What’s your favorite movie? Odds are, I haven’t seen it.
I’ve never been a movie person. One of the first things people find out about me is that I wasn’t allowed to watch television growing up and movies were relatively restricted as well. Yet this has backfired spectacularly for my parents—I’m now hoping to have a career in the industry. But despite a television obsession that started developing around sixteen, I never got into movies.
I always blamed my insane attention span (I can barely listen to a song for more than twenty seconds before getting bored) for my inability to connect with movies. Either that or my love of long–form storytelling, as movies couldn’t seem to click into in the way that a multi–season TV show or hundreds of pages of a fantastic book could. But when my career path switched to entertainment last year, I felt like it was a necessary evil that I learned about movies and film history.
Luckily for me, I had three paths to knowledge. The first is the driest and most academic: I’m a Cinema and Media Studies minor. I literally have to learn about and watch movies for class. From the classes I’ve taken so far, it’s not the most exciting way to learn, but it does help. More hands–on classes have also given me an opportunity to engage with movies in an applied way, which is always more interesting than simply reading theory.
The second is that one of my best friends is a bit of a film buff. Compared to me, certainly. If I’m picking out a movie, it’s going to be When Harry Met Sally… or Down With Love. (Side note: everyone should watch Down With Love. It’s a brutally underrated romcom that pays homage to 60s Rock Hudson and Doris Day Pillow Talk–type stuff with a fun feminist twist. And it stars Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor right off the heels of Chicago and Moulin Rouge!, respectively. It’s a lovely send–up that I would not have been able to properly appreciate before my filmic education began, and I’m so delighted to be able to love it the way I do now that I’m into watching movies.)
But where I love romcoms, my friend loves stuff like The Godfather and Seven. So we’ve been watching movies like that together—and I’ve actually really loved most of them. I saw a screening of Fight Club in a cemetery in Los Angeles this summer. My younger self would’ve scoffed at the idea that such an activity could be fun, but my current self is just glad I’ve expanded the range of what I love since then. It’s been lovely to get to learn via hanging out with a friend, especially being abroad and being able to watch movies with them over our computers.
The natural continuation of my learning via class and via my friend is my third way of getting into movies: now I just want to learn on my own. I registered a Letterboxd account, and I’m a little too into it. I’m addicted to listening to the fantastic podcast You Must Remember This. I saw a rooftop screening of Casablanca for my birthday, and I quoted an embarrassing amount of lines along with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. I read books about film history for fun. I recognize horror homages and Hollywood references in the shows I watch.
And most importantly, I watch a lot of movies now. Like … a lot. According to my Letterboxd, I watched about a movie a day for the whole summer. Before getting into movies, I probably only watched about six a year. There are still some massive gaps in my knowledge both in terms of history and in terms of simply watching films, but I’m quickly filling them.
It’s been remarkable how much getting into movies has made me enjoy them more. It’s logical, and it feels so obvious and simple every time I think about it, but it really has been enriching my life to a greater degree. Now when I watch a movie, I think so much more about the historical context of its production, the careers of the people involved, and easily–ignored elements such as set decoration. A movie, in this sense, becomes part of a much bigger tapestry, one that weaves together the lives of actors, audiences, and the changing cultural landscape that surrounds everyone.
Recently, my filmbro–adjacent friend and I did a Fright Night doubleheader, where we watched the original and the 2010s remake. Both of them are deeply goofy movies on a lot of levels, yet also deeply good. And now that I can draw on my knowledge of both history and cinema, I understand why the differences in costume, dialogue, and character backstory from the original to the remake are so emblematic of the time in which they were made. (In the remake, for example, we have David Tennant, fresh off of his iconic run in Doctor Who and beloved by internet–obsessed teenagers everywhere, wearing very little clothing, comically throwing back lots of Midori melon liqueur, and engaging in a weird sexual relationship with his female assistant that can only be described as “the epitome of 2010s misogyny.”)
At the same time, I also came to understand what I don’t like in movies, and what I think is bad filmmaking. Napoleon Dynamite, for example, is a movie that I think is good, but that I personally hate. It’s just not for me, no matter how fabulous Tina Majorino is in it. And when my friend and I watched Scarface, we both awkwardly said “…so that wasn’t great, right?” afterwards. I just don’t think it’s a very good movie, but it’s been held up as a Good Movie for so long that people are conditioned to think it is. I’m glad I’ve broadened my movie knowledge enough to look critically at everything, from new blockbusters to old classics.
And finally, getting into movies has made me much more knowledgeable about their broader impact and context. For example, I already knew a lot about media during the Red Scare, because I was a weird little history–obsessed high schooler. But back then, I may have known who the Hollywood Ten were, but I’d never actually seen any of their oh–so–controversial projects. Now that I’ve watched some of those films, though, I have a greater understanding of the weedsy details of the HUAC proceedings that I read about when I was younger. I can see what, exactly, the government deemed so dangerous for the public to see, and I can more deeply understand how profoundly intertwined entertainment and politics are.
I checked my Letterboxd, and it’s been about a year since I first started getting into movies. I have only replaced two of my top four on that app since I first downloaded it, so I wouldn’t say I’ve changed radically as a person. Either that or I’m stubborn and refuse to admit that some movies are better than Easy A (no movies are better than Easy A). But I have changed. Most importantly, getting into movies go hand in hand with realizing that what I want to do with my life is entertainment. I doubt I would have found that out about myself without dedicating myself to actively seeking out knowledge about movies and film history. And armed with that knowledge, I can hope to go into that industry and create from an informed place and with intention.
Less important in some ways and more important in others, though, getting into movies has just made life more fun. I can hang out with my friend and drink my way through Burlesque, a very bad and very fun shakeup from our usual American Psycho–flavored movie watches. I can drive to my job at a production company while listening to Karina Longworth narrating the heartbreaking story of John Garfield’s time in Hollywood. I can watch movies like Güeros and Ginger Snaps for my class, movies that I probably wouldn’t stumble upon on my own, and I can (respectively) love and dislike them.
There are so many movies out there that I haven’t seen. My Letterboxd watchlist is over a thousand movies long. I may not get around to all of them—I’m still a TV person at heart, and I doubt that will ever change—but I’m excited to love or hate the ones that I do watch. One of the best parts about getting into movies is being able to have opinions about movies, whether those opinions are shared on an app, academically arranged in an essay, or discussed at one in the morning on a friend’s couch while petting their cat.
Getting into movies is really about getting into history, culture, and politics. Or maybe it’s about thirst–watching Dave Franco playing a vampire. Either way, my life is much better for it.