Filmism.net Dispatch January 23, 2019

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Happy new year to you, the fifteenth year of filmism.net's existence online and the 113th iteration of the Filmism.net Dispatch. In that time we've interviewed over 160 names from the movies, written dozens of think pieces about the industry and the culture it espouses and reviewed over 4,500 movies. I started writing reviews for it around 1999 and haven't stopped yet.

But to kick things off, a philosophical question. Why watch movies? I know, that sounds like a stupid question. Even if you stretch the answer as far as it'll go it's usually to inform and make you think rather than just entertain you.

But as not only a movie lover but a movie student, I feel pressure to watch movies just so I can call myself a completist. Not that I don't think I'll enjoy them, and I've discovered many hidden gems I'd never otherwise have watched by doing so. But when I scan through my to-watch list there are an awful lot of movies I'm interested in both for their own sake and to to appreciate them in a certain context, whether it's the genre (Rio Bravo), other movies from a given director (Only Lovers Left Alive), the movie that bankrupted a studio (Heaven's Gate), etc.

There are plenty of reviews in which I talk about how a line or motif from the movie takes on a life of its own and becomes a cultural touchstone, and how you know it even if you haven't watched the movie ('Hasta la vista, baby', Houston, we have a problem', etc).

I watched Dirty Dancing because I felt weird knowing I'd grown up in the 80s and never seen it. I watched Notting Hill because I knew it was a very popular first cousin to Four Weddings and a Funeral. Recently I watched Split because I really liked Unbreakable, and when it turned out Split was the second part of a trilogy that would end with Glass, I knew I couldn't miss it (making it the most effective marketing ever).

And sometimes when you watch a movie for a reason other than because you've always wanted to watch it, you can respect its position and place more than you actually like it. I watched Sleeping With the Enemy because I was aware that it had an enduring life among other Gen Xers like me (it's even namechecked in Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno) and was pleasantly surprised at what a well made and interesting movie it was.

I watched Seven Samurai and (gasp), respected its place in film culture much, much more than I actually enjoyed the film. In fact to be honest, taken entirely on my emotional response to it, I didn't like it at all. As a kid I'd never have just sat down and had it on in the background like my 'warm blanket' movies of Star Wars, Bachelor Party and Back to the Future.

But I'm glad of this compulsion to watch so many movies of so many styles because it makes me a more literate movie fan overall. It means I waste a lot of hours on stuff I don't necessarily like, but you'd have the same result if you only selected movies you thought you might like rather than ones you think you should watch.

There are plenty of crap movies around you'll waste hours of your life on no matter what kind of cineaste you are. 80 percent of movies are the same unimaginative rubbish where you know every line a moment before it's spoken, not just the story but the whole resolution telegraphed from the setup of the premise.

But I do sometimes wonder if this position somehow corrupts the viewing experience. Maybe if you have a lot of knowledge of movements, fashions, technology and styles in a given era you go in to a movie with too many preconceptions. I might never have known how to receive Super 8, for example, without knowing the tone that made Amblin movies famous.

But I also think that just gives those few diamonds in the rough the chance to really subvert what I know (or think I know) and really surprise me. When my head is so full of all the trivia, names and knowledge of the industry behind it, something truly special can outshine it all.

Do you watch movies and then, even though you don't necessarily like them, feel like a better film fan for having done so?

Seen lately on screens of all sizes, I really liked Molly's Game, two titanic talents on either side of the camera (Jessica Chastain and Aaron Sorkin) making magic. In the spirit of the above, I watched another 80s classic; Night of the Comet. Boy it's aged badly except for one element, the sublimely confident performance of Catherine Mary Stewart during her heyday.

A lot of critics (and audiences) didn't like Mary Magdalene and I understand how the languorous pace and inoffensive approach to drama might have grated. I saw in on a plane flight and I think I nodded off once or twice, but I loved two things about it; the sense of a world I could almost feel, and the sense of calm and grace in the proceedings.

First Man was a bit the same, written off as cold and clinical by audiences. Director Damien Chazelle might have gone too far in on the 'emotionally disconnected, documentary-like' pendulum, but it was still an extraordinarily made film.

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