Friday, July 2, 2010

An expert on the years 2005-2009

Do you ever feel like you're only watching movies from the 21st century?

I sure do. I've seen just over 3,000 movies, and nearly half of them were released in the last ten years. That's 1,433 movies released between 2000 and 2010, and 1,603 movies released between 1900 and 1999. (Let the arguments begin now about whether the year 2000 is actually part of the 21st century.)

This shouldn't be such a huge surprise. The 2000's were my first decade in which I didn't go to school for any part of the decade. (I finished grad school in 1999.) Logically, then, I had a lot more free time on my hands, disposable time to spend however I wanted, without the looming threat of homework. We film buffs fill that time with movies, and it's only logical that we would be drawn to the brightest, shiniest objects on the new release wall of the video store.

But this doesn't mean we shouldn't go back and fill in the neglected decades whenever possible.

I've probably seen more older movies than most people I know, but I still feel disappointed in how I've done. Let's take a look at the movies I've seen by decade:

1990s: 879
1980s: 418
1970s: 134
1960s: 66
1950s: 43
1940s: 29
1930s: 23
1920s: 8
1910s: 2
1900s: 1

Hey, at least I'm consistent in my apparent aversion to old movies. I drop off at a pretty predictable rate as the decades go back, with each older decade having fewer movies than the one that came after it.

The problem is, even if you're a film buff, who appreciates difficult and demanding films, you still often see films as a way of escaping, a way of engaging in a pastime that doesn't feel like work. And, like it or not, older films, by their very lack of explosions and CGI monsters, can feel a bit more like work than their newer counterparts. If you're looking to zone out on a Friday night, a 21st century comedy with boobs and dick jokes seems a little softer on your noodle than the wittier but dated banter of a screwball comedy.

The thing is, my wife and I do make a concerted effort to see old movies. We'll go through little periods where we'll try to fill in the gaps in our viewing of the best picture winners of the 1940s, for example. But despite what we think of as our hearty resolve, these periods don't last very long. And pretty soon, the endeavor is forgotten.

So I was thinking recently: The best way to get back to this is to build it in as a recurring feature on my blog. If I force myself to seek out older movies according to a firm schedule that I can't delay, because I've set up the expectation publicly on my blog (not that you'd hold me to it), it will prevent me from procrastinating on my goal of having a well-rounded understanding of cinema, throughout its long and glorious history.

Here's what I'm going to do: I am hereby announcing (yet another) new feature on my blog called Decades. I will put the names of the decades from the 1920s to the 1970s in a hat, and each month, I will pick out a new one. It will then be my goal to watch three movies that month from that decade, and write a post recapping what I saw at the end of each month. July will be the first month. Once I get through all six decades, I'll start over again. (Or not, depending on whether I've gotten tired of doing it.)

I figure, four movies is too many (don't know if I can manage one per week), but two is too few (I want to make more than a cursory commitment to this project). One movie from the decade in question every ten days seems about right. Oh, and I decided that the 1980s and 1990s didn't really need my help, though maybe I'll include them down the road. As for the 1900s and 1910s ... well, I'll be getting enough silent movies in the 1920s, thank you very much.

So what will I be starting with? I thought you might ask that. Here, let me write the decades on paper and get started ...

(rummages through hat for pick)

Okay, it's the 1970s. That's a bit of an easy one. I was hoping to get thrown a curve ball out of the gate. But the fates have spoken.

I guess it can't hurt to ease into it, given my demonstrated preference for movies from the last 20-30 years. Maybe it would be too much of a shock to throw myself right into the 1920s.

See you back here on the other side of July, to let you know how I did.


moviesandsongs365 said...

The Day Of The Jackal is a great 70s movie, as are Papillon or Paper moon.

Jack Nicholson gave some of his best performances in the 70s (before he turned into a stereotype), Chinatown, cukoos nest, Five Easy Pieces

But you may have seen the above. I've got a number of 1970s gems in my new A-Z of film recommendations on my blog, if you need some ideas,

Hal said...

You've seen over 3,000 movies!? Wow. I thought my 1,300 was impressive. It's kitten's play compared to you.

Nice post. Keep on keepin on.

Mark said...

What a great post, and a good idea too, I think. This is what's great about film — that the field is so broad that people passionate about it can have such wildly divergent experiences, with practicalyy no overlap. I'm almost embarrassed to say that I've seen in excess of 12,000 films, and that the majority of them are from the 30s - 70s.

