My year of movies

2020 was a year where many of us sought out small comforts to deal with the weight of the world’s issues, even if our own lives were not as terribly affected as others. If there’s one comfort I returned to time and time again the past year, it was watching movies.

I’ve always been a movie person. I used to love going to the video rental store up the street and using my report card A’s to get free rentals in the summer during middle and high school. I would pick an actor/actress I was into and rent only their movies for a week, and my friends and I were always jumping to see the latest comedies or blockbusters in the theatre. I’ve saved all my ticket stubs starting from age 3. When I was a freshman in college and my dorm was right down the street from the local theatre, I could walk there at 9pm to see a random indie movie just for fun, or after a tough week I’d look forward to immersing myself in a new release to take my mind off my stresses. After I moved back home, I loved catching old classics or obscure films on Turner Classic Movies on a Friday or Saturday night. But the last few years I had fallen away from movie watching. I shifted into less fiction overall, more self-improvement and shorter-form content, mostly podcasts and youtube videos, or the occasional good netflix series, and that was what I needed for a time.

My love of movies was rekindled with a new intensity when I took a History of Motion Pictures class in fall 2019, as I talked about in a previous post. My interest was so reinvigorated that I followed that up with a Foreign Film class this past spring. After the pandemic hit, and once my spring classes wrapped up, I was not ready to slow down my film viewing any time soon. I had also joined a social media platform for cinephiles, Letterboxd, and started rating and reviewing films as well as connecting some family members to the site so we could share our movie viewing activity. It became an addiction, really, but Letterboxd has given me a wonderful outlet amidst everything that has happened this past year. It’s pure hobby, and I’ve never before had a place like it to process and share thoughts after each viewing as well as being able to read other casual viewers’ current opinions of practically any movie ever made that hasn’t been lost to time. It also makes it so easy to discover countless movies you may not otherwise casually hear of, so a neverending watchlist is both a pro and a con. Movies have been on my mind in a big way this year, and I absolutely love to geek out over film history and what makes movies great. (I’m not the only one: according to the NY Times, Letterboxd has seen a big surge of new users and average user activity in the last year.)

In 2020, I watched a grand total of 196 films (undoubtedly the most by far that I’ve ever seen in one year, even though that includes a dozen or so short films), broken down into about 152 first-time watches plus around 44 rewatches of films I’ve seen before. Naturally, after all that I got to reflecting on what watching movies does for me. For sure, the biggest thing is empathy. Reading, watching movies, shows, etc., anything that puts you in a character’s shoes or shows you an experience you may or may not be able to relate to at all, helps with empathy. I’ve never lacked empathy, in fact I often feel like I’ve been blessed or cursed with too much of it, so maybe watching movies helps me to exercise it, to both strengthen it and burn off the excess a bit. This year brought an overwhelming amount of issues to weigh on the mind, and whether or not the film I’m watching has anything to do with a specific present or past issue of interest, I find that watching various stories play out onscreen can be a safe space to subconsciously process feelings, with a little separation from direct personal confrontation. Despite my natural sensitivity, there are still new things that I have never challenged myself on before, new perspectives I have been able to uncover or sit with, and I think I’m an overall better person for it. Sometimes movies can bring realizations to the surface, or surprise you with something that you didn’t expect would trigger a strong emotional response.

So yeah, empathy and letting the emotions flow is a pretty expected answer, but I think it encompasses why people even bother to make movies at all. To share stories, to provide entertainment, escapism, to elicit reactions and contemplation, to give voices and spread messages and perspectives, to bring ideas and worlds to life. Movies are one of the newest art forms, because the technology needed to create motion pictures has only been around for under 200 years. And there are so many creative ways to use the medium, that combine almost every other art form: writing, acting, music, graphic design, costume design, illustration or animation, set design, photography/cinematography, editing, there’s so much that can go into a film. There are so many options out there, movies for any taste, any mood, any language and culture. Plus, if you’re an avid crossword puzzle or Jeopardy! fan like I am (RIP Alex Trebek 🙁 ), knowing about movies helps as there are often movie-related questions or categories. 😉

A possibly unexpected benefit of the way I have approached movie-viewing this year is that I feel like it has helped me to be more present in my life. It sounds a bit backwards, because while movies do require your full attention for a couple hours, they of course transport you out of the present, especially for me since I tend to watch mostly classic movies (1920s to 1960s) which are even further removed from anything current. But what I mean also ties back into the empathy thing, in that I tend to readily connect the movie I’m watching to my present life, whether identifying a character’s experiences with my own, or even finding similarities or references to other movies I’ve watched recently. I find I often accidentally or semi-purposely watch multiple movies in a row that share themes, or a same actor/director, etc. I love the closure of watching a movie compared to watching an ongoing tv series or reading a book, and writing little reviews/journal entries on Letterboxd helps me to process what I’ve seen right away, so that even though I’m watching movies frequently, I am fully sitting with and absorbing each one before moving along to the next.

