A Year of Fresh Cinema

Or How I Learned To Stop Reading Movie Reviews An Create My Own

A Year of Fresh Cinema

Margaret Jemian, Staff Writer

Margaret Jemian Columnist

Late last year, I took my first step into a world of unimagined cinematic discovery. 

My family had just finished a Woody Allen film from 2011 called Midnight in Paris about a stumped writer who, while visiting the French capital city, unintentionally travels back in time to the 1920s. In short, I was absolutely enamored by it all: the writing, the directing, the acting (Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí is so perfect), everything was phenomenal. The film was an utter inspiration, thoroughly blowing me away. 

Feeling inspired, that evening, I grabbed a fabric-bound notebook, an LFHS Orchestra pencil, and my unconditional love for  motion pictures and wrote the first of dozens of entries in what I now call my “movie book.” 

Film has always been a huge part of my life: I remember going to see Chicken Little in the theatre with my dad and sister when I was just three years old. Although its 34% on Rotten Tomatoes pretty much speaks for itself, my younger self couldn’t help but be dazzled by the big, bright screen in front of me, my gaze never-ending as the irrational concept of the sky falling became more and more plausible.

Ever since that experience, I have been hooked. There’s no other word for it. They’ve completely taken over my life.

So I slowly started logging each and every new movie I watched into this “movie book,” listing the director, genre, date watched, characters and cast, any relevant notes, and a rating out of five, fit with a creative rating unit that was unique to each film. 

My original movie journal, which contains films #1-159. I have since changed journals to accommodate more reviews.

Flash forward one year, my journey through uncharted cinematic territory has taken me to places I never would have expected. Over the course of one year, I have watched 150 new films, reviewing each and every one of them along the way. 

While they all may have been drastically different (except for the forgotten second and third Matrix movies; those two are basically the same), there are certainly some very important things I have learned from the past year. 

Not every movie you pick will be a winner

For starters, it was important to accept that, as obvious as it sounds, certain films can be superior to others, whether it be technically, subjectively, or both. You can’t force a bad movie to be good, and forcing yourself to hate a bad movie (or even to like a good movie) isn’t healthy. It’s crucial to understand that not every movie you pick will be a winner, and that’s okay!

For me, I found this with my #16, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was my first film of 2020 and my expectations were set rather high: I had just completed a month of amazing movies such as Knives Out, Star Wars Episode IX, and The Godfather trilogy, among other things. 

I had read and adored the original book, but despite my overwhelming amount of optimism going in, the movie didn’t click. The acting was subpar at best and I couldn’t find myself expressing the same enthusiasm as I had for the original story. It just wasn’t the same. 

Despite this negative experience, I wasn’t about to let it influence my future cinematic selections, so I accepted that not all would be winners and continued my journey. 

Variety is key to maintaining interest

Now I won’t lie: I began losing steam around film #48. Looking back, I’m actually surprised I hadn’t slowed down sooner, considering that a little over 75% of my viewed content by then sported the same genre: crime drama. 

I had been unintentionally binging some of the heaviest movies I’ve ever seen, and it was at this point I learned that it is crucial to incorporate variety. Mixing up genres is what continues to bring the viewer back. Sure, everyone has different tastes, but too much of one thing can become boring or even overwhelming. Change it up every so often!

I made the mistake of watching Scarface, American Gangster, and Casino all within two weeks of each other. Don’t get me wrong, all three are exceptional pieces of work, but they really begin to shine when viewed months apart rather than a couple days. 

Despite my realization and reflection of the heavy crime drama mishap, I made the same mistake just two months from my one-year mark, although the genre couldn’t be more different. Within the month of September, I had (regrettably) viewed 12  romantic comedies.

Taken from my master list of watched films. The titles boxed in red are the romantic comedies from September 2020.

And when I say romantic comedies, I mean all sorts of them: iconic ones, trashy ones, old ones, new ones, the ones you wish to return to, even the ones you vow to never revisit. No rom com was safe.

By the end of the month, I had watched enough of them to almost have seen one every other day. That statistic was overwhelming, however, the stress of watching that many of one genre was even worse.

I had been exposed to countless iterations of toxic positivity and pointless joyful reward (in the form of perpetual happy endings), and it had become much too much. After viewing Notting Hill, which was only my eighth rom com that month, I found my hands shaking, my legs almost giving out, my stomach turning into a bottomless pit of nothingness. It was an awful feeling.