As for the 70s stuff, and if you like crime films, certainly begin with Chinatown if you haven't seen that yet, then give The Conversation a try. A few others to consider: The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Charley Varrick, The Parallax View, Mean Streets, and I'll second The Day of the Jackal. Avoid those goofy disaster movies. Oh, and Network and The China Syndrome are a few more no-brainers.

Don Handsome said...

great idea!

I second the votes for Paper Moon and Friends of Eddie Coyle.

You also need some Cassavetes on there too...A Woman Under The Influence and Killing of a Chinese Bookie are recommended.

And since I've been trying to get you to see this one for years...Altman's The Long Goodbye.

Across 110th Street is another good one.

Have fun.

The Mad Hatter said...

I love this idea - almost enough to steal it - and can't wait to see what you come back with in the 1970's (if you haven't already seen it, put LENNY quite high on your list).

I know what you mean about having a glut of exposure to a recent decade though. If I'm ever on Jeopardy, I'll rack up mad points in the "1990's Blockbusters" category.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks for the comments/suggestions!

As the numbers indicate, the 1970s are actually my best decade other than the last three, and I actually have a special love for that decade, considering it to be the best of all decades for American filmmaking.

I've seen the Nicholson movies you mentioned, MAS365, as well as The Last Detail. But I haven't seen Day of the Jackal, Papillon or Paper Moon. Consider those on my list, and I'll definitely check out your list.

Thanks Hal! I think 1,300 is pretty impressive as well. It all depends on a person's age, of course. I'm 37, so I may have longer to watch those movies than you have.

Mark, wow -- I'm blown away. You are my new here. 12,000 movies. Gasp. Of those you mentioned, I haven't seen Eddie Coyle, Charley Varrick or China Syndrome, so consider those on my list. Thanks for the suggestions.

Don, I still have only seen one Cassavetes, I think -- Gloria. I've been meaning to see Chinese Bookie forever, but I think it's on Very Long Wait status from Blockbuster (yet another reason to move to Netflix). Across 110th Street? Isn't that a song?

MH - Lenny, haven't seen that. Another good one. Thanks! And definitely steal it -- I would consider it the sincerest form of flattery!

Vancetastic said...

Mark, you are actually my hero, not my here. But you probably figured that out.

Mark said...

Ha! Well, without having any research to back it up, I'd guess that the run time on the average 30s/40s studio film at 75-90 minutes is a good deal less than nowadays. Combine that with the fact that I sleep a lot less than most folks and have summers off, and I can really fly through a lot of movies. The hard part is that being that the studios relied so heavily on star / genre combinations it resulted in many films that are very formulaic (the same stories with different star combinations) and consequently harder to remember once you've seen them.

That being said, I certainly agree with you that the 70s is the high point in American moviemaking. I'm a 70s kid to boot, so I think that helps.

Great recs all around!

Chris, a librarian said...

The 1970's is my favorite decade. I'll take 1979 (Apocalypse, Now, The China Syndrome, Kramer v. Kramer, All That Jazz, Being There, Breaking Away, Manhattan, Alien etc.) over 2009 any day.

Vancetastic said...

Mark, one of the things I agonize over as a film buff is trying to retain a memory of all the films I've seen, and I've decided it's just impossible. I imagine it would be especially so with you, with four times as many titles that you've seen. We remember movies for random reasons, irrespective of whether we liked them, disliked them, or felt indifferently toward them. Case in point, since we're discussing the 1970's and Alan Pakula -- I saw and liked Klute, and it was within the past six or seven years, but I can remember almost nothing that happened in that film. Yet I remember really liking it. Why can I remember every horrible detail of certain movies I loathed, and not a single thing about ones I really liked? Who knows.

Chris - Totally. The only reason I sometimes prefer to watch a modern film rather than one from that great decade (I've seen more films that were released in 2009 than in the entire 1970s, I'm ashamed to say) is that I sometimes think that a modern film can speak to the person I currently am more than an older film can -- or at least has the potential to. Because don't we all watch movies to try to find a reflection of ourselves somewhere in them? I'm a man in his mid-30s living in the 21st century, and films that are in some way a reflection of that have an interest for me. Then again, so do films that don't speak to me at all, so I may just be talking out of my ass.

What I love about the 1970s in particular is that it was the one decade in film history where you could basically get away with throwing the rules out the window. This started in the late 1960s, I think, with films like The Graduate and Bonnie & Clyde.

Mark said...

It's funny that you should bring up Klute -- I saw it in the mid 90s and liked it as well. Yet I recently got into an argument with a friend when like I dumbass I insisted that Donald Suthland was NOT in the movie. Talk about a bad memory.

Oh, and Breaking Away, Chris has it right. It's in my top ten for sure. What a great movie.