I watched 500 new films in 2019. Here are my takeaways.

I'm an amateur film lover, as I'm sure many folks are. Around the new year, I set a goal for myself. I'd realized how important films were to me, and decided that I was going to watch 500 new (non-rewatch) films in 2019. I would use it as an excuse to fill in some of the holes in my film knowledge, and see lots of foreign films, since historically I haven't seen nearly as many foreign films as US ones.

As of November 19th, I finally reached my goal (woo hoo). Excluding 4 short films and 45 rewatches, I've now logged 500 films in 2019. So besides the fact that Letterboxd is incredibly useful, what have I learned?

Film is more powerful, varied, and universal a medium than I ever knew.

I've chosen six films from different countries to show what I mean.

I've never given black & white filmmaking its fair due.

From films like The Night of the Hunter (Laughton) Bicycle Thieves (De Sica) and Rashômon (Kurosawa), to the more modern The Servant (Losey) Wings of Desire (Wenders) and The Addiction (Ferrara), black and white cinematography has a way of capturing the human face in a way I never appreciated before. In all of the above examples, I was so engrossed in the framing and composition of the material, and the uncluttered power of the performances, that it stopped bothering me in the way other B&W films I've seen did. The more modern films were pretty hit-or-miss when they used B&W stylistically, but sometimes, as is the case with The Addiction, it added an extra depth to the thematic storytelling. That work in particular focuses so much on moral relatavism, that the choice of black and white added profoundly to the starkness of the material.

I also never appreciated just how damn fun some older films really are. I find mindless slapstick kind of exhausting, but Bringing Up Baby was a riot and a half, and Chaplin's The Great Dictator was at once hilarious and moving. René Clair's I Married a Witch was a ravishing delight, and Cocteau's La belle et la bête made magic feel real with its rich texture and absolute earnestness. I had extremely limited exposure before actively seeking out these older titles, and there's a lot more variety out there—if you give them a shot!

There are a lot of gorram movies out there, and a lot of ways to watch them.

I'm lucky to live in a city with a massive non-profit movie rental store, which boasts a library of 120,000 titles. They range from music and documentary and sports to every conceivable narrative genre from the history of film and television. Walking the aisles I've found titles from around the globe, from tiny indie films to massive blockbusters. For the harder films to find, this place has been invaluable to me.

Besides that, there are a lot of resources I've used for watching movies, not the least of which is the movie theater where I work. Just this year I've seen 61 movies in theaters (some of them twice, some of them special Fathom events that are rewatches of classics not counted in my tally). I've also used Netflix (streaming and DVD by mail), Hoopla, Kanopy, the public library, the Criterion Channel, HBO Go, Redbox, Amazon Prime, and one movie at a friend's house on Hulu. There are a lot of movies, and there are more ways than ever of finding those movies.

Another biproduct of seeing so many movies is learning exactly how many movies I haven't seen. I watched 500 new movies, and there are now almost 1000 movies on my watchlist. Finding a director or actor interesting, I'd immediately start exploring their other films, which spiraled out.

This kind of exposure lead to some interesting comparisons in my mind: Why does this Almodóvar film succeed where this other Almodóvar film fail? Where was Louis Malle in his career that made movie X so engaging when I'm used to more documentarian detachment from him? I'd also heard the quote about the film Nashville that "Nashville is the film Paul Thomas Anderson has been trying to make for twenty years." I saw Nashville because of this quote, and proved a fascinating way to frame the experience. There are so many strings connecting the world of cinema, and it's a network that you can dive into from an entirely meta angle and find the experience satisfying and multifaceted. Still, I'm finding I like going into a movie completely cold; I avoid watching trailers, especially for things I see in the theater, and having a blank slate is almost as satisfying as reaching for all the connections from the start.

It's been quite a journey for me. Watching an average of about 1.7 movies per day does lead to a degree of burnout, with about one-a-day on days I worked and 2-4 on days I didn't. When it felt like I was eating my darts watching something I thought I should see, I'd try to pick something stupid that I didn't have to focus too hard on, or slip into the warm embrace of a film I'd seen and already knew I loved. That definitely helped me get back into the swing of things.

To tie it off, I've compiled my highest rated movies that I also "liked" (strongly affected me in a personal way) from the year. Every single one of them comes with a high recommendation to anyone with a passion for film. Several, I've already mentioned.

TitleYearDirector
The Red Shoes1948Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Nights of Cabiria1957Federico Fellini
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg1964Jacques Demy
Donkey Skin1970Jacques Demy
The Devils1971Ken Russell
Murmur of the Heart1971Louis Malle
Blow Out1981Brian De Palma
Possession1981Andrej Zulawski
After Hours1985Martin Scorsese
Wings of Desire1987Wim Wenders
Cinema Paradiso1988Giuseppe Tornatore
Three Colors: Blue1993Krzysztof Kieślowski
Three Colors: Red1994Krzysztof Kieślowski
Zusje1995Robert Jan Westdijk
Career Girls1997Mike Leigh
Y Tu Mamá También2001Alfonso Cuarón
Thirst2009Park Chan-wook
The Handmaiden2016Park Chan-wook
Disobedience2017Sebastián Lelio
The Tale2018Jennifer Fox
Parasite2019Bong Joon-ho
Ready or Not2019Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood2019Quentin Tarantino
Midommar2019Ari Aster

Obligatory link to my Letterboxd profile for those interested. Also, here is a list of the 500 films in order of viewing. If you have any questions or thoughts you'd like to share, please do; a big thing that kept me going was the impassioned conversation it let me have with others. My email is my first name at this domain.

Go watch something weird,
Aubrey Raech