BY JOSEPH PLANTA
VANCOUVER – Every year, around the first of the January, I’ll post on Facebook, a list of the films I have watched the previous year. In the past five or six years of doing it, I’ve kept a tally in my calendar, using one of those back pages for notes or addresses that I wouldn’t otherwise use.
The exercise began for my own edification and recollection. I wanted to gauge how many movies one could humanly see in a year. It’s also a great way to see the sort of films one sees, the sort of interests that one finds themselves captivated by a certain week in one’s life.
Whenever I’d come across lists of the best films ever by organisations like the American Film Institute, or the recent TCM book The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter (Running Press, 2016), I’d be astonished at how many films listed I have not seen. An urgent goal in recent years has been to see those arguably best films ever made. And of course, one has to keep up with current releases, upon whose laudatory reviews one dare not miss. And one ought to try and complete the oeuvre of favourite directors and performers.
I realised at the start of 2016, I was going to start in on those oft-referred to films from whom lines enter the vernacular. I made sure to see as many films like the Manchurian Candidate, Mildred Pierce, The China Syndrome, The Lost Weekend, and The Last Detail.
In 2015 I saw 92 films; the year before, I saw 101. All much improved from my 2013 low of 69 movies seen. As much as I was a fan of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, I realised I hadn’t seen many of their films. Ditto Alfred Hitchcock, or Francois Truffaut, or Federico Fellini, or Ingmar Bergman.
There are a handful films on my list of 179 films viewed in 2016 that I had started years ago, like the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and Hoop Dreams that I never finished, but this year did. So if I started a film in 2016 that I just didn’t get to the end of because I didn’t like it (No Stranger than Love), I was bored (Synecdoche, New York), or didn’t finish because it was 2017 already (The Moneychangers), that won’t be counted until I finish it. (I have included television films, as well as documentaries that might be near an hour in length.)
On the television series Mad Men, the Don Draper character played by Jon Hamm, when seen at a matinee, would say he’s knocking out the cobwebs in his creative mind. I can’t say I watch films because I’m struggling personally. I find little comfort in watching a film or television series when in a moment of emotional or creative distress. Looking back at my list and seeing certain titles will remind of that afternoon I snuck off to the movie theatre, or that late night at my desk that I saw it on television and decided to stick with it whatever the hour.
Films evoke emotions, and remembering them again evoke memories that are generally altogether pleasant. That afternoon a bunch of us went to see an afternoon showing of The Secret Life of Pets—thirty-plus year olds, laughing at a cartoon. Then of course, I remember the afternoon that ensued after, going to a grocery store making fun of and marvelling their hybrid cart and wheeled basket, wondering if it was to be pushed or pulled. And the looks I got from my companions and fellow shoppers trying to figure it out.
I remember too that late night or early morning—I can’t remember now—when I ordered a DVD of the Earl Hamner documentary with a view to interviewing him. Getting it a week or so later, watching it, and the next day learning of Hamner’s death.
Looking further on my list, I remember where I bought a particular DVD. Shampoo was bought at Limelight Video, just as they were closing after a few decades in operation. DVD rental places are fewer and fewer far between. There’s After the Thin Man, the sequel to the charming William Powell and Myrna Loy film that started off the series, that I got for cheap at a used DVD shop in Seattle that weekend I made the trip down for a friend’s birthday.
A number of films were streamed online like Netflix’s Special Correspondents, which was a disappointing film despite its stellar cast. I enjoy a lot of the documentaries and saw a lot of them online like The Diplomat, a doc on the life of Richard Holbrooke. There’s 1971, which I finished despite starting a screener a year or so ago when it played the Vancouver International Film Festival, which I meant to interview the director on, but never got to it.
I stumbled on the documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut late one night on the movie channel. I was quite taken by the reverence Truffaut had for cinema, so I decided to see a couple of his films. I took out of the library, Day for Night, and Le Dernier Metro, and quite enjoyed them.
Some films I watch because they’re related to interviews I’m to do. I screened the eponymous Tempest Storm documentary on the life of the burlesque legend, just before interviewing her. I decided to see both Hotel Rwanda and the documentary Shake Hands with the Devil before I was to interview Romeo Dallaire. And recently, when Tiffany Hsiung dropped by the house to tape an interview about her acclaimed documentary The Apology, it was neat to be able to tell her how moved I was watching her film at my desk.
And it’s funny how much one remembers from where they were when they see a film. I’ll always remember where I was when The Postman Always Rings Twice blew me away for the first time. There’s all the laughter that fill a theatre, shared with so many others, like at that screening of Bad Santa 2. There was a lot of riotous laughter despite the film not being that great. I’ll never forget seeing Hello, My Name is Doris with my mum, and the conversation we had just before about family. Then I remember the tears shed at Manchester by the Sea. Necessary tears because what I was watching meant something personal, stuff I probably don’t even realise why just yet.
I know I’ll look through the list years from now and remember moments like that. I guess that’s why I keep track. I guess that’s why I keep trying to watch as many movies as possible.