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The 150 Films Project

I’ve decided this blog needs to lighten the fuck up…sometimes. Over the past year, this place has gone from somewhat satirical mockery of the media to cranky, somewhat smartassy critiques of what I perceive as dumb people. I can’t say that’s what I want it to be, because I’m not nearly as cranky in real life as I come across on the blog. This place has always been a repository for rants and randomness, and my interest in religious issues, politics, and economic affairs has become the source of many of these rants.

As a result, I’ve made a few pledges to myself. First, no more Twitter. I’ve followed a number of atheist activists, who post articles or retweet commentators with horrible opinions. These atheists make me laugh, the articles sober me, the idiocy enrages me… And I can’t take it. I have enough anxiety about aspects of my life I can control; I don’t need to shoulder the things I can’t. That doesn’t mean I’ll make like an ostrich; I’m just not going to subject myself to this angrifying stuff constantly.

Second pledge: no more Sunday morning news shows. Holy shit. I don’t even think I need to explain this one.

Third pledge: no election coverage. It’s September of the year before the fucking election. First of all, stop it, media. More importantly, I don’t need it. On one side, I don’t need to waste time caring about Donald Trump and Ted Cruz; on the other, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. They’re fucking idiots, and at least half of them (probably all) will be out of the race by the end of the year. So why waste the emotional energy on the stupid, terrible things they say? I’ll still be aware of the stupid, terrible things Republicans say without actually seeing/hearing/reading daily examples of it.

The happiest I’ve ever been was in 2012, when I was so mired in finishing Overzealous that I managed to ignore the entire 2012 election. I can’t overstate how great it was to completely not give a shit about election year. (I caught up earlier this year by reading the book Double Down, which took several hundred pages to tell me, “You didn’t miss anything.”) Given my stance on voting, which isn’t likely to change based on the current candidate pool, what the hell is the point of frustrating myself every time these assholes come out to stump? The only person I even marginally care about is Hillary Clinton, who will be the Democrats’ nominee and whose questionable behavior (I’m not just talking about her e-mail issues) may be disastrous. And at this point, I can’t honestly say which is worse: her winning, or her losing. But frankly, this is something that might be worth worrying about a year from now, not today.

See? I can’t stop myself.

Too bad. I’m going to force it. And I’m not going to Sorkin this shit, where a conversation about “Who’s on First” spins out into a middle-aged man blustering about MY SON STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A FIELD IN AFGHANISTAN. I’ll still have my rants from time to time, but for the foreseeable future, I will devote the majority of my effort to a single project.

Introducing 150 Films

Over the course of the past 15 years, I amassed an enviable movie collection, somewhere in the vicinity of 300 films and perhaps 50 TV box sets. I have since consolidated that number to a tidy 150 films, which happened quite by accident. This dawned on me a few months ago, when I was once again whittling down my DVD collection, and something compelled me to count them. To my surprise, they added up to… Okay, not exactly 150 films. I’m not some kind of savant. I excluded movies I wouldn’t have ordinarily bought (like It’s Alive 3 (1987), which came in a three-pack with the excellent first two movies), movies made by or featuring friends/colleagues, and let’s face it, certain movies bought solely for the nudity (1998’s The Tribe would have a four-word review: “Anna Friel full frontal”). I was still a few over 150, but I was also whittling down the collection.

That’s when I made a conscious decision to keep my collection at a tight, delightful 150 from now until the end of time. If and when a film enters my life that affects me as profoundly as the 150 I have now, I will have to make a Sophie’s Super-Sized Choice regarding which film no longer makes the cut.

So what does make the cut, as of now? The answer falls into three categories, with a ton of overlap: (1) films that fill me with a sense of pure joy; (2) films that have moved me deeply and/or transported me into its creators’ universe; and (3) films that have profoundly influenced the person I’ve become, and the person I’ll continue to be.

This is why, for example, a film like Brazil (1985) doesn’t make the cut. I had an opportunity to see it in high school, but I never did. And then I continued to not see it until about six months ago, when I saw it for the first time and enjoyed it quite a lot. Yet, despite its humor, I wouldn’t quite say it filled me with joy; it didn’t move me or, at the risk of blaspheming, transport me into Terry Gilliam’s world; and I think it might have influenced me had I seen it on that fateful afternoon in high school, but now? It says many great things, but nothing I don’t already know. Nothing that can or will transform me going forward.

And yet, Jurassic Park (1993) does make the cut. Why? It’s not my favorite movie. I wouldn’t consider it one of the greats; at best, it’s an exceptionally skillful blockbuster that, solely on a technical level, still boasts some of the best special effects ever committed to film. And yet, to this day I find myself quoting its pithily profound observations on almost a weekly basis, especially these four:

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

“Life finds a way.”

