It recently occurred to me that when you walk around with your nose in a book all the time, you miss out on other literary and art forms. So I’ve decided that 2012 will be a year in which I watch movies–which, from a bibliophile’s point of view, really does mean the end of the world as we know it.
But I feel fine. Super-fine, actually, thanks to the guidance of a lovely book called 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Published in three editions thus far, with the most recent appearing just last year, this tiny, yet hefty, little volume could’ve been subtitled “Cinema History for Dummies.” It contains an alphabetical checklist of the films themselves, followed by a chapter for each decade of moviemaking and a short summary of each film. Using my own quirky logic–don’t ask–I’ve watched at least one film every day in 2012 thus far, doubling and tripling up when I can.
Much to my relief, an initial review of the checklist revealed I’d actually seen 162 of the 1,o001 selections pre-project. If I’ve already watched classics like Amarcord, Jules and Jim, and Casablanca, I can’t be a complete cultural moron, right? Fans of contemporary cinema will be happy with the editors’ more recent suggestions, such as Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, and Pulp Fiction. And, much to my surprise, some recent releases made the list, including The King’s Speech (seen it), Black Swan (looking forward to it) and Avatar (aw, man, do I have to?).
It’s early days, of course, but my favorite movie so far is Sidney Lumet’s classic, 12 Angry Men, which was adapted from a teleplay by Reginald Rose. A teenage boy from the wrong side of the tracks has supposedly murdered his father. Eleven jurors are sure he’s guilty, but one man has doubts and questions about the case. The ensuing argument, in which a young Henry Fonda slowly brings the entire group around to his way of thinking, is filmed with tight, close shots, including a killer scene in which Lumet poignantly physicalizes the emotional isolation of the last man voting guilty. Watching the film made me want to round up all my friends for a long conversation about justice and the forces that can sometimes obscure it, as well as how/whether those issues are still relevant today.
Here’s a list of the films I’ve watched so far:
- Farewell, My Concubine
- 12 Angry Men
- A Trip to the Moon
- The Great Train Robbery
- The Birth of A Nation
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
- Broken Blossoms
- 8 1/2
- Zero Kelvin*
- Project A, Part II**
- On the Waterfront
- The African Queen
- Aileen Wuormos: The Selling of a Serial Killer**
- Odd Man Out
- Reservoir Dogs
- Dirty Harry
- Four Lions
Every single film has taught me something, either about filmmaking or cultural history. Sitting through The Birth of a Nation and Broken Blossoms , for example, was downright painful, but getting concrete visual proof of our country’s checkered past was worth it. Each film, too, seems to have one moment that stands out as noteworthy or interesting. Jan Svankmeijer’s Alice bored me to tears, plot-wise, but made me want to learn more about animation. Dirty Harry left me cold, themtically, but Harry Callahan’s throwaway line, “That’ll be the day,” was a nice call-back to The Searchers, another film from the list that I watched with my dad many times as a kid. And more recent picks like the wickedly satirical Four Lions, which is about an extremely inept group of terrorists, have convinced me that maybe I should actually pony up for the cost of a movie ticket now and again.
In fact, the only real drawback to the project is that I miss reading! I have not entirely given up on books; when I’m not watching a film these days, I’m slowly making my way through A Storm of Swords, book three of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve also started Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich, a literary novel about a board gaming enthusiast on vacation. It’s one of those novels where not much happens, but there are sinister undertones to the action that make you feel as if something creepy could manifest at any moment.
But, at least in 2012, my heart belongs to the movies. I’ll keep you posted on my progress as the year goes by; I’m not sure if I can actually squeeze 816 more movies into the next 347 days, but it’s definitely going to be fun trying! Are you a movie enthusiast? Which films would you select for the list, and which of your favorites are already on it?
who now understands the phrase “sleep is for the weak.”
*Available on Netflix streaming, coming soon to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
**Available on Netflix streaming.