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Fewer movies released: Could this be a good thing?

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According to a report in today’s New York Times, American film companies are currently planning to release 40 percent fewer films from September to December than they did last year. You heard that right: 40 percent fewer. The number of releases will probably inch up a bit as movies get picked up for distribution at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival, which begins next week. Nevertheless, that’s a pretty stark statistic.

It reflects several overlapping trends: the shuttering of studio specialty divisions; the acute financial pinch being felt by many of the smaller independent companies; and — the umbrella hanging over everything — the economic crisis. Bottom line: In 2009, there’s simply a lot less money sloshing around to back the creation and distribution of motion pictures.

How will this affect the Academy Awards race, with its new system of 10 Best Picture nominees? Will there be enough films to go around? My guess is: yes, there will be. Right now, though, my gut reaction to the diminished distribution slate is a feeling that borders on relief. I don’t, of course, want to see any company going under, but the glut of movies that have been foisted upon us during awards season over the past five years or so has become — let’s be honest — oppressive, sort of like a banquet that doesn’t know when to stop feeding you. Personally, I’m an insatiable moviegoer, but it’s been a genuine frustration to stand back and watch as too many movies compete for too few screens in a too-overly-loaded media world.

Will fewer movies mean a diminishment of quality? Or could it actually mean that more good movies will now get the chance they deserve to stand out from the crowd? What do you think — when it comes to movies this season, could less turn out to be more?

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