Before I starting writing this, I just counted. According to my Letterboxd account, I have watched 397 movies since lockdown started. In retrospect, I wish I had made more of a plan. But, then again, I suppose not many of us had much of a “plan.” It all happened so quickly. Especially here in New York City. I don’t need to get into what this week signifies, since it has affected literally all of us. My story isn’t that remarkable. A lot of ours aren’t. And I’ve learned if your story isn’t remarkable, that’s a good thing.
I remember it was Friday the 13th, at a local bar. I was with my friend Ross, and things seemed fraught. I was not having a good time. Our attitude was, well, we’d better go out one last time before everything shuts down, which would wind up happening three days later. Our mayor was still encouraging people to live like normal. We just assumed not many people had it then, which was wrong. This was also back when we thought to get it you had to rub someone else’s spit in your eye, which was also wrong. (It’s really weird how this all went from, “Hey, just don’t touch your face,” to, “yeah maybe you should wear TWO masks,“ without some defining moment of when that happened.) Anyway, little did we know Covid was everywhere in New York City by that point. Add I look back and consider myself fortunate we didn’t get it that night.
My biggest memory that night, besides wiping everything down and constantly using hand sanitizer, was the idea of “the movie list.” Since we knew we’d be stuck inside for the considerable future, we made a list of, get this, eight movies that we considered blind spots. To be fair to myself, I argued for more. But Ross thought eight was “realistic.” If the list got too big we might not finish it. For example, one of my blind spots was Robert Altman movies and Humphrey Bogart movies. Ross’s blind spots were the ‘80s and ‘90s action movies. I had never seen Nashville or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Ross had never even seen The Terminator or Top Gun. On Saturday, March 14th we didn’t go out. Instead, we watched The Terminator, which I consider as the official beginning of this era. (And why The Terminator gets to be the lead image on this piece.) By March 16th we couldn’t go out. By April the mobile morgue trucks started showing up.
We joke about our lists now, the whole “eight” part of it. You know, how by the end of the pandemic we want to be all caught up on the eight “canon” films we’ve never seen. I’ll be over 400 before the official anniversary. (In that first month Ross watched films like The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and The Karate Kid. (I rewatched a lot of these movies, too. And, yeah, well, we’re at the point he’s now seen Over the Top, Mickey Blue Eyes, and Legal Eagles. Those eight movies didn’t last long.)
As the streets outside became a nightmare, I immersed myself in these movies. Like I said before, I wish I had a plan. Maybe watch all of the AFI 100 Best Films? Maybe pick a director and work my way through all of their filmography? Or even watch every Best Picture winner? No, no, my plan, if there even was one, was more scattershot. I’d just keep writing down movies people on Twitter recommended that I hadn’t seen. There was no rhyme or reason to the movies I’d watch. It started to feel like the impossible goal was “watch every movie ever made.” In that without a specific goal, it just kind of never ends.
In the past, I’d joke, “If I had a year off I’d just catch up on all the movies I’ve always wanted to see and never have.” Ah, yes, the ol’ “be careful what you wish for” situation. From the beginning, I read the experts and I felt fairly confident we’d still be in this situation a year later. (Though, thankfully, there now appears to be light on the horizon and finally, a genuine reason for optimism.) I was never blindsided by the fact this didn’t end in three months, or whatever. The situation in New York City last April was too horrifying. It was just all too obvious this wasn’t something that was going to just go away on its own even though the president at the time swore it would. I was, like a lot of us, basically losing a year of my life. But I made a pact with myself it wouldn’t be in vain. I would get something out of it.
It became, and still now is, an obsession. To the point if I didn’t watch some sort of classic film – or, even, just watched a new film for work instead of a classic film – I felt guilty. I was falling behind this imaginary goal for myself that had no finish line. It’s just happenstance that I’ll wind up with a big nice round number. In a year where I felt so helpless, I did have control over this. Years from now, when I think about this past year, I want to be able to say, “It was awful, but at least I did that.”
So, now, as the one-year anniversary looms, it seems like as good a time as any to reflect on my “year of movies.” And it’s kind of weird. I watched so many Bogart movies in such a condensed amount of time there are a couple that blend in together and I couldn’t tell you what scene happened in which movie. There are a couple of movies I legitimately don’t remember watching. Movies I even thought to myself, “Oh yeah, I always wanted to watch that,” then noticed I logged it in last May. But there are also many, many movies I now consider some of my all-time favorites. Movies like California Split, the Altman movie I wasn’t even really aware of before. And Another Altman, The Long Goodbye. (Like I said, I basically hadn’t seen a Robert Altman movie outside of Popeye and The Player.) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre I now consider it one of my favorite movies. (I even bought a poster.) It was nothing like I thought it would be. It’s funny how that works. Another movie I loved, which I just saw this week, Roman Holiday, is something I avoided because I just assumed it was a pretty straightforward movie with two massive movie stars, which it is not. I can’t decide if these are all movies I’m kicking myself for not having seen earlier, or glad I hadn’t seen them so they’d be waiting for me this past year.
I want to make sense of “my year of movies.” I want to be able to look at this list and feel a sense of accomplishment. But I don’t. Not yet, at least. And I can’t make any sense of it, to be honest. At this year mark, I had hoped I could look back and say, well, at least I did that. But, at least right now, I don’t know what to make of it. But, whatever it is I did, I did it.
And, hopefully, someday, when all of this is just a terrible memory, I’ll find more meaning in it than I do right now. Well, other than my new The Treasure of the Sierra Madre poster.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.