Year of 1,200 Movies

Featured image: Pit Stop (Jack Hill, 1969)

There’s some enduring part of me that wants to live as a movie recluse and spend all of my free time curled up with my home entertainment system and stockpile of Chinese tea. This part of me gets indulged plenty, but normally I make a deliberate effort to keep my anti-social impulses in check and maintain a reasonably balanced life outside my lair.

Not this year. I reasoned: “There are plenty of years to go do shit. This is not one of them. There is some shit that it’s possible to go do, but it’s terrible. Even the outdoor recreation in Montana is far worse than usual, because trails that one would normally have to oneself are crowded with tourists escaping urban pandemic hell. This is the year to really and truly indulge my homebody tendencies. I’m going to allow myself to watch as many movies as I want to, and then when the smoke clears I’ll rejoin society.”

It turns out that “as many movies as I want to” is 1,200 movies. And indeed that’s how many I watched (it’ll probably end up being like 1,230). Some of these 1,200 were short films, but I also watched quite a few in the 8-14 hour range, so it balances out to about 1,200 feature-length movies. That’s about 40 hours a week in movie viewing. How does one watch fit in 40 hours a week of movies?

Well I can tell you. My typical schedule was to get up around 9, exercise, work on my book for a few hours, cook and do chores, have an early dinner, and then watch movies until I crashed at around 2am. Some days I had to teach and/or attend meetings and that typically meant not working on my book and watching one less movie. Some days I snuck in an extra movie first thing in the morning (usually something from the 1930’s– I crave that era with my coffee). I took some days “off” from work and did nothing but watch movies. I very rarely went anywhere. In the summer I went swimming a lot in my neighborhood swimming holes. There’s a farm stand around the corner. Otherwise we ordered supplies online and my wife Angela did errands on her way home from work. I avoided Zoom as much as possible. My buddy Jesse came over sometimes. I have not gotten a haircut since February.

It helped that my book was about movies and so I could think of a lot of my viewing activities as “research.” I’ll be the first to admit that my research was disproportionate to what was required. I wrote about a third of a chapter on direct-to-video action movies. To prepare, I watched something like 250 direct-to-video action movies. I found it especially important to maintain a balanced cinematic diet. One can’t watch 1,200 films that require maximum focus and attention in a single year. I watched plenty of demanding art films, but I also watched an enormous amount of trashy genre movies.

Nemesis 2: Nebula (Albert Pyun, 1995)

Overall I had a very good year. I don’t mean to gloat about that. I know that a lot of people struggled horribly and the fact that I was able to have a good year reflects many ways in which I am unusually fortunate in my material situation. But I do think it’s important to say that a lot of people whose disposition is better suited to a reclusive life would be better off if the world didn’t make us leave the house so much. We all realized this year how unnecessary a lot of face-to-face interaction really is. Zoom teaching is certainly crap compared to in-person teaching, but I really hope I never have to attend another in-person committee meeting again.

I came to terms this year with the fact that being a homebody is my true nature. I could do this indefinitely and I wouldn’t mind. But when the pandemic finally does end, I will resume forcing myself to do otherwise, and I will feel better about it for having had the chance to fully indulge my inner recluse for such a large swath of time. I doubt I’ll ever watch 1,200 movies in a single year again. But if there’s another pandemic? Absolutely.

So what did I watch?

I used letterboxd to keep records. I kept up with new releases, but because so many releases were postponed I only watched about 105 new releases from 2020 (keeping with tradition, we will put up our 2020 year in review on Oscar Sunday). Most of what I watched was older. The 80’s and 90’s were heavily represented but I watched a decent number of films from each decade beginning with the 20’s. My deepest dive was definitely in the action genre, where I watched about 375 films, including many childhood favorites that I hadn’t seen in ages. I watched about 270 horror films and 225 comedies. The majority of what I watched was in English, but there was quite a bit of diversity. Letterboxd includes movies that are only partially in a given language in these stats, but according to my records I watched 153 films in French, 99 in Italian, 88 in Mandarin or Cantonese, 83 in Spanish, 70 in German, 55 in Japanese, and 33 in Russian.

Here’s a list of the directors I watched the most films by along with the number of films I watched by them. There’s still a week left for Albert Pyun to take the lead, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened:

House by the River (Fritz Lang, 1950)
  1. Fritz Lang- 21
  2. Albert Pyun- 20
  3. Chantal Akerman- 15
  4. Jack Hill- 12
  5. Roel Reiné- 12
  6. Abel Ferrara- 11
  7. Ringo Lam- 10
  8. Kiyoshi Kurosawa- 10
  9. Isaac Florentine- 9
  10. Herman Yau- 9

And here’s a list of the actors who appeared in the most films I watched:

Command Performance (Dolph Lundgren, 2009)
  1. Dolph Lundgren- 48
  2. Jean-Claude Van Damme- 44
  3. Nicolas Cage- 24
  4. Scott Adkins- 18
  5. Danny Trejo- 15
  6. Charles Bronson- 11
  7. Randolph Scott- 11
  8. Gary Cooper- 11
  9. Joan Blondell- 11
  10. Jean Arthur- 11

And what were my favorites out of all that?

Baxter, Vera Baxter (Marguerite Duras, 1977)

Finally, here is my top 50 out of everything I watched this year, including both first time viewings and rewatches. All of these are peak personal canon for me and the list is a nice cross section of my all-time favorites. The list is in chronological order.

Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang, 1924)

Dishonored (Josef von Sternberg, 1931)

Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)

Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942)

The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)

Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)

House by the River (Fritz Lang, 1950)

A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)

On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1951)

Rancho Notorious (Fritz Lang, 1952)

The Tall T (Bud Boetticher, 1957)

Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)

Pit Stop (Jack Hill, 1969)

Vampyros Lesbos (Jess Franco, 1971)

India Song (Marguerite Duras, 1975)

Baxter, Vera Baxter (Marguerite Duras, 1977)

Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (Chantal Akerman, 1978)

The Shout (Jerzy Skolimowsky, 1978)

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Francisca (Manoel de Oliveira, 1981)

The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

Tenebrae (Dario Argento, 1982)

Mermaid Legend (Toshiharu Ikeda, 1984)

Trouble in Mind (Alan Rudolph, 1985)

Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)

Van Gogh (Maurice Pialat, 1991)

La Belle Noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, 1991)

The Untold Story (Herman Yau, 1993)

Body Snatchers  (Abel Ferrara, 1993)

Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)

Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)

The Blackout (Abel Ferrara, 1997)

Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)

The Captive (Chantal Akerman, 2000)

Evolution of a Filipino Family (Lav Diaz, 2004)

Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006)

Déjà Vu (Tony Scott, 2006)

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, 2006)

Speed Racer (Lily and Lana Wachowski, 2008)

Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008)

35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2008)

Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008)

To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2012)

Blackhat (Michael Mann, 2015)

Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)

Field Niggas (Khalik Allah, 2015)

A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick, 2019)

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