide caption

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Nicola Dove/In The Loop Productions

I saw In The Loop yesterday — it's a very effective, guffawingly hilarious political satire that features some of the best and funniest performances I've seen in quite some time. It's one of those that makes you think, "I have to go right out and recommend that movie to everyone I know."

Here's where it's playing.

So you can see it — and you should — if you're between Boston and D.C., or if you're around San Francisco or Los Angeles or Chicago, or if you're in one of the few other cities that's been chosen as a mid-nation representative of people who like indie movies: Minneapolis, Austin, Seattle/Portland...there are a handful of others.

But that single theater in Denver looks pretty lonely, doesn't it? Without that, there'd be nowhere to see it between San Antonio and Los Angeles.

The frustrations of distribution, after the jump...

Compare that, for instance, to how easy it is to see G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra.

It's not that it's financially feasible to bring every movie to every location or that this is an act of evil or malice or vicious discrimination against North Dakota. But it's easy to forget just how brutal this divide is when it comes to the theatrical availability of non-blockbuster movies. If they do well, they can always expand — here's the map for 500 Days Of Summer — but the opportunity to dip in and out of lots of movies is largely an accident of geographical privilege.

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Last year, when we talked about the Oscar-nominated movies, there was a lot of discussion about whether Americans don't care about the kinds of small movies that tend to win Oscars; they only like blockbusters and insist that awards shows reflect their taste for mainstream commercial fare.

For a lot of people, though, this is totally beside the point. At the time the Oscars happen, none of the relevant movies are usually on video yet, so for huge parts of the country, they're not rejecting the movies they don't care about and didn't choose to see; they're put off by seeing an awards show that consists of a parade of movies nobody even offered them.

It's not an unfair question: "If these movies are so good, why didn't I get to see them?" Before the Oscars, even Slumdog Millionaire — probably as big and crowd-pleasing as a small movie can hope to get — was on about 2300 screens. G.I. Joe is on 4000 right now.

It's just something to keep in mind when you consider the implications of what makes money and what doesn't; what penetrates and what doesn't. Obviously, home video makes a lot of things available to everyone eventually, but it's still very frustrating and depressing that there can be plenty of great movies floating around, many of which are quarantined in a relatively tiny number of locations.

Of course, there's always the ten-hour road trip.