Friday, January 12, 2024

Notes on Film: Setting Intentions

 by Anthony King

It's good to have goals. Maybe.

Last year I set some movie goals for myself. Some of those goals were changed in the middle of the year, and some were abandoned completely.

Here's a rundown:

John Woo Will Be My Most-Watched Director: accomplished. I watched 12 Woo films. Second place was Wes Craven with eight.

Geraldine Chaplin Will Be My Most-Watched Actor: abandoned/changed. I watched zero Chaplin films. I changed it to Tomisaburo Wakayama, who was tied with Mary Ellen Trainor as my most-watched actor.

The Ratio of English-Speaking To Non-English-Speaking Films Will Be 50:50: failed miserably. I watched 449 English-speaking films and 102 non-english-speaking films. Terrible!

I Will Watch 60 Movies Released In 2023: failed, barely. I ended up seeing 55 new releases, which is commendable.

I Will Watch One Short Film Per Day: failed, but I'm still happy about it. I watched 240 films last year and I think that's pretty darn great. As you can see, I scored an F on my movie goals for last year. I was ambitious. I didn't expect to start playing hockey. I didn't expect to go back to work so soon. I didn't expect that I would get burned out of watching movies by Q4. But the great news is that I have been refreshed, I'm excited about movies again, and I decided (against my better judgment) to make more goals for this year. But first, what I've been watching.
I agonized all New Years Day about what my first movie of 2024 was going to be. I kicked 2023 off with the abysmal American Rampage (1989). I was NOT going to start my year off with another stinker. So poring over lists on Letterboxd, I somewhat trepidatiously settled on John G. Avildsen's Joe (1970) starring the great Peter Boyle. I know Larry Karaszewski is a fan, and I thought ol' Larry wouldn't steer me wrong. I was not prepared for Joe. Dennis Patrick plays an ad executive in New York City whose daughter (Susan Sarandon in her first movie role) has fallen in with a bad crowd and is living with her junkie boyfriend. Patrick confronts the boyfriend in their apartment, murders him, and ends up at a neighborhood gin joint to process the recent events. There he meets blue collar bigot Joe (Boyle) going on a hate-filled rant about anyone that isn't straight and white. Patrick confesses that he's just killed a hippie and Boyle becomes obsessed with getting his new friend to go on a killing spree with him. The movie proceeds to show Boyle's pitiful attempt to develop a friendship with Patrick and his wife. The movie culminates in the two men entering a hippie commune and doing what Boyle has been preaching about the entire movie. It's a solid three-star movie that will only get better with subsequent viewings I believe.
My friend Kristin has been trying to get me to start watching the filmography of documentarian Frederick Wiseman for the past year, with her big selling point being Hospital (1970). I love a documentary with unfettered access to people/places usually hidden behind locked doors (ie. Stan Brakhage's The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, Burn (2012), Werner Herzog's La Soufriere). Wiseman's whole career has been dedicated to showing such honesty. Films such as Titicut Follies (1967), High School (1968), or Menus Plaisirs-Les Troisgros (2023), all of which I haven't seen yet, show the unbelievable access Wiseman is allowed to have, displaying what we normally don't get to see. Like many, if not most, of Wiseman's films, Hospital is completely observational. There isn't a story to tell. It's a look inside what happens on a daily basis at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City. We meet emergency room doctors, nurses, cops, and patients alike, all dealing with life on life's terms. A man has been stabbed in the neck, a woman is seeking shelter, another man is in the midst of a mescaline trip and needs his stomach pumped (my favorite scene). All at once it's heartbreaking, fascinating, and funny.
Finally, I watched the Maysles' Gimme Shelter (1970), about the events surrounding the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Altamont was supposed to be the Woodstock of the west, but ended in tragedy with the deaths of four people, including a man stabbed to death by the Hells Angels during the Rolling Stones performance. The “wrap-around” shows the Stones sitting in the editing room with the Maysles watching the footage leading up to and during the Altamont performance. I'm not a fan of the Rolling Stones, per se, but I found it interesting to watch their silent reactions while they viewed their own fame through a screen. By the end of the film my stress level had increased to the level it was when I watched Garret Price's Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage (2021), a movie that literally gave me nightmares. I didn't have any nightmares after Gimme Shelter, but I didn't love how I felt, therefore it's a one and done situation for me.

