I try to pick and watch a film I haven’t seen before regularly, at least once every two weeks. The trouble is, sometimes I just can’t decide what to watch. I know I want to watch something, but nothing on my list of unwatched films really feels right at that moment. The last time that this happened, I started reflecting on my film-watching habits.
My ‘to-watch’ list has been constructed from a variety of sources, including different ‘Best Of’ lists, and recommendations from friends and social media. But some films have been on there for so long without me getting round to them that I can’t remember why I put them on there to begin with. People change with time, and I suppose I’ve outgrown the mindset that I need to work my way through a selection of certain films before I die. While I have been pleasantly surprised plenty of times with how much I loved a film from one of these lists (e.g. Before Sunrise, Lost in Translation), there were others that I just didn’t get at all (e.g. Annie Hall, Raging Bull). Meanwhile, there are a few popular and highly-rated films that I don’t expect I’ll ever watch because they’re not suited to my tastes, like The Exorcist. Because I’m not a professional film critic, I can pick and choose what films I see, and life’s too short to waste on films that I don’t expect to like – but how do I know for sure unless I try?
I’ve found myself wishing for some sort of algorithm where I can enter my favourite films and get a selection of recommendations. But – as is probably the case for most people – my favourite films don’t have a lot in common. Trying to do a breakdown of elements I like to see, like I did for my favourite novels, isn’t as simple with films. There are of course particular directors I really like, such as James Cameron and Christopher Nolan; particular actors, like Tom Hanks and Arnold Schwarzenegger; and particular composers, like James Horner and Hans Zimmer. But not everything that those people have been involved with is a favourite of mine, because each is just one part of a whole involving a great many people. A novel is words on a page put together by one person (with some help from editors); a film is the product of a long, complicated recipe consisting of directing, acting, music, cinematography, special effects and much else. Until you watch it, it’s hard to predict just from the ingredients whether a film is going to inspire that special feeling in you that makes it a favourite, even if it looks similar to one you love on paper.
I think I need a more relaxed approach to choosing films. In the old days, I would come across a new film either from browsing the movie channels on TV or seeing an advert for a new release at the cinema; in the latter case, I’d read a few online reviews from critics before deciding whether to see it. In more recent years, social media has become a new source of recommendations; following the blogs, tweets and YouTube videos of film enthusiasts can lead you to discovering films you might not have even heard of otherwise, and when you become familiar enough with their likes and dislikes, you can get an idea of how well their tastes and perspectives tend to correlate with yours. So I think right now, when choosing a new film to watch, I should embrace fresh recommendations and put the more stale items on my ‘to-watch’ list to one side.
Another thing I’ve thought about, however, is that in the pursuit of watching fresh films, I’ve been neglecting old ones that I previously enjoyed but haven’t seen for a while – so I want to go back to some of them too. I can at least be confident I’ll get some pleasure out of them.
When I can’t decide what to watch I put channel 81 Talking Pictures on. Lots of really old films I’ve never seen or heard of, even my mum has never seen them. Some of them are quite good. I’ve also upgraded my phone and got disney+ free for 6 months.
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Thank you, Elle – I hadn’t heard of that channel, I’ll check it out.