Somehow we survived 2018. After making it through the longest year on record — if not objectively then certainly subjectively — we could all use a little change in our lives, even if it’s just in how we engage with our hobbies. That’s why I’m offering this third installment of my annual list of cinephile New Year’s resolutions. As we strive to become more thoughtful and engaged moviegoers, these are the kind of positive changes that can help us enjoy our time at the movies.
1. Defend Kanopy With Your Goddamn Life
Since the death of FilmStruck, there have been plenty of conversations about the future of streaming services and whether niche platforms can continue in the face of media consolidation. While most fans of the streaming service are throwing their weight behind the Criterion Collection’s to-be-announced proprietary platform, there’s a better and more immediate solution: Kanopy, the video streaming service available via your membership to your local library. It’s a service that costs absolutely nothing and allows you to pick five titles each month to enjoy on most major streaming devices.
As Gizmodo summarized in a recent article, Kanopy’s business model is focused specifically on local libraries and universities. With more than 30,000 films available to patrons of 3,000 library systems, Kanopy is owning its niche between entertainment and education, offering the kind of robust mix of classic and documentary cinema that is hard to find on services like Netflix. But this robust selection isn’t even the platform’s biggest differentiator; unlike Netflix, Kanopy has a thoughtful and comprehensive interface, allowing users to find the type of films they’re searching for with relative ease. And honestly, if we can’t make a free streaming service with excellent curation and impressive corporate partnerships survive in 2019, maybe we never really deserved streaming services to begin with.
2. Let One Bad Opinion Slide
When I say “bad opinion,” I’m not talking about a misogynistic or xenophobic read on a film that uses the mantle of film criticism as an excuse for discrimination. No, I’m talking about the kind of everyday questionable takes that flood every corner social media. So you loved Bird Box. Or hated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Or think that John Travolta deserves Oscar consideration for Gotti. These are the kind of questionable opinions that, if made in good faith, I would gladly read a thousand words on. Disagreements should be the lifeblood of moviegoing; what’s more fun than sitting down over beers and passionately exchanging opinions about a film?
Unfortunately, film audiences are often quick to turn a questionable take into a war cry. It’s an entire cottage industry on Twitter, with novelty accounts popping up to make fun of people who diverge from the pack (and endlessly amplify their creator’s profile in the process). If we’re going to spend this year arguing about the things that truly matter — things like healthcare and immigration and income inequality — then surely we can take a breather the next time someone declares a bad movie one of their favorites of the year. Think of it not as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your intellectual dominance but as a chance to demonstrate patience. You can always get back on your high horse tomorrow.
3. Read Essays Before/After Watching a Film
And speaking of the Criterion Collection, what better way to enjoy classic titles than grounding yourself in the context of its release? One of the more tired arguments outside of film criticism is the idea that classic films are “suddenly” deemed problematic; for most academics and historians, the very things that make these movies challenging for contemporary audiences are what make them important historical artifacts. Learning about the cultural and industrial conditions at the time of the film’s release can shed some light on the filmmaker’s choices and give you a better foundation to enjoy the film. Assuming that your keen critical eye is enough to help you appreciate a 1940s or 1950s film is both arrogant and wrong.
What makes the Criterion Collection special is the volume of literature available to fans on their website. Every film in their catalog has a corresponding essay — written by a skilled film critic or historian — that does its best to ground the movie in contemporary issues. Knowing why a movie contains racist stereotypes or regressive attempts at representation will not only take the edge off those moments in the film, it will also position them as part of an evolving and changing Hollywood ecosystem. As the saying goes, if you want to know where we’re headed then you need to know where we’ve been, and educating yourself about history is an important piece of the puzzle.
4. Watch More Films From Before 1990
One of the best film columns available today is Hidden Streams, a /Film series dedicated to older titles available on popular streaming platforms. Rather than offering yet another retread of the best movies available from the last six months, author Britt Hayes digs deep and throws out some recommendations that were theatrically released before a lot of you were even born (no films on the list have a release date post-1985). In a year where we had several arguments about the importance of knowing your film history, a series like this does two things: it demonstrates the importance of watching old films and shows that classic titles are much more than just the vegetables of the film world.
The goal is to push back the boundaries of your film knowledge; how you do that is entirely up to you. Do you want to dig through Steven Yeun’s Top 10 movies on the Criterion Collection website? Go year-by-year through the list of Best Picture winners from the beginning of the Academy Awards? Marathon every title on Roger Ebert’s list of great movies? No matter how you decide to tackle the more than a century of cinema, what matters is that you push yourself out of your comfort zone and embrace some of the films that helped pave the way for your modern favorites. There’s no wrong approach to becoming a smarter and more discerning moviegoer.
5. Choose an Upcoming Release to Go Into Cold
Am I recycling this resolution for a third year in a row? Absolutely. This is because we live in an era where fandom often eclipses the role of film criticism as a qualitative evaluation of a work of art. Audiences no longer read reviews in search of insights; they approach each individual review as a confirmation or disconfirmation of their own assumptions. How can you possibly give Aquaman a good/bad review? Every other film in the franchise is obviously trash/incredible, so positive/negative reviews of the film are obviously biased and can be disregarded.
But this problem isn’t reserved just for studio franchises. Owing to their placement in regional and national film festivals, arthouse releases often come with a year’s worth of critical baggage. By the time an Oscar-caliber film arrives at your local multiplex, it’s already been through a round of hype and counter-hype that leaves little room for your own independent evaluation. And since it’s a good idea to make up your own mind about movies, take the opportunity in 2019 to learn absolutely nothing about a film. Mute keywords on Twitter, avoid reviews, don’t watch trailers — walk into a film absolutely cold and tackle it with zero expectations or preconceptions. You’ll be surprised how much fun you’ll have.