28 June 2010

How to Pick Your Next Movie -or- What to Do When There's Nothing You Want to Watch on Your Netflix Queue

Got an email this morning from a reader who was struggling to find the next movie to watch. He claimed to be having a hard time refining his taste in films. He further described himself as having "eclectic taste." (Don't we all?) He just wasn't digging what was on his Nextflix queue.

As a service to my legions of fans (three people is legions, isn't it?) I now provide all of you with an expanded version of my response.

Find a director to enjoy. If, for example, you love Goodfellas (1990), watch other Scorsese films. Or if you liked Some like it Hot (1959), see what else Billy Wilder did. This is a good way to find a style of film making that you enjoy. You're almost certainly not going to like every picture a given director does but you're probably going to like most and thus may tolerate his lesser efforts. Directors, as I will discuss below, are a far more reliable way to select films than stars. Watching one director you like will often lead you to others who have a similar style. Truffaut can lead to Godard, for example, as  Hawks can either lead to Ford or La Cava.

Pick a star. This is much riskier than going with a director because actors have and do all variety of films and some may not be to your taste. Also, since actors generally appear in a lot more films than directors make, they're more likely to be in some stinkers. However with people like Cary Grant, Bogie and Marlene Dietrich you're fairly safe. Notice that the three examples I gave are all stars of bygone eras. It's my impression that even the best of today's actors are more likely to be in bad films. Within the work of a star you can also focus on a genre. For example with Grant there's plenty of screwball comedies, with Bogie there's gangster films and with Dietrich a lot of romance.

Check out Great Films website. This is a great one stop shopping site in looking for films to watch. Brought to you by Tim Dirks, Greatest Films breaks down the "best" movies (yes, subject to debate but this provides a starting point and has all the classics) by such categories as decade, genre, stars. It also has such categories as best film speeches, best film kisses and best film editing sequences. Great fun and easy to navigate, not to mention an effective way to select something for your viewing pleasure.

Fall in love with "old" films. This is real easy to do. Movies from the 1930's in particular will help inspire a love for cinema. You won't get distracted by a an over emphasis on technical wizardry and state of the art special effects. Story and character were king (or queen) which is as it should be in story telling. The humor is not of the gross out variety and although once the production code began being enforced there was de facto censorship, its nice to have stories that aren't overly reliant on shocking violence or profanity. If you have Turner Classic Movies as part of your cable package you're good to go. Sadly not all the best from the 30's are on DVD but there's plenty to get you started. They did make bad movies back in Hollywood's Golden Age, but not of the spectacularly awful variety you see today. If you pick a random movie to watch from 2009 and then one from 1939 your chances of seeing a good film are far better from '39.

Read this blog (and others as well). If you look to your right you'll see labels for various stars, directors, genres etc. that I've covered over the two plus years of Riku Writes existence. You may get some ideas there. There are scads of other film bloggers some, like me, are rank amateurs, others are world renowned film critics like Roger Ebert. In fact, go to his website and check out The Great Movies section. Books can be helpful but that often means you're spending money to get just one person's opinion when you get lots of opinions for free on the internet.

Remember the rest of the world. Given the relatively limited availability of foreign language titles in the US. when you do pick a foreign film in the states you're quite likely to get something really good. So perhaps to an even greater degree than with older films, you stand a better chance of avoiding a bomb. Most of the classics from other countries are available as well as the best of the best directors.

Careful. Don't spend too much time researching movies. Better you should pick one and watch. Happy viewing.

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