The 500 Films was not a website or project about how to watch the most movies possible. Many people have done this and more. I read somewhere that the most films one could feasibly watch in a year (accounting for sleep, average movie length, avoiding all human contact) was something like 1460 movies. That doesn’t seem impossible just unreasonable.
The blog did partially start as a numbers challenge to me but that was not what it is was about and definitely not what it became. I conceived a grand, all encompassing art project where I might reveal or expose some truth or discovery. I am always looking for a unified theory where all roads lead and can be traveled upon. Most of that fell through but thankfully I did manage to scrape a little truth from it. With Andy Jacobs leading the charge, we compiled stats on all the films which I will pepper throughout. Here are some things I gleaned:
We know what we like. From companions to food to music and movies there are things that we gravitate towards or allow to be in our orbit. Occasionally it’s physiology, often its surroundings and many times it’s random. My wife detests horror movies while our daughter loves them. We watched Audition together when she was about 14 (She picked it).
I don’t think it’s inherently in our nature to sample every single offering as the point of sampling is to order the one you like most in bulk. I order bacon burgers at every restaurant I go to because once, a long time ago, I realized I love them more than everything else. The measure of a good restaurant to me is not the filet mignon but will they fuck up a burger. It’s not foolproof but my dining experiences are typically great even if they lack adventure. Movies are harder to simplify regarding taste. Love Drama? That’s a vast sea of choice ranging from the Twilight to Moonlight so for you to say “I like that genre” is kind of like saying nothing at all.
When I say watch everything, I mean watch it regardless of your taste. Do not watch the trailer, do not worry about the plot or who is in it. Just turn it on and go. Maybe it’s a B-movie or maybe it ends up being garbage you never know but you may also end up loving it. And if it is indeed bad, you will know early on and have the option to turn it off but in instances like The Room you would be missing out on one of the most culturally significant “bad” movies of the past ten years. You just never know.
Everything Has Value
On the topic of bad movies, part way in I realized that it would be unfair to dismiss something based solely on my taste without thinking about the actual making of the movie. It is one thing to paint a picture or make an album as you can point to a single person and rate their talent on your own scale of what you find objectively “bad”. Philosophical arguments aside, many agree on what’s good and bad within our respective cultures and pockets of taste.
Films can be complicated though. It’s not a single idea-to-canvas process but a long multi-faceted endeavor, a moving and changing organism. It has many brains, heartbeats and breaths that bring it from void to screen and for it to even pass as watchable most of them must be in sync. Maybe you have an interesting idea with dumb characters (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets). Or a sought-after script that is dumbed down and poorly casted (Abduction). What if you have a decent idea but bad CGI (I am Legend)? Or worse you have good CGI but no ideas (Transformers)?
Those are all examples of bad movies that were made that way by obvious errors but in every case, there is something about them that could be considered great or, at the very least, worth watching. As taste is ultimately subjective I think almost every movie could fall within that grey realm of “not the best movie ever made” so to dismiss anything outright is unfair. You can stereotype based on your own preferences sure but sometimes you gotta find the good in the bad. Even if it means re-watching it 23 years later like I did (Doom Generation).
Disregard Your Memory
PT 1: This may only apply to me. I found on numerous occasions while watching a movie that I thought I’d seen it only to realize that was not the case and I attribute it to one lesser and one major thing. The lesser is my generally poor memory and the major is how Hollywood permeates cultural memory.
Gone with the Wind has been around for one hundred percent of my life. It was around for one hundred percent of my parent’s life. It has been the go-to movie for the genres of classic, epic, romance, and war for the past 80 years. It will probably hold that shelf life for a hundred more. As much as Hollywood loves innovation it also loooooooves its own history.
With that kind of pedigree, I believe it’s not unreasonable for the average person to think they’ve seen that movie. You just get the feeling, even if you don’t remember, that you’ve seen it. Especially in the era of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the many premium movie channel options, not having seen it would be less believable, but I think it’s often the case. We are so attuned to a movie’s catchphrases or visuals being injected into the culture around us that we forgot we’ve never seen them.
An offshoot of this is feeling that we shouldn’t avoid something because of what its status as a cultural norm has shown us. Gone with the Wind is not just a love story and it’s not about Rhett Butler. Patton is not about a war it’s about a man. It’s also about men and all wars. A Few Good Men, Midnight Cowboy, Casablanca, and Dirty Dancing are all better than only the scene everyone knows them for. If you think you’ve seen it, watch just to make sure. If it turns out you’ve seen it then lucky you, you get to watch it again! Which leads me to
PT 2: It’s good to revisit things. We all have a long-term idea of what our favorite things from childhood are and we will gladly recommend movies from being 9 years old to our adult friends. But this only really goes for movies and touching hot stoves. Very few of my friends extoll the virtues of Kool-Aid but everyone fondly remembers and would most likely recommend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mannequin or Space Jam. (Also, I’m gonna go out on a topical limb and say most Eddie Murphy movies are not funny (Sorry, Wife). He is funny, but the movies aren’t. Take Eddie Murphy’s incessant wise-cracking out of any of them. Now do you watch them? Coming to America is the only exception).