Letterboxd has sort of taken over my social media habits, and I spend more time on it lately than Instagram or Facebook, which has honestly felt more fulfilling, being able to connect to other people over a shared passion rather than mindless scrolling through stressful and pointless news and opinions. But also, I have noticed that for the first time in years, I have not been as wistful for the past or future as I have tended to be. I’m still a nostalgic person, I’m still a daydreamer, but in the past that wistfulness has taken me out of enjoying the present, so it’s interesting that in a pretty terrible year, I feel like I’m somehow more content than ever to take each day as it comes. Perhaps in effect, watching movies has become my way of concretely participating in a little dose of nostalgia or daydreams while being able to snap out of it after its 1.5 or 2 or 3 hour runtime, and call it a hobby/enjoy an artistic creation in the process. Or maybe I’m delusional. But regardless, movies have helped me through this year, and in a way, watching people make it through all kinds of situations onscreen gives me hope and motivation to make it through whatever life throws at me as well.

Now for a fun my-2020-in-movies review:

Favorite new (to me) movie of the year? The Apartment (1960), 5/5 stars for me! An instant favorite (in my top 4) and I even watched it 2.5 times this year (I didn’t fit in a full rewatch for new year’s, but I couldn’t resist viewing a few of my favorite scenes, including its perfect new year’s eve conclusion, to mark the occasion).

Honorable mentions? Here’s a list of my top 50 favorites of the movies that I saw for the first time this year. Wow, don’t know if I can ever top this many great films in one year. There were still quite a few more enjoyable classics in the 152 new films I watched, but I cut it off at top 50 for brevity’s sake.

Lowest rated movie of the year? Love on a Leash (2011), 1/2 star out of 5 from me. This movie is one of those you have to see to believe (it’s on youtube if you’re really curious). I’m not a harsh critic, but it’s hilariously bad…it’s at least a good time being incredulous about how it came to fruition.

My most-liked Letterboxd review? Letterboxd likes aren’t much to judge by, but it still feels pretty good when a few people acknowledge what you wrote. My most-liked review was for The Lady Vanishes at 6 likes, it’s nothing major but I had a lot of fun with that movie and it evidently came across in my review.

My personal favorite of my reviews? Hard to say, since I’ve written quite a few, and I try not to overthink them. These blog posts go through a lot of revisions, but with my “reviews” (which are meant to be casual on Letterboxd, they’re more “diary entries”) I try to string a few thoughts together the best I can, post it and move on, in order to keep it fun and spontaneous and not a chore. That said, my reviews for some old favorites, like Rear Window, Amélie, Spirited Away, and White Christmas (strangely two of those are from 1954 and two from 2001, just noticed that) are longer and more contemplative/personal than most of my reviews, so those are probably the ones I like the best.

Click here to see my full year in review. I upgraded to Letterboxd Pro with their black friday sale and I’m so glad I did, I love all the stats! I may or may not ever have a movie-watching year this prolific again, who knows.

Bonus: my hottest movie take?: The Wizard of Oz is practically a horror movie. I know it’s supposedly one of the all time great movies but it never impressed me and I certainly don’t find it heartwarming…plus if you read some of the trivia, it sounds like it was not fun behind-the-scenes, with multiple actors suffering from injuries and discomfort related to their makeup and costumes. Lol, sorry if you’re a Wizard of Oz fan, but it’s just one of those classics I’ve always had mixed feelings about.

Alright, I’m sure you’re like “cool it with the links already, not gonna click them all” but my organizing/archiving-obsessed self is loving having a well-designed social media site specifically for movies. I especially love finding others who appreciate classic film (1920s-1960s), and I think more people should try to venture back a few extra decades in their movie-watching…in fact, let me know if you need some convincing and think I may try to write a post sometime about what I love about watching older movies. Please feel free to geek out to me about your favorite movies of any decade or genre (or share film-related hot takes) any time. 🙂

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