I've always thought of myself as being well-rounded when it comes to what movies I've seen. I want to be known as someone who can speak intelligently about all types of movies, be they blockbusters or art-house, films from any and every country, or movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood and earlier.
There's nothing like cold, hard data to shatter the lies we tell ourselves. I'm a paying member of Letterboxd, a service that lets you log, rate, and generally obsess over the movies you've seen or that you want to see. One of my favorite features on Letterboxd is their stats section. It breaks down, categorizes, and quantifies everything you've seen. It does so by year, but also over the course of your movie watching life. It's like Sabermetrics, but for movie obsessives.
The walls of my self-delusion came tumbling down when I looked at the Letterboxd chart showing how many movies I've marked as seen, grouped by release year. Obviously, I haven't logged every single movie I've ever watched. I'm almost (gulp) 40, and I've only been using the site for about four years. Still, in my spare time (I don't want to talk about how much of that spare time went into this project), I marked every movie I could think of that I've ever seen.
The results were shocking (at least to me). There is a precipitous drop off in the number of movies I've seen from before my birth (1980). "That can't be right," I thought. Surely I was just forgetting the older movies, so I hadn't marked them as seen (and don't call me Shirley). I decided to get downright crazy about marking as many movies as possible. Letterboxd was happy to help. They make movies searchable by release year. So, I started with the year 2013 (the year before I created my Letterboxd account) and worked my way back.
Now, I know what you're thinking. No, I'm not THAT crazy. I did not sift through every single title ever released. There are literally thousands of movies released every year. That would probably take more time than I have left on this earth. But, when you pull up a year on Letterboxd, the service arranges them (I'm pretty sure, based on the order of movies) by how many people have either logged them, or marked them as watched, from most to least. That's why Pulp Fiction is the first movie listed under the year 1994. Again, I'm not 100% sure that's how they do it, but it makes sense.
To make marking as many movies as possible a reasonable task, I marked everything I'd seen until I got to a row of movies (there are 12 movies per row) that didn't contain any titles I had seen. When that happened, I simply moved to the next year. I did this for the year 2013 all the way back to the birth of cinema... in 1874. There are bound to be some movies that I've seen that I haven't marked. Surely I've seen a few titles that were lower on the list in their given year, so I didn't make it down to them (and don't call me Shirley). Here is the final result:
As you can see, the number of movies I've seen that were made pre-1980 is, well, pathetic. This chart is especially disturbing considering I like to think of myself as Mr. New Hollywood. I claim to love the movies that came out of the exciting period of the late '60s and 1970s, when directors like Scorsese, Coppola, and Altman were in their prime. The stats indicate otherwise.
How can I call myself a true cinéaste if I have such a sizable gap in my film knowledge? In an attempt to correct this, I've set a challenge for myself. For the entire year of 2018, aside from a few caveats, I will only watch movies made before I was born.
Here are the caveats: 1) While I'm excited to feast for a year on films that truly fit the cliché "they don't make 'em like that anymore," I also don't want to miss the movies of 2018 while doing it. So, I'll continue to see and write about new releases during my challenge. 2) January and February are prime months to finish playing catch up with everything I missed the previous year. I've been successful in writing about every Oscar Best Picture nominee since I started The Forgetful Film Critic, and I'd like to keep the streak alive, so, 2017 releases are in, too. 3) I can't expect other people (and by that, I mostly mean my ever-patient partner, Rachel) to only watch old movies. So, if I'm watching a movie with someone else, obviously, they get a say in what we watch.
Now, here is where you can help. I need suggestions. I have quite a few ideas already, but I am more than happy to hear yours. If there is a movie from before 1980 that you think I need to see, let me know about it. Either leave a comment at the bottom of this post, or check out my profile at Letterboxd (you can find a link to my profile at the top of this page). I have started a list called "FFC's 2018 Classic Movie Challenge." Feel free to add your suggestion to the comments section of that list. I will then add it to the list, and I'll also add it to my watchlist, which will act as my master list from which to choose.
I can't promise I'll get to all the movies that are recommended to me, but I'll do my best. I'm looking forward to this challenge, and to discovering some great movies!