Maybe you find that those movies are still good, and you like them. Fine. I’m not even saying they are bad necessarily, but it’s a whole different world if you watch these with adult eyes. You may even walk away with a greater appreciation of them with the experience you’ve garnered since seeing them last. So please rewatch those old things before recommending/dismissing them. Or you could forgo your old favorites altogether….
Watch Something New
This could fall under the Watch Everything section but it’s just weighty enough to stand on its own. One caveat I had for the project was to only watch movies that I’d never seen before. I don’t know why I came up with this, but I think it was in keeping with the spirit of a challenge. It’s easy to watch movies you’ve already seen because you don’t really have to watch them. They can be playing in the background while you do other things. You can leave the room and miss nothing. I’m not saying my eyes were always glued to the screen, but every movie except for one was a new movie. Why I find this important to do is that looking for new movies creates a push to go outside of your own box. Finding new things can be hard so it requires a little effort on one’s part to seek out films rather than flip through channels until you see that Friday is on TNT and only 45 minutes have passed so you’ll watch it. That’s not really watching a movie that’s letting images hit your brain for an hour, so you don’t have to think about life. (Also, I fucking love Friday so no disrespect and sometimes you just want to hear the soft hum of a television because life is hard. I get it.)
In the end, you aren’t taking a gamble by checking out the new Nicolas Sparks’ or Tom Cruise movie and you will run out of those if you’re moving at a clip so best to try some new things.
This All Matters…Right?
It’s been a little under two years since I started this. 2017 was the year I began watching and writing about the movies while the site and reviews were edited and posted throughout 2018. President Trump was inaugurated right around the time I started cataloging the films and that seems like a lifetime ago. Most subject matter seems petty and divisive now no matter what you talk about and movies have never been excused from the zeitgeist. Robert DeNiro started out a televised speech a few months ago by saying “Fuck Trump.” The president has regularly bad-mouthed Meryl Streep, Jerry Seinfeld and Bette Midler. This is our reality and when it seems like an unstable person is endangering us all where do movies rank on the scale of importance? Why should I (or you, more importantly) care about this?
I don’t know. These are confusing times for everyone. Whether you are happy or not with the state of the world we are undeniably in state of flux, an ocean of change. I can’t tell you what matters, and I can’t say how to celebrate or mourn the way things are. But I know art and I know artists. Oppression breeds dissension and creativity. Slavery sparks rebellion. Tyranny inspires not just the desire to make things but the need to do so.
Dark times call for many types of people to respond and one of those types are those who make movies. Movies will not save us, but they become a record of the era for us to look back and see what we went through, what the world was like or how filmmakers chose to reflect it. A lot of the films on my list I rated highly because they were snapshots of the era or a time capsule for us to see what that corner of the world was like. We look back on tin type photography from the 19th Century as portals to the past and we do the same with cinema. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was filmed in Germany just before the start of World War II. Man With a Movie Camera was also filmed pre-WW II in the Soviet Union. Umberto D and The Pawnbroker follow post-war survivors trying to make their own way in the new world. The Russian Woodpecker follows a child of Chernobyl through the shifting political landscape of current day Ukraine and the Euromaiden protests.
Who we are, the arts we favor, and the art we choose to make is a part of our global fabric. Like sports, politics and religion, cinema and art are an expression of our belief system. It’s an intangible made visible and real by the hands of many. Recent Films like Blackkklansmen, Minding the Gap, Widows, Sorry to Bother You, and First Reformed (from veteran and new directors alike) are already signaling a shift in perspective on the current state of the world. An explosion of film making came out of the 1970s that we are still feeling the effects of today. They were a lost generation of veterans and protesters creating something new out of the chaos, unchained by rules and constraints of yesterday’s film making. What we’re seeing now is very similar. This is the beginning of a long, great backlash and I hope I get to see every film that comes out of it.
Well that got heavy. Honestly this whole project was a lot of fun. I enjoyed watching almost every one of these films and it allowed me to flex the writing part of my brain which I don’t typically have an outlet for. Some might argue that’s not a lane I should be in and I would not disagree. You should start a blog about it, it’s fun!
Thank you to my wife who had to (and continues to) endure my odd adventures. I hardly watched any television while working on this project, so she spent many hours binging TV alone. When we did watch stuff together it was obscure films and probably not her first choice.
Thanks to Andy Jacobs for compiling stats on the project. I really didn’t want to do that. He was also my sounding board from the get-go as he sometimes watches more movies than I do. The idea to document them at all came from him (and Anderson Cowan from The Film Vault).
And thank you to anybody that bothered to read, subscribe to or share this blog. I hope you got as much out of it as I did.