15 Things I Picked Up from Watching 378 Movies in 2015

Is it too late to say Happy New Year? Well, this is where we are. Happy New Year!

I’m a student of the cinema. It isn’t something I learned about myself, just something I sort of always knew. I’ll watch anything and everything and pick up what I can. Even if a movie is complete garbage in my eyes, learning what doesn’t work for me means I didn’t waste two hours of my life. Way back in January 2015, I thought it would be fun to start a movie log and keep track of every movie I watch from start to finish and see where I ended up by December 31st.

My favorite movies leave a lasting impression on me. An intriguing premise or specific actor draws me in, but there’s no such thing as a guaranteed win. What wins me over is that gut feeling, that visceral, emotional reaction to the story or characters or mise-en-scène or technique and in some very special cases — all of the above. I also have so much love and respect for bold creative choices.

When I say a movie is a film and gorgeous and life-changing in the way it captivates, it’s just my opinion and if I say a movie is a popcorn movie is a box office grubbing heap of garbage with no substance beneath the one liners and excessive explosions, I fully expect people, strangers and those I love and respect, to disagree. That’s the beauty of the cinema, right? Subjectivity! It’s beautiful. How certain films and characters and tropes rip my heart apart and make me enjoy it, but someone else can just shrug it off. Absolutely maddening, but beautiful. Movies are magic in the way people react differently to seeing the same thing. It’s magic. Movies are magic and 2015 was a great year in the world of professional make-believe.

In 2015, I watched 378 movies. The original plan was to watch a movie a day, but life had other plans more often than not so if I was too busy to watch a movie one day I’d make up for it by watching two (or four) on a later day. It worked out, for the most part. Here are a few of those things I picked up along the way:

1. Don’t illegally download movies! Can’t stress it enough. Just don’t do it, kids.

2. My favorite movies released in 2015 look a little like this:  

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Mad Max: Unbreakable Furiosa

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Do yourself a favor and go see Mad Max: Fury Road, a George Miller masterpiece that promises one of the greatest cinematic experiences in years. The story is set in a violent, post-apocalyptic world where muscle cars and hot rods aren’t only enduring and repurposed, but fetishized like religious objects.

Not only does the Mad Max world contain intricate world-building and thrilling, high-octane action, but Miller is also a master of the “show, don’t tell” approach to storytelling and filmmaking. He drops us into this world where even background characters have extensive backstories and tells us none of it. There’s no exposition, no lengthy voiceover recap or overview of the universe. All we’re given is what we see onscreen and the almost teasing roar of engines, challenging the audience to keep up if you can.

“Show, don’t tell” doesn’t mean showing everything and saying nothing, but knowing when different techniques and approaches are appropriate, what should be seen, what should be said and what should be implied. Sexual abuse is a big part of the story, but there isn’t a single explicit, gratuitous rape scene onscreen. Fury Road makes it a point to never exploit trauma. It is implied and recognized for what it is in that we may not see it, but what we do see is enough to suggest it happened and has a heavy hand in why the characters do what they do. The women go from being treated like livestock and objects to acting in a way that screams what has become one of the movie’s most popular quotes, words scrawled on a wall — we are not things. This is a story about the fight to overcome and the will to survive in a seemingly hopeless world, developing mutual respect and reclaiming one’s sense of agency.

See this movie! And if you need any more convincing, there’s this Mad Max: Fury Road & Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt mashup that is one of the best things to come out of YouTube in years. (Warning: the video features spoiler-ish imagery and women being capable and badass.)

Females are strong as hell, indeed.

Girltrash: All Night Long

For Kels. Years after I said I’d write this. The things I do for friends.

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Have you ever watched Snack-Off on MTV? It’s basically a parody of every serious food competition. Instead of having professional chefs compete they have amateurs who make you doubt their life skills along with their cooking skills in the interview packages. Instead of using only the freshest ingredients, Snack-Off provides a pantry of processed junk real chefs whine about on Chopped. A comedian, a supermodel and one real chef serve as the panel of judges. As I’m watching this or rather, letting it play in the background as I work on other things, I can’t help, but feel bad for the one chef who works in and owns actual restaurants. He cringes at the crap put in front of him and even admitted to getting notes from the producers saying he’s too mean when judging. But then there are times where he takes a bite and he smiles a little and begrudgingly says it’s actually tasty even though he has no earthly idea why.

And that is how I feel about GirltrashUp All Night. 

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The Breakfast Club: 30th Anniversary

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Thirty years ago, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, the quintessential high school movie, opened in theaters. When I was eighteen, someone asked me what my favorite movie was and I readily said The Breakfast Club, duh. Fast forward five years and nothing makes me laugh and feel this particular brand of mortification quite like remembering that and repeating it now.

I’ve grown into the type of person who will be the first to tell you The Breakfast Club isn’t the alpha and omega of the genre, that it isn’t without its problems and that the hype around the movie is greater than anything within it. It is no longer my favorite movie. I’ve long since dashed the concept of having a favorite movie. (Seriously, that’s like asking me to name a favorite niece or nephew.) Although I can nitpick and sift the flaws out of The Breakfast Club, I can also recognize the little sparks of genius throughout this movie about teens in detention on a weekend, unconsciously seeking to define themselves, seeking a stable sense of identity and finding common ground, finding understanding in unexpected places.

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Movie Log 2015

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Okay, here’s the deal. I have issued myself a challenge. It’s a simple challenge, really. There are only two rules:

1) watch movies

2) keep track

For the entire year! (Then I plan to do it again next year and the year after that and so on.) Ideally, I’d like to watch one movie a day and I have so far, but I know myself well enough to avoid a setup for disaster. What better way to honor and continue developing my undying love for cinema than by watching as many movies as I possibly can? I actually keep pages and pages of handwritten notes and thoughts on every movie I see in a Moleskine because the best movies make me think about it for days after and I need to get it all out of my head. I try to keep it brief with the comments on the online log even though I can go on and on about a movie forever. I even rate each movie based on my own personal system of little gold stars.

