That is correct. I watched an average of 10 movies per week, though — because I took two weeks off — it was more like two to three movies per day. Why would I put myself through such a boot camp, you ask? Well, let’s start there.
I want to work in film, but I’ve had very limited exposure to film. I only began critically consuming cinema about a year and a half ago. Until then, movies were entertainment, something my buddies and I could go to for fun. And yes, movies are fun. But they also have potential for artistic expression, something I’m beginning to discover on my journey of learning the language of cinema.
Though this first article will serve mostly as an introduction to the series, my subsequent columns will be much more focused on reviewing the films that I watched.
Like many film buffs, I was set on the path of loving cinema by none other than … Quentin Tarantino. I watched “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds” about a year and a half ago, and I was instantly hooked. Whether you think his movies are great, meh or offensive, you can’t deny that the man has passion. It infected me. Within another week, I’d finished his filmography (except for “Death Proof,” often considered his weakest work).
From there, I decided I’d need a method for catching up and watching more movies. Barely knowing what exactly a director does, I chose to work through the filmography of directors. I started with Marty Scorsese and Wes Anderson.
But I never did finish their filmographies. I kept getting distracted by other critically acclaimed movies/directors. I moved on to Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA), Francis Ford Coppola, the Coen Brothers. A few weeks before winter break 2020, I finished PTA’s filmography (“Inherent Vice” was the last of his movies I watched) and watched 16/18 Coen Brothers films.
At the start of winter break 2020, my favorite directors were: Tarantino, Scorsese, the Coen Brothers and PTA. My top four movies were: “The Godfather,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Magnolia” and “Apocalypse Now.” These lists would change by the end of winter break in 2021.
Film as an art form
I’ll be honest. I’ve done very little reading in aesthetics, so much of what I say is largely a result of my own creative philosophy. In other words, I could be talking out of my arse, but please bear with me.
I see art as having three large, broadly-defined groups of people: critics, consumers and creators (not mutually exclusive).
The critics are responsible for the development of theory (e.g. formalism, montage theory, stream of consciousness), broad historical trends (e.g. Renaissance painting, French New Wave, Beat Generation) and a “canon” from which consumers can reliably draw upon to educate themselves in a particular art form (reviews).
The consumers are the general public — those who, well, consume the art that creators produce. They will typically look to both creators and critics for guidance in selectively consuming art. Consumers make the art financially viable and culturally relevant. Without an audience, a creator’s art may be personally significant, but it has less tangible cultural capital. It’s like a monologue … to the void … I guess.
Lastly, the creators. In my mind, the most important and profound of the three categories. Because artists give us humanity. They give us tears and laughter, solace and escape.
So why cinema, you ask? What’s so darn special about it? What can it do that other art forms cannot? For me, cinema is about totality. Totality and editing. The new Gesamtkunstwerk.
The problem with obscurity
Of course, no one can watch every film in existence. That’s not my goal here. And herein lies the twofold problem with obscurity.
One, there are such things as hidden gems. Probably a lot more of them than we think there are. There are people who exclusively seek out these hidden gems, and I applaud them for that. But diversification is still important. For me, this winter break was about filling in gaps in my knowledge/film education. I wanted to start with the basics, or the basics insofar as I could tolerate them. I looked to the “established canon”: a body of films that have consistently received both critics’ and creators’ acclaim.
Two, one day I’ll be talking about my favorite director — Quentin Tarantino — and the person I’m conversing with will say: “Oh yeah, I love ‘Death Proof!’” Having not seen it, I’ll probably laugh awkwardly. Oof. My favorite director and I haven’t even seen all his films?! I just got shown up!
Of course this is hyperbolic, but it is a problem of obscurity that afflicts me. I don’t need to watch every film a director has made, but I need to see enough in order to call that director “one of my favorites.” What’s the threshold for “enough?” It’s different for every oeuvre. Tati with his six films versus Hitchcock or Herzog with their more than 50 films.
I use a five-star system of rating (with increments of half a star). Generally, 1-2.5 stars means I did not enjoy the film or I do not think it was a “good” film (whatever that means — it’s all subjective … or is it??). Three stars gets into the territory of a film I enjoyed. Four stars is “very good,” while 4.5 is “exceptional.” Lastly, 5 stars is a near-perfect film in my eyes.
Because I believe that quantitative rating systems do not ever capture the full value of a film, I keep a list (in no particular order) of my “Favorites of All Time.”
Week one (Nov. 23-29)
I only watched two movies during week one. These were my final films in the Coen Brothers’ filmography: “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “The Ladykillers.”
Along with “Intolerable Cruelty,” these two are often considered the weakest films in an oeuvre famed for its consistency in quality. No matter. I thoroughly enjoyed both (4.5 for “The Hudsucker Proxy” and 3.5 for “The Ladykillers”). Each contained some of the most biting humor in all the Coens’ work. “The Hudsucker Proxy” leans into sentimentality (which the Coens have said they hope their movies never do) in an endearing manner. “The Ladykillers” featured a fantastic performance by Tom Hanks.
If you’re going to start with the Coen Brothers, definitely don’t start with these two. But, if you love them as I do and find yourself starved for Coen content as I often find myself, then tuck in to two experiences that will have you tearing up: from laughter, fuzzy feelings or both.
Next week, watch out for: “The Seventh Seal,” “A Trip to the Moon,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Persona,” “Aguirre, The Wrath of God” and “The Apartment.”