Five New Year’s Resolutions for the Distinguished Film Nerd

By  · Published on January 4th, 2016

We’re now four days into 2016, so if you’re anything like me, you’ve already failed your New Year’s resolution several times over. One of my big goals for the New Year was to cut back on the amount of carbohydrates I consume, but smash-cut to last Saturday afternoon and there I am, sharing a slice of pizza with a few out-of-town friends at an Upper West Side restaurant.

It’s, like, a process, you know?

Even accounting for a few minor setbacks, carbs aren’t the only thing I’m looking to change in 2016. I’ve also written up a handful of smaller film-related resolutions to check in on throughout the year. No matter where we may fall on the film criticism consumption chain – publisher, writer, commenter, silent reader – there are always opportunities to improve and expand our horizons as people who are passionate about the film industry. And in case some of your other New Year’s resolutions aren’t going so well, I’ve jotted down a few of my own minor goals for us to share in the months to come.

Here are my Five New Year’s Resolutions for the distinguished film nerd.

Spend More Time at the Inconvenient Theater

Every film fan, if pushed, can assign a value to the movie theaters in his or her immediate geographical area. There are the theaters you attend regularly because they offer the best balance of convenience and experience; the theaters that you go out of your way to patron based on the strength of their programming; and, invariably, the theaters you frequently admire from afar but never quite find the time or occasion to attend. It is this last category that offers us the biggest opportunity for improvement in 2016.

While I live in New York City and do my best to vary my theater attendance, I often find that it is the museums (such as the Museum of Arts and Design) that suffer the most when I carve out movie time from my work and school schedule. This doesn’t even include the venues that fall somewhere below a conventional movie theater; Spectacle, a collectively run screening space in Williamsburg that focuses on low-budget and avant-garde cinema, has been circled multiple times on my calendar while never quite making the cut. You don’t need to change your theater habits entirely, but to help spread the money around and support those venues living closest to the break-even point, make time for the not-for-profit centers and smaller venues a few times in the next couple of months. The Alamo Drafthouse can survive without you for a week.

Read One Film Critic You Disagree With Regularly

This is probably the one item on the list that I struggle with the most. I have a small selection of film critics – essayists and reviewers – who I read almost exclusively. Some of them are people whose opinions I frequently agree with; others are people whose approach to film criticism I find extremely relatable. These writers regularly push me to put more time and thought into my own articles; at the end of the day, though, they are writers who never make me angry, and that’s a missed opportunity.

There’s no denying that we need more diverse voices in film criticism, but what sometimes gets lost in that discussion is the underlying need for dissention. I can name several writers off the top of my head who I frequently avoid – despite their knowledge of the industry and skills as writers – solely because I disagree with their perspective or the tone of their writing. And while this might be as innocuous as skipping over their reviews on the way home from the movie theater, this still limits my exposure to new perspectives and reinforces the idea that differing opinions can be ignored entirely. I know I’m not the only one who can sometimes fall into this trap. Make 2016 the year you seek out disconfirming ideas about film and see where it leads you.

Step Outside Your Movie Comfort Zone

Here’s the truth: there will never be enough time to see all the movies that we want to watch. Hell, odds aren’t great that you’ll even watch all the important movies in your genre or era of choice. Are you a big horror movie fan? Someone will always namedrop a ’70s or ’80s curio that you’ve never heard of. Do you love movies from a specific national cinema? There are still hundreds of titles from around the world that helped inspire the filmmakers who put that country on the map. It’s an endless pursuit that we’re all doomed to fail.

And this endless pursuit can sometimes cause us to be a bit myopic in what we watch. We are never more than a few seconds away from being able to watch a movie, so maybe it’s worth a few extra minutes in our day to skip over the ‘Recommended For You’ section of Netflix or Amazon Prime and click on that oft-underappreciated ‘Documentaries’ or ‘Horror’ carousel. Dive into the Criterion Collection on Hulu. Swing by the library on your way home from work and pick up a copy of that foreign language film that’s been buried at the bottom of your to-do list for months. Much like dieting, cinema can be bad for you if you focus too exclusively on one of the major food groups. A diverse diet is the key to a long and happy life.

Choose an Upcoming Release to Know Nothing About

Over the past year, many people weighed in on the way that Hollywood – for better or worse – has morphed into a cycle of endless anticipation for upcoming releases. Marvel movies are planned a decade at a time; the only things that will survive a nuclear apocalypse are cockroaches and Star Wars release dates. And even as people praise Disney for their calculated and immersive advertising campaign for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, some still fondly remember the days when you could walk into a movie theater as a blank slate. Why not try that again?

Choose one movie – big or small – and do your best to avoid any mention of it throughout the year. We’re not talking about the spoiler paranoia that keeps Film Twitter up at night; rather, choose a film that you are somewhat excited for and make it a goal not to read production updates or casting rumors. When the trailer comes up as a Promoted Tweet, scroll right past it. If you love the experience, try it again! If you feel it wasn’t worth being out of the loop, at least you know this from firsthand experience. Some of our favorite films are the ones that we stumbled across in a video store or a late-night cable channel. It may be harder to recreate that experience with a first-run theatrical release, but there’s certainly enough other movie publicity to keep you occupied in the meantime.

Talk About Movies with People Who Just Don’t Care

Sometimes we forget that the vast majority of people just don’t care that much about movies. These are people who only see the handful of movies that are heavily advertised every season; who view movies as ninety minutes of escapist entertainment and give no thought to the artistic or commercial sides of the industry. And when we express frustration with Hollywood for making movies that regurgitate familiar themes and concepts, we forget that Hollywood is tapped into these audiences in a way that we are not. They know exactly what they’re doing.

So talk to people – your friends, family members, and coworkers – who could care less about movies as anything other than dumb entertainment. Not only will this give you an opportunity to maybe change a few minds as to what constitutes good cinema (and give you an opportunity to practice your active listening skills), it will also remind you that the passionate people you talk to every day aren’t indicative of the whole. Any conversations about the industry must begin with the type of core audiences that make up most of the weekly box office numbers; at some point, our collective surprise at the box office domination of a Jurassic World or even an Avatar starts to show just how out of touch with the mainstream we might be.

Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)