Compile a watchlist early on

One incredibly helpful method of avoiding an inadvertent mono-genre binge is to craft movie lists. Oftentimes friends, family, or even the internet will recommend all sorts of different films for us to watch, and sometimes the biggest chance we can take is to actually accept those suggestions and challenge ourselves to stray from our usual entertainment interests. 

Between phone memos, Google Docs, and random slips of paper riddled with graphite smudges, my movie lists span from golden oldies from the 30s, to classic 70s and 80s action movies, to new releases from the past two years. My oldest list, located on my phone, is from freshman year, currently housing 43 unseen titles.

Creating a movie list (or seven) can also help when keeping track of recommendations from the people around you. When a friend or family member is eager to share the title of a pleasing flick, my recommendation is to have your pen and paper or typing thumbs ready to write it down!

These are four of the handwritten movie lists that I have. The oldest handwritten list is the one in the top left corner; the first time I crossed a film off of that one was July 7, 2020.

Additionally, a friendly movie list can help you conquer cinematic goals, like viewing all the films in a director or actor’s filmography! Two summers ago, I challenged myself to indulge in all nine of the films by Wes Anderson and review them after I had finished. This past summer, I chose a different director: Quentin Tarantino. 

During this Quarantino binge, if you will, I utilized a movie list to help me plan out exactly when I would watch a film of his that I hadn’t seen before. I was rounding the bend of 100 movies, and I knew that I wanted my hundredth to be Pulp Fiction, so with the help of my list, I was able to determine that I would need to watch a new Tarantino movie every other day, leading me straight to #100. 

The IMDb Parents Guide is a sacred text

Speaking of Tarantino, I think it’s important for me to mention ‘pre-screening’ an R-rated movie, if you know what I mean.

Much like the Room of Requirement, IMDb’s Parents Guide found us when we needed it the most. Every Friday, my family has a movie night featuring films selected by my sister and me. The purpose of the Parents Guide is to detail all of the obscene or inappropriate subject matter within any film, no matter how timid or extreme. 

Anyone who is familiar with the films of Tarantino knows that he is not one to hold back on violence or language, so taking a peek at the Parents Guide before watching each of his movies certainly gave me greater insight into what I was diving into (specifically for Pulp Fiction).

Also, there is a separate section for certain improper instances that may also be spoilers, which is considerate for the viewer!

The films that you are most reluctant to watch will oftentimes be the ones that surprise you the most

One of the most captivating feelings in the world is when you are pleasantly surprised by something that you may have initially had doubts about. It can be hard to swallow your pride and admit that you may have been wrong, however, when something turns out to be amazing that you never would have expected to be, there is a joyful reward. Likewise, when something doesn’t turn out quite like you planned, it can be disappointing. 

Most of Tarantino’s films ranked fairly high due to many of their distinctive storylines and engaging plot twists, however, each of them are fantastically unique and amazing in their own way!

The concept of cinematic procrastination and reluctance is a difficult idea that did hold me back. Oftentimes I would find myself putting off watching a movie due to one of three things: 1) disinterest in subject matter, 2) length of the picture, and 3) if it is a foreign film. 

All three elements have influenced the time frame between when I hear about a movie and put it on a list to when I actually sit down and watch it. The most significant examples of this in my life are with two incredible Italian films: Cinema Paradiso (1988) and La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) (1997). 

The first time I heard about Cinema Paradiso was when I was six years old. My entire family always raved about how amazing it is, but I could not bring myself to sit down and watch it. Foreign films had never interested me, as I cannot wrap my head around the idea of reading subtitles while trying to watch a movie. It didn’t make sense. 

The plot only thickened when I stumbled upon another foreign film, Life is Beautiful. The winner of three Academy Awards including Best Actor and Best Original Score, it seemed right up my alley. However, I procrastinated seeing it for over two years. 

Both films receive a rating of 5.0, absolutely blowing me away. Any plot spoilers have been blurred out. 

I knew I would eventually have to view both films, so this past October, I finally sat down and watched Cinema Paradiso after putting it off for eleven years. Three days later, I did the same with Life is Beautiful. My only regret is not having watched them sooner. 

Never in my life has my opinion changed so quickly, and if this experience has taught me anything, it is to modify my ways and take more risks in the realm of motion pictures. If you choose to do the same, you likely won’t regret it.

Certain films did stand out more than others, so these are my top ten selections from the year:

  • Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  • Life is Beautiful (1997)
  • The Godfather Part II (1974)
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  • Moonstruck (1987)
  • The Hateful Eight (2015)
  • Scent of a Woman (1992)
  • Psycho (1960)
  • Raising Arizona (1987)
  • Wildlife (2018)