In 2023, I challenged myself to watch as many movies as possible. There wasn’t any specific end-goal beyond watching the films I’ve meant to see and whatever else came across my path. As a result, I ended 2023 watching 971 movies.
I sometimes wrote a one-to-two-page write-up. In others, I made a list of observations made while watching. For the MST3K episodes I watched, I wrote out my favorite jokes the characters said about the movies.
As the year progressed, I discovered Letterboxd had movie challenges or scavenger hunts. A user creates a list of rules, and I make my list of movies based on those rules. The two challenges I took part in were Hooptober X and The Criterion Challenge 2023. I also created retroactive lists for these challenges, but made it through Hooptober 9.0 before needing a break.
After finishing those challenges, my final self-imposed goal was to watch all the Cold War era James Bond movies and rank them.
Early Movie Years
I grew up exposed to Hollywood movies, with the occasional American indie if a friend mentioned it or the cover looked promising at Blockbuster. It wasn’t until college that I experienced movies like Lost in Translation or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — movies that made me realize I had seen little.
Throughout college, I worked at Papa John’s. I bonded with a coworker over music, and he asked me about movies I hadn’t heard of. All the films were older or foreign. With my lack of exposure, he granted me access to a private torrent site called Karagarga and gave me a list of movies to get started. I downloaded The Seventh Seal and Stalker, and my brain broke.
I actively took part in Karagarga over the years. I collected world cinema classics or featured movies that sounded interesting. Despite my scattered viewing, I still had hundreds of films to watch.
I was in several long-term relationships for the next decade of my life. I didn’t feel like I could share these movies with my partners. Many of these movies languished on old hard drives. A few years ago, I set up a Plex server. The server made it easier to watch these movies.
I still, however, didn’t watch many of the movies. In the meantime, I kept up with Oscar films or the occasional MST3K episode.
On one episode of The Flop House, they had Joe Bob Briggs on. I had never heard of him, but the podcast hosts revered his encyclopedic knowledge of exploitation and horror films. Joe Bob did a 24-hour marathon called The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. I got access to Shudder and watched those movies. I enjoyed them, but I had trouble dealing with the gross effects and the overt misogyny.
Around the same time, I’d heard an ad on The Flop House for another show on their network called Switchblade Sisters. The podcast focused on women in the movie industry talking about genre films they liked, which included some problematic films. The podcast clicked something in my brain that I still carry: you can love a movie and still acknowledge and critique its flaws.
I began digging into horror and exploitation films, remembering that they are flawed works made by humans.
In 2020, I started a Letterboxd account. I can’t remember who told me about it, but I began logging every movie I had seen. I would give it a star rating if I could remember what I felt. If not, I would flag it as watched.
I started rating movies how I used to score music: I would consume it in total and then assign it a star rating. Having these movies on record, I realized how quickly I forgot about them. On multiple occasions, I logged on to see if I had seen a movie, only to discover that I had not only seen it but also liked it.
Letterboxd has two types of power users. Some use the review section for quick jokes, others for detailed reviews. I tried the former approach, too scared to reveal how little I knew about movies.
Near the end of 2022, I was burning out on how I approached music. Despite spending hours listening, I only found a few albums I truly loved. It didn’t feel worth the effort.
I pivoted to movies. I decided I would start writing reviews of each movie I watched. The goal was to document my likes and dislikes about a film. If I returned to it, I would have a justification for my positive or negative review.
As I entered 2023, I had more time, so I started watching more movies. I noticed more about each movie I watched as I wrote my reviews. I felt my attention span increasing as I tried to evaluate what I saw. I kept expecting a similar experience with music where I would burn out.
Some days, I would watch five movies. Others, I might watch one. When I watched something daily, I felt my love and appreciation for the power of films grow.
As a result, I found the resolve to watch those foreign movies I had waited years to watch. I am so happy I have waited until now. I saw things with a fresh, interested perspective.
It was as if I was making up for lost time, discovering my love for movies. I felt like I was developing my identity and discovering what matters.
There’s a scene from the movie Yi Yi that has stayed in my mind since I watched a couple of months ago:
— Life is a mixture of sad and happy things. Movies are so lifelike, that’s why we love them.
— Then who needs movies? Just stay home and live life!
— My uncle says, “We live three times as long since man invented movies.”
— How can that be?
— It means movies give us twice what we get from daily life.