Friday, January 06, 2012

Movie of the Year: Introduction

A couple of years ago, when the best-of-decade lists for the 2000s started rolling out, I realized with some dismay that I had let most of those years go by without benefit of my old movie-viewing habits. There are a number of reasons for this, none good—distracting full-time work, souring relationship, miasma of Bush/Cheney rage and depression (aka BDS), various encroachments of middle age—and I saw that my early cuts at a list were woefully inadequate.

At approximately the same time a number of movie bloggers I had discovered and begun to follow had started a project that really fascinated me: systematic evaluations year by year of movie history, with lists of their favorites and a write-up for their pick of their very favorite for each year. Most of them started in the distant past, as early as the mid-'20s but never any later than 1931, and moved forward. I realized I also had a ton of gaps before the '60s.

By then I had signed on with Netflix and grown a little drunk on the possibilities of their catalog, as increasingly so many great movies of all eras became available as DVDs. The problem was not one of access, as it had previously been most of my life, certainly prior to VCRs, but of time. I have since become one of those unfortunates who carry a burden of the chronically overstuffed queue, watching movies most days, and never feeling quite caught up (admittedly not an altogether unpleasant feeling).

Thus a number of strands contributed to my interest in taking on this project: foremost, providing shape and direction to the endless task of "catching up," on the 2000s, on the greats and worthies before 1960, and on all the other gaps in cinema history and/or appreciation I might have. It's a great excuse to look again at the things I remember loving, and often love again (and sometimes don't). It's a great excuse to look at more and more movies all the time. It's a great excuse, period. Full stop.

One thing I will be doing differently from others I know is turning it around, beating-against-the-current-borne-back-ceaselessly-into-the-past style, starting with 2011 and making my way back, one year at a time, hopefully getting all the way into the '20s by the time this is all done. Yes, it's going to take awhile. I'm making it a Friday feature, alternating every other week with the usual weekly movie reviews I have been doing (currently picks from the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? list, but eventually wandering afield of that and then, according to the list I'm working from, eventually returning there again too, also), starting two weeks from today. Yes, it's definitely going to take awhile.

I owe thanks, especially for their infectious enthusiasm, to the following blogs, which have produced some excellent work with this concept, by both the bloggers and their various commenters: Goodfella's Movie Blog, which has unfortunately gone inactive, but whose archives are still there and very much worth a look. The Last Lullaby (and) Peril, which also finished up its survey a couple years ago, but proprietor (and filmmaker) Jeffrey Goodman continues to update various entries in red as he sees more pictures, which makes those archives worth checking regularly too. Moon in the Gutter mixed its efforts in this vein with all the rest of its impressive offerings, and though it apparently abandoned the project some time ago in the late '30s the entries are worth seeking out (and it's actually a real pleasure to spend time digging through its archives) for the unusual even iconoclastic picks made by proprietor Jeremy Richey. Movies over Matter may be the most ambitious of them all, with write-ups for each movie of a top 10, along with Oscar-style awards/appreciations of lead and supporting male and female performances.

Last but not least, I also found Jonathan Rosenbaum's writing and his road map of a proposed canon in Essential Cinema to be an invaluable resource. Thus, onward.


  1. Love this idea, especially the backwards approach which is a refreshing variation on the theme.

    You've been following the Wonders polls, right? I feel like I've seen you over there. No write-ups but it's interesting to see what people vote for and discuss each week (the current controversy is how Ben-Hur could have won in '59 over 400 Blows, Pickpocket Hiroshima, North by Northwest etc, and some politics-parsing has concluded the counter-Ben vote divided itself; god, I love that place haha).

    Anyway, this:

    "who carry a burden of the chronically overstuffed queue, watching movies most days, and never feeling quite caught up (admittedly not an altogether unpleasant feeling)."

    I've got displaced discs at the top of some of my queues that have been there since 2005! It sometimes frightens me to think that, via Netflix, I've chosen films I will be watching 25 years from now. I prefer to fantasize that someday I will take several months off from everything else and watch like 12 movies a day or something. Somehow this seems less intimidating than knowing that, with probably 1000+ films in all the queues combined, there's no way in hell I'm getting to most of these anytime soon - and by soon I mean, like, a decade.

  2. Oh geez don't I know that. Every time I add movies to my queue (which is frequently), I have to remember they're titles I might not actually see for a few years... if I'm lucky, and diligent. But that's a good problem to have, all things considered. And, yes, I have been following the Wonders polls -- great stuff as always in the comments -- and have been particularly amused by the Ben-Hur thread, a pick that did surprise me but maybe shouldn't have. Thanks as always for your comments, Joel!