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Controlling Those Movie Watchlists... Or Maybe Not...

I’m not sure why people do the things they do. I don’t know why I do the things I do, and I certainly don’t know why you do the things you do, whatever they are. I just know that I love lists. There, I've said it. I use them when I go to the grocery store, the bookstore (when we could do that), I use them at work, at home, when I’m trying to figure out the best way to tackle a big project, etc. It’s just part of my DNA, I guess. Maybe it’s part of yours as well… If so, this post is for you.


I think I first got hooked on lists when I saw this book in my high school library. The Book of Lists consisted of page after page of lists on various topics, mostly of the weird or unusual variety, such as "Worst Song Titles of All Time," "People Suspected of Being Jack the Ripper," etc. In what were some of my not-so-bright juvenile/adolescent moments, my friends and I would secretly add to the book (Yes, the library copy. And yes, I am now a librarian…) things like, “Our School’s Biggest Idiots,” listing people we didn’t like, checking the book everyday to see if we (or anyone else) had added any new entries.

But I’m getting off topic (something I enjoy almost as much as I enjoy lists).

Jumping to the present: I currently have on my Letterboxd Watchlist (just a few pictured above) 464 movies. Believe me, that list could be much larger. Honestly, I add to it very infrequently, so that number could be in the thousands. Like some of my friends, I wish Letterboxd would allow you to add who recommended movies to you (so you can thank or blame them), when they were recommended, etc. Another post for another time.

But why do people like me (and, I’m assuming, you) gravitate toward lists? For me, I like going to an informed source (a book, some expert, or both) and finding out, “What do I need to know about this topic (in this case, movies) to be well-informed on this subject?" Or maybe it’s simpler than that: I just want to be one of the cool kids. “Hey, I’ve seen all the movies this expert’s seen!”

The first movie list I can remember making was when I was in college. I had an early (earlier than the one pictured; this is a “newer” version) copy of Steven H. Scheuer’s Movies on TV and Videocassette. I read through every movie that was three stars or higher (out of four) that looked interesting. I soon figured, “I’ll never get through all of those!” and made it 3.5 and 4 star films only.

I still have that list. (This is only the first page of four.) When I watched a movie, I’d cross a line through it and write the approximate date I’d watched it beside the title. As you can see, I still have a few to go. And I’m embarrassed that I still haven’t seen some of them.

And to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever completed a movie list. Maybe it’s just a goal, something to shoot for. But I’m still doing it.

Right now I’m working through Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list, which consists of over 300 films. Right now, I’ve got 81 left to go. This has been an ongoing project that I’m really working on bringing to a close this year. So far in 2020, I’ve watched 23 more films from the list, hoping to knock out the remaining 81 unseen films before the end of 2020.

That’s the thing about lists. You need a plan with deadline to make them work, if they’re manageable.

I have two other projects going on that I never planned to finish in one year. First, all of the films in the Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema box set from Criterion, containing 39 films, viewed in chronological order.

The other? The complete feature filmography of Alfred Hitchcock, 52 films in chronological order. Since I’ve already seen many of these and find them very approachable, I’ve decided that I would not watch at Hitchcock film until after I’d watched a Bergman, which I’ve done so far. That may change, since even some of these early Bergman films have left me an emotional wreck. I may have to eventually do two Hitchcocks for every Bergman. (Plus there's more Hitchcock films than Bergman films.)

Again, there’s no time limit on either of these projects.

There’s also no time limit on the completion of all the films in Michael F. Keaney’s Film Noir Guide: 745 Films of the Classic Era. To be honest, this isn’t a great book, and I disagree with many of Keaney’s choices (although most are solid), yet I want to see every single one of them.

Right now, I have 281 to go, most of them B pictures. Here’s one page from that list.

There’s also a 170-film list of British noir that I’m eager to work through (I've seen the ones in bold), as well as a list of every movie that’s played at any Noir City festival. And once I get finished with Ebert’s list, there’s Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Top 1000.

If you’re like me, you might have a few unwatched DVDs and Blu-rays on your shelves. Lately I’ve been trying to watch anything that comes in the door immediately. I do a so-so job of that, but I’m not beating myself up over it. But what about the movies that have been sitting around unwatched (or even unopened)? I borrowed this system from my friend Jenna. It took me awhile, but I wrote down on a slip of paper every title of any movie I own but haven’t watched and put those slips of paper in a can (that once contained a bottle of scotch). Every now and then when I can’t decide what I want to watch, I reach in, pick out a title, and pop it in. Okay, (I'll confess: sometimes I'll put that slip of paper back in the can. But usually I watch it.)

That ought to keep me busy for awhile. And it looks like we have some time here...

Let me know about your lists and how you’re doing with them.

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