I'm getting precariously close to finishing off the "They Shoot Pictures Don't They" list of the top 1000 movies ever made. This is illusory, since the thirty-odd films I have left to see are among the most obscure of the obscure, and include things like the fifteen-hour "Heimat" series and the experimental film "Out 1," which isn't available in my country in any form, and I have no plans to track down in the near future. I have to admit a certain sense of accomplishment getting as far as I have. However, I've been left with the nagging question. Why did I embark on this crazy journey to begin with? Why did I want to watch all these films and become the pretentious film snob I am today?
I mean, if I wanted to simply watch great films, I wouldn't have been so dedicated to watching every last title I could get my hands on. I'd have ignored all the Jean-Luc Godard and Robert Bresson titles after a certain point. Heck, I'd have probably picked a different list that wasn't so dedicated to being so diverse and all-encompassing. There are several other 1000 film lists I could have tackled that aren't nearly as challenging. However, I picked "They Shoot Pictures' because it was the most difficult, because it contained experimental films, and films from more obscure film cultures, cult films, and films that only the really dedicated cinephiles know or care about. I've watched films that most mainstream moviegoers would be hard-pressed to even identify as films. So what have I gotten out of it?
Well, it's mae me a much more informed and confident movie watcher, for one thing. I've been working my way through another list of films lately, the list I of all the films I still want to see from the previous year before I write up my "Best of" list. I'm down to about ten titles now, mostly foreign films since the bulk of December releases finally hit DVD over the last few weeks. This year, however, I noticed that the composition of the titles was a little different than usual. I usually make a point to watch all the Best Foreign Language Oscar nominees and all the Best Documentary nominees so I have a decent sampling of each before making my list. This year, I've seen three of the five Foreign Language Nominees, but have no desire to track down the last two, "Omar" and "The Missing Picture." I'd consider watching both when they become available, but they're not priorities.
Why? When I look back at everything I watched for 2013, I've seen dozens of foreign titles already. "Blue is the Warmest Color," "A Touch of Sin," "Le Passe," "Wadjda," "Borgman," "Heli," "Gloria," "Museum Hours," "Drug War," and many others. On my "to watch" list are a few more, including "The Wind Rises," and "Bastards." Over the last few years I've figured out how to follow the festival coverage, which critics have good recommendations, and which filmmakers to keep an eye on. I've figured out how to pick and choose among titles instead of blindly watching every awards contender that showed up on the radar. Of course, that was a good thing to do for a few years until I got my bearings and started developing - and I know how this sounds - a better sense of taste.
Context is vital to being able to navigate world cinema the way I want to, and thanks to "They Shoot Pictures," I now have some pretty good footing with just about every genre and film culture. I don't get intimidated by films from Brazil or Romania or sub-Saharan Africa because I've seen the foundational films from each school of filmmaking. Looking at the some of the prominent foreign titles from 2013, I don't think I would have gotten half as much from a movie like "The Great Beauty" if I hadn't been familiar with Fellini. And knowing Godard's "Band a Apart" was vital to understanding the final scene of "Le Weekend." I may not like Godard films, but I get a lot out of being familiar with his work.
The crux of it is that I love movies and the more I know about movies, the better I tend to enjoy them. This certainly isn't true for everyone, and I readily admit that becoming a film nerd has steadily decreased my tolerance of studio pablum. However, I still love a good Arnold movie, and I'm certainly not giving up superheroes or cartoons. I think it's better to say I've refined my tastes rather than replaced them wholesale. And in the process I have so much more cinema available to me than ever before, whole categories I would've passed by without a thought ten years ago.
And though the going got rough sometimes, it was a lot of fun getting here too.