Pass the Popcorn

So, here we are, at the end of what has been a crazy ride. 198 movies I’ve never seen before for 2011. Incredibly awful score, considering my set goal of 365 – but then, who’s keeping score, eh?

I told a friend about this once.

Me (circa December 2010): “Hey, I’m going to try to watch a new movie everyday next year.”
Him: “…Why?”

I shrugged. At the time, there wasn’t really a reason. I’m not particularly sure what I had in mind when I embarked on this Project 365 – only the acceptance of the fact that idleness and I get along like Krispy Kremes go together with diets. I’m the type of person who likes to be kept busy, and this did precisely that. It gave me something to do besides aimlessly surfing the Web, reading about a hundred article on Google Reader before realizing that, lo and behold, it’s two in the morning. It wasn’t much of a stretch since I watch movies all the time. I guess it was only halfway through – say, about fifty movies in – where the value of what I was doing really started to sink in. It hit me that I wasn’t doing anything particularly groundbreaking – just that I was doing it on steroids. And it led me to think about why we watch movies, and what that says about us. I mean, when you think about, it’s only us humans who have this desire for entertainment, this need to be amused and moved. Sure, my dog plays happily with a chew toy, but he doesn’t care much for watching some other dog participate in canine recreational activities. And yet there I was, watching people onscreen everyday (almost!) for a year.

Moviegoers at Baghdad's first 4-D cinema

So, why do we watch movies? The most common answer is one I can sympathize with: I have always liked watching movies because of the adventure it offered me. Maybe it’s a natural human instinct not just to want to escape, but to go beyond ourselves. It told of people you’ve never met doing things you’ve never done in places you’ve never been. Films can show you the other side of the coin. When I was watching all these movies, I was seeing these vast oceans not just between the different genres, but between entire cultures. Anyone who is being fed a strict diet of Hollywood blockbusters might find it difficult to swallow an independent Mexican drama or appreciate a French comedy. I was fascinated by how I could a get a glimpse into different cultures by watching their films.

Case in point: Guillermo del Toro's El Laberinto del Fauno (2006)

But the funny thing is, films aren’t just about the “other”. Sometimes it’s a quiet little slice of life – a movie about regular, everyday, normal life. It’s on the opposite side of the spectrum as the concept of film as escapist entertainment. There are some movies where, if you were asked what it was all about, you might have a little trouble explaining. “It’s, um, about two people…talking.” It’s the Seinfeld factor (or maybe it’s The Truman Show factor). You’re watching other people go about their everyday lives. And it’s great because it allows you to look at things you normally wouldn’t notice, and see them in a new light. Movies help people empathize, and see the greater truths hidden in small things.

Scenes from Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995) and the sequel Before Sunset (2004)

A montage from Drake Doremus' Like Crazy (2011)

People will often cry gross over-intellectualisation when popular culture is critically addressed, as if it is somehow exempt from serious consideration because it is itself ‘non-serious’, just a bit of fun that doesn’t require or deserve dissection. I disagree; every expression of art is a product of its environment and as such will reflect the concerns, preoccupations and neuroses of the time. Mainstream entertainment particularly, by its very nature, has to reflect the dominant modes of thinking in order to qualify as mainstream, and in that respect, mass entertainment is even more fun to pick apart.” – Simon Pegg

I couldn’t agree more. Yes, movies are fun – but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. A great movie has something to say, if you’re ready to listen.  The main thing about why we watch movies is because we’re human – we’re innate storytellers, but we’re also quite a good audience. Make me want to buy this when it comes out on DVD. Make me want to rewatch it so many times that the dialogue is embedded forever in my brain (I’m looking at you, Mean Girls). Make me want to share this with other people. Make me laugh, make me cry, make me care.

If you’re curious about which movies I saw in 2011 (or would like to give recommendations on which movies I should see this year), head on over to A Year In Movies. As always, I’d love to hear what you have to say, so let me know your thoughts down below. 🙂

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