Check out my movie log for 2015! Happy watching!

Amoeba Music

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Music makes my brain happy.

Science tells us that the brain’s reaction to music is similar to its reaction to food or hallucinogenic drugs. The brain finds intellectual reward in following and understanding a sequence of sound. An appreciation of its understanding results in a pleasurable experience for the listener. And that’s just the sound alone! Music is more than an audio dopamine cocktail. In some cases, lyrics can heighten the listening experience with attached associations and memories. Music makes it possible for two very different people with very different political views and theological beliefs to have the same biological reaction to the same sound. Even with all the tension in the world, music is transcendent.

I often seek out new music and new ways to experience music whether it be through social media, word of mouth or live performances. Living in a world where music is so easily accessed and purchased via wi-fi connection and a few clicks shouldn’t mean the inevitable extinction of music stores, but a greater appreciation for them. I take trips up and down the West Coast a couple of times every year and this summer I visited Amoeba Music, both the Berkley and Hollywood locations, for the first time. Thus, my obsession with music stores that began with my first viewing of Empire Records as a younger person intensified.

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Movie Moment: Visual Gag

Visual gag or sight gag:

an instance that conveys humor with little or no words.

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Girl Most Likely (2012)

Kristen Wiig with a cameo by Natasha Lyonne

Not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but pretty amusing in how it captures that lost, pathetic feeling of hitting rock bottom. This scene made me laugh and oddly relate to the main character’s aforementioned pathetic-ness. This was a great visual gag from the setup (and Lyonne’s strong Jersey accent) to the completely visual punch line.

Q&A: Best of the Best

What was your best birthday?

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The day I turned fourteen is the one that comes to mind. My cousins and I spent the entire day at Disneyland and at the end of the night, while riding the tram back to the parking lot everyone sang happy birthday to me, including the Disney cast member over the tram speaker system and a good portion of the passengers. My eighteenth birthday was a milestone and my twenty-first was a fun blur, but my fourteenth is the one that stands out most in my memory.  I was saying goodbye to adolescence and teetering on the fringe of  young adulthood and I got to spend the day with people I love in the happiest place on earth.

What was your best vacation?

Summer 2009. Instead of having a big, extravagant graduation party after high school I wanted to go to Europe and I did. I saw Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the National Museum in London and stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower overlooking Paris.

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 I got lost in the Louvre (and wasn’t very impressed with the Mona Lisa, if we’re being honest.)
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I was charmed by the streets of Barcelona, the incredible architecture, the gorgeous outdoor marketplaces and the colorful people, who were especially so when we accidentally found ourselves amidst a gay pride parade. I tried different types of food for the first time, including gelato, macarons, quiche and the one that left the longest lasting impression on me, Orangina.
I hopped from place to place around Italy. Posed alongside the Leaning Tower of Pisa, ate the most amazing pizza just down the street from the Trevi Fountain and even watched the Pope ride in a little car and wave to adoring worshipers on a jumbo screen.
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I saw the Colosseum, Amphitheatre in Rome. Well, actually, we just took pictures outside because you had to pay to take a tour inside, but I did see it with my own two eyes!
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I took in some breathtaking sights, standing atop cliffs and on little docks, looking out at the gorgeous expense of deep blue ocean.
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I closed out the high school chapters of my life by leaving my life entirely and going out and seeing the world. Not many people have the opportunity to do so in their entire lives and I know how fortunate I am to have that experience.

What is the best movie(quality) you’ve seen?

This is the worst question. Asking a film nerd with a degree as proof of her film nerdiness to choose the best quality movie I’ve ever seen is pure torture. There are just so many amazing movies I’ve seen and so many amazing movies I haven’t seen and how does one choose exactly? Not to mention my ability to find a high point in any movie regardless of how high or low the quality. My first reaction to this question is to laugh nervously, say I’ll get back to you and then in a few months you’ll get my answer in the form of an eight-page analytical essay.
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That being said, Singin’ in the Rain is perfect to me. Conceptually, it depicts Hollywood’s transition between silent films and the discovery of synchronized sound, something I can nerd out about for days. I’m a sucker for musicals and musical numbers and the one in Singin’ in the Rain are classics for a reason. Factor in the amazing cast and it’s just quality, feelgood entertainment.
If you’re looking for something more modern, I’m really into the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now. This might be just because I recently saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier and loved it. I wouldn’t say the movie Screen shot 2014-04-12 at 11.21.37 PMwas perfect or that any of the Marvel movies are, but they push quality product. I’m a fan of Marvel’s ability to balance actor, drama and humor in a single film and I like that I can watch the fight scenes and heavy CGI scenes without feeling nauseous from the camera movement. With the ridiculous prices of movie theater tickets and snacks, I can be choosy about what I pay to see, but I can never say no to a Marvel superhero movie.

What is the best TV show ending of all time?

No contest with this one. Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad!
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If you didn’t know, I like Breaking Bad. It’s as close to a perfectly crafted television show as I have ever seen. I read the pilot over and over again when I first learned to write for television and I absolutely adored the finale. It felt very necessary and satisfying. Walter White spends the last episode of the series tying up loose ends and then (SPOILER) he dies a slow death where he was most content and happiest — back in the lab one last time, reflecting on the love and pride he has for his signature blue product. Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” plays in those final moments, featuring lyrics such as I guess I got what I deserved and I would show the special love I have for you, my baby blue. Such a thoughtful way to cap off an intelligent, captivating series.
And that ends this week’s dose of me oversharing. Until next week!