“God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.”

“It’s a UNIX system… I know this!” (This is almost always sarcastic.)

So there you have it. I’ll leave the full list of movies a surprise, but I’ll share with you the following facts and statistics:

  1. My reason for doing this has more to do with me than with you. I’ve watched at least one never-before-seen movie every week, typically more, for the past four years. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of them, and yet very few have had the same staying power as the collection I’ve assembled. My personal goal with this project is to rekindle my passion for film, since working in the industry caused much of that passion to drain out through my eyes like Sam Neill in Event Horizon.
  2. What I write about the films will be less a traditional review and more a personal essay about my relationship to the films: when I first saw them, how they impacted me, why I felt they belonged in this collection… It will close with something of a critical reevaluation; since I haven’t seen some of these films in several years, the question on my mind will be, do they still have the same power they once did? To put it another way: have the pictures gotten small?
  3. I will go alphabetically, beginning with Above the Law (1988) and concluding with Zodiac (2007).
  4. Every one of the following statistics surprised me:
    • Top 5 Release Years: 1997 (8), 2007 (8), 1999 (7), 1990 (7), 1988 (6).

      If you’d asked me, I would have said 1999 would have topped this list by a comfortable margin. And yet, for all the excellent films released in 1999, only seven make the cut under the terms of this collection.

    • Top 5 Decades: 1980s (44), 1990s (36), 2000s (26), 1970s (14), 1940s (9).

      I’m shocked by the number of ’80s movies, and I would have thought both the ’70s and ’40s would have been higher.

    • Top 5 Directors: Coen Brothers (6), Woody Allen (5), P.T. Anderson (3), Albert Brooks (3), John Huston (3).

      I would have expected Woody Allen and John Huston to be #1 and #2, respectively. If someone were to ask me for a list of my favorite directors, I would not even think of Paul Thomas Anderson—but I would think of Spike Lee, despite only deeming one of his films worthy of owning (take a guess which one). Funny thing about the Coen Brothers, too: as much as I love their movies, and as inimitable as their style is, they don’t immediately come to mind when I think of great filmmakers. This is why statistics are interesting. They’ve made a secret impact.

    • Top 5 Genres: Comedy (52), Drama (31), Crime (23), Action (20), Horror (8).

      I went with the most basic genre types—no subgenres getting in the way—and ignored genre cross-pollination. For movies like that, I relied on how I, personally, respond to the movie. “What is Evil Dead 2? Comedy or horror?” I put it under “Horror.” That’s just me.

  5. I plan to both have fun and do a lot of self-exploration with this project. If you’re a new reader who enjoys my weird, Ayn Rand-influenced quasi-libertarian rants, I have two things to say
    1. Why haven’t you been commenting? It’s like a fucking ghost town around here.
    2. This blog is both about and for me, not you, so either enjoy it or stop reading.
      1. How much more fun can I have nesting lists?
  6. I have no set schedule. In my head, I’ll do one a week, but my commitment to this blog is low at best. If I manage one a month, consider it a victory.

To wrap up, if any readers have stuck with me since the beginning (we’re a month away from 13 years), you’ll have noticed the various phases of its evolution (including the jettisoning of plenty of intensely personal posts that I have not been able to recover, a decade after any of it mattered). I plan to do more explicitly personal writing here, and 150 Films will be the first of many new projects in that vein. But it won’t be like the original incarnation (2002-2007), when I wrote personal stories about the day-to-day in college and the, let’s say, month-to-month thereafter. It won’t be like the post-Juno incarnation (2008-2012), when I tried to leverage the inexplicable popularity of that review with my “insider knowledge” of the industry, becoming yet another voice in the din of unemployed screenwriters using a blog as an exposure platform. It won’t be like the third phase (2012-2014), in which I literally wrote nothing and fully planned to let this blog die a slow death. And I’ve spent this entire post explaining why it won’t be like the fourth, political phase.

It’s the dawn of a(nother) new era, one that’s a bit more navel-gazing and therapeutic (in a healthy, non-explosive way). I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are, too.

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1 Comment

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  • “Why haven’t you been commenting?”

    I rarely comment when I agree with what is said, or if I have no personal experience. I might comment when I see a different interpretation or to add insight. I don’t comment at all if I disagree, but I will downvote a reddit story/comment for that reason, even though that’s not how their downvote is supposed to work and I don’t care how reddit wants it used.

    PD Cantwell 4 years ago Reply Link

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