Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Good movies, bad movies and my troubling Letterboxd account


By WALLACE McBRIDE

I've seen a lot of shitty movies.

That was the conclusion I reached after spending a few minutes on Letterboxd, a new-ish "social media" thing for movie buffs. The service lets you rate and review movies, make lists, interact with people, etc. Mostly, I'm just using Letterboxd as a tool to estimate how many movies I've seen during my short life. The odometer has already passed 2,000 films, which simultaneously feels like "too much" and "not enough."

Letterboxd has a list titled "They Shoot Pictures Don’t They?" which collects the top 1,000 movies as ranked by its users. There aren't many surprises there ... CITIZEN KANE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE GODFATHER and SINGING IN THE RAIN all scored pretty well. STAR WARS is pretty far down the list, not even cracking the top 100, which should tell you something about the people using Letterbox. That something is either good or bad, depending on what you expect from a movie.

Weirdly, it's not the so-called "great films" that give me any real insight into myself. Who cares if I've seen CITIZEN KANE? It seems almost obligatory at this point, thanks to its holy status in film history. You can argue all you want about its merits (I love it), but it's such a touchstone that the only crime is haven't not seen it. You don't even have to like it, but if you haven't seen CITIZEN KANE you might as well keep your opinions on movies to yourself.

74-year-old spoiler alert.
But it takes more than seeing the best movies to truly reinforce your cognitive abilities. It's a cliche that without darkness, there can be no light. But there can also be no CITIZEN KANE without THE BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z. Too much pain can make a person callous, but so can too much pleasure. I don't have much respect for the opinion of any person who hasn't scraped the bottom of the barrel with movies like TANGO AND CASH, GALAXY OF TERROR and RADIOACTIVE DREAMS. Bad movies can be character building.

It's possible to take things too far, though. Every once in a while a bad movie will bite back. DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (which you can see for free on Hulu, if you dare) left a such a bad taste in my mouth that it almost ruined movies for me forever. And I had to repress the urge to cry when I stumbled onto the listing for FEAR DOT COM on Letterboxd. If that movie had a face, I'd punch it. Then I'd peel it off and wear it around the house, Leatherface-style.

I might be holding a grudge.
As a social media network, though, Letterboxd has the added pressure of public scrutiny applied to your opinions. We like what we like, and sometimes that can be embarrassing. I don't know many people with the fortitude to actually admit to owning some of the DVDs in their collection. Who's the guy that would add POLICE ACADEMY 3: BACK IN TRAINING to their list of "favorite films" on Letterboxd? Don't pretend he's not out there. (And the person who sincerely loves POLICE ACADEMY 3 is almost certainly a man.)

I'm accustomed to making a jackass out of myself on the Internet, and even I had problems sometimes clicking the "like" button on some of my favorite movies. It's more complicated than it might sound, though: There were films I know are objectively good that didn't get a coveted "like" click because they didn't do much for me.  HUGO, LINCOLN and BLUE RUIN weren't bad movies, but I didn't exactly love them, either.

Meanwhile, lower tier (for lack of another term) movies like JUG FACE, SPEED RACER and WILLARD gave me exactly what I needed from them. I didn't even flinch when pressing "like" and activating that little heart next to their titles. Do I think WILLARD is necessarily a better film than LINCOLN? Maybe? Sometimes all a movie needs to do is prompt an emotional response to win us over.

SPEED RACER is awesome, btw.
What I've learned while using Letterboxd is that I didn't like THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as much as I thought I did. I learned that I've seen a whopping 32 percent of the films featuring Samuel L. Jackson. I learned that the least-popular movie I've seen (that's listed on Letterboxd) is the 1981 television movie GOLIATH AWAITS. And I learned that popularity is worthless, because people have ranked the Chuck Norris feature FORCED VENGEANCE higher than I, CLAUDIUS.

What I'm trying to say is this: If you haven't seen CITIZEN KANE, you should probably go watch it. And, if you're using Letterboxd, you can find me there at http://letterboxd.com/BarnabasCollins/

3 comments:

Cousin Barnabas said...

Evidently only four of us have seen "The Beauty Academy of Kabul", and if I'm one of them and you aren't then I don't know who the other three are. And only two of them put a heart on it.

Cousin Barnabas said...

You should read a plot synopsis of GOLIATH AWAITS. It's ridiculous in all the right ways.

Cousin Barnabas said...

Look, you're talking to somebody who just put a heart on Dead Poets' Society. I'm not sure my key is going to work in the door when I get home.

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