Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Indispensible iCheckMovies

I realized I haven't written much about the one movie site that I access almost daily and have been the most active on: iCheckMovies. Sure, Letterboxed has been getting a lot of press for its social networking features, and GetGlue/TVTag has its fans, but when it comes to cold, hard, data crunching, I haven't found anything better than iCheckMovies. This is a no-frills, Web 1.0, cinephile-centric site that gets the data I want in front of my eyeballs faster and better than all the rest.

There are two things I use the site for primarily. The first is keeping track of what I've been watching. The second is finding more movies to watch. Plenty of sites use the checkbox approach that let you indicate the movies that you've seen, usually with an option to rate them. IMDB is one example. Letterboxd uses the film diary approach, which insists on tying viewings to specific dates. Film diaries are good for some viewers, but in my case I don't keep track of the dates that specifically. In my own records, I only so go far as to indicate what year I've seen a film. I can usually pin down the approximate month I've seen a film because they're listed by viewing order, but I rarely have any need to know anything more accurate. iCheckMovies keeps track of the particular date I checked a movie, which is often helpful, but doesn't assume that's when I actually watched it the way that Letterboxd does.

More importantly, iCheckMovies allows me to sort everything by various criteria that I don't keep track of myself. For example, if I want to profile a particular filmmaker for a "Great Directors" post, my first step is usually figuring out how many of their films I've seen. iCheckMovies will pull up a list of everything someone has directed and show me which titles I've checked off. It's harder to do this in Letterboxd, which uses an interface that shows you poster icons for each movie - and with older and foreign classics it often takes some work to figure out which poster goes with which title. You can also sort the iCheckMovies lists by year or name or how often they show up on the site's collection of movie lists.

Ah yes, the lists. One of the main features of iCheckMovies is that they offer a collection of Top Lists, such as the IMDB Top 250, the various AFI Top 100 lists, and more ambitious ones like the They Shoot Pictures Don't They Top 1000 list and the BFI Sight & Sound lists. There are country-specific lists, genre-specific lists, lists of highest box office grossers and cult classics, and more. Currently there are 155 official Top Lists, and one of the main metrics for how movies are ranked and sorted is how often they appear on the lists. "Citizen Kane" shows up on 31 lists. "Dumb & Dumber" shows up on three: The Empire Magazine Top 500, The All-Time Worldwide Box Office, and the iCheckMovies Most Checked lists.

It's convenient having all of these various lists in one place, with the ability to sort and order the entries. I've been working on the They Shoot Pictures Don't They list, for instance, and keeping track of my progress is a breeze. I can see the whole list ordered by date or title or popularity or runtime. I can filter out the titles I've already seen, or the ones that I haven't. All the individual movies have their own pages with basic info and links to IMDB. The site may lack visual sophistication, but it's extremely user friendly and useful. It also has a particularly devoted user base that is instrumental in checking for bugs and data errors, alerting people to updates, and creating a wealth of great unofficial lists.

I find the site a great source for recommendations. iCheckMovies not only keeps track of all the movies you have seen, but all the movies that you haven't seen, and will order them for you by how often they appear on the official Top Lists. When I'm at a loss for what to watch, sometimes I'll just open up that "Unwatched" list and scroll through the titles until I see something that looks interesting. This obvious isn't going to work for everyone, and I suspect it takes a certain breed of movie nerd to really get the most out of the site.

And I'm certainly one of them. At the time of writing, there are only two official lists out of the 155 on iCheckMovies where I haven't seen any of the entries. One is a Top 100 Korean films list that doesn't have any entries later than 1970, and the other is the list of winners of the Stallion of Yennenga prize from biannual Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO).


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