Onto my 2024 goals. Like I alluded to earlier, I had no intention of making goals for this year, after my atrocious showing last year. Alas, I like a challenge. Not too much a challenge, though. I learned my lesson. Here are three movie-related things I'd like to shoot for this year.

1. Watch Every Disc In My Collection I Haven't Watched Yet
This will probably be the most challenging. At some point late last year I told myself I was going to stop buying Blu-rays until I watch everything that still has the plastic on it in my collection. I have to say: I've done pretty good since my self admonishment; I think I bought fewer than 20 discs. With the screeners I receive for review I realized I barely have enough time to watch what I own, so why spend the money until I catch up? A catching up will be the theme of 2024! I'm going to share the number: 161. That's the number of discs I own that I haven't watched. It's embarrassing! Honestly, I don't think I'll get through them all, but if I can watch 100 of them I'll call it a success.

2. Complete Filmographies Of Certain Directors
This is a little more doable. Martin Scorsese is the big one. There are four Scorsese films I've seen but haven't logged on Letterboxd (I won't mark them “watched” until I've actually watched them, regardless of a rewatch), and eight Scorseses I've never seen. The never-seens include some big ones like The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and New York, New York (1977), which I own but have never watched, of course. I'd also like to complete Brian De Palma's filmography. Some De Palmas I've yet to see include Carlito's Way (1993), Casualties of War (1989), and The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). There's also Friedkin (8), Hitchcock (20+), and Ferrara (15). Scorsese is first, though.

3. Complete a Letterboxd List (or two)
I'm a notorious list maker, and I love a list of movies. Just look at the 53 lists I have on Letterboxd. I have everything from “101 Favorite (fill in the blank)” and “Needs Reassessment” (movies I initially gave a low rating but probably deserves better), to all my Junesploitation and Scary Movie Month lists and movies from film guides (The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, Guide for the Film Fanatic, Godard on Godard, etc.). There are also lists of recommendations (Pure Cinema Podcast, Hong Kong Cinema, etc.). There are two in particular, though, I'd like to complete. The first is Danny Peary's Cult Movies. It's a list of all 200 movies covered in his CM books. Obviously I've seen the 100 from the first book, but there are plenty of blindspots from books two and three I've yet to see. Thirty-two, to be exact. This includes films as big as Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), to nearly forgotten films like The First Nudie Musical (1976) and Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966). The other list I'd like to tackle is a list made specifically for me by our friend Mike Scott of Action for Everyone. It's a list he called “Action for Anthony,” and contains 31 action movies. I started checking off some titles last year, like The Raid (2011), Drive (1997), and Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003). All were absolute bangers to no one's surprise. I've got 24 more I've never seen and I couldn't be more excited to watch movies like Once Upon a Time in China (1991), Eastern Condors (1987), The Man from Nowhere (2010), and The Great Escape (1963).

I have some other ideas, but let's just stick with the three for now. If you had a running total from these three goals, you'll notice I've already surpassed 230 movies. Let's be realistic, folks. I ain't gonna get to all 239 movies I've set out to watch this year. But dammit, I'll give it my best shot!


  1. I met my three 2023 goals of making my most watched:
    -director: Hitchcock 28 movies (easy)
    -actress: Jean Arthur 16 movies (hard to find)
    -actor: Bill Pullman 19 movies (burned out halfway thru the year. He’s been great in a lot of not-so-great movies.)
    And because if your 2023 short movie goal from last year’s colum, I watched a lot of Kenneth Anger, Georges Melies, and Maya Deren movies for the first time. (I never went to film school.)
    This year my goal is to make Barbara Stanwyck & Humphrey Bogart my most watched performers. I haven’t settled on a most watched director goal but I also want to fill my Martin Scorcese viewing holes. And I still wanted to complete my watch one movie from every country goal. I have so far to go, which is awesome.

    1. Great goals, Chris! I never went to film school either (or taken a film class). I only really got heavy into movies like six years ago so it’s just been a crash course for me. Playing lots of catch up too.

  2. Watching movies in my collection is always a goal, yet I never seem to get to as many during the year as I intend to. The amount of tempting titles I find on streaming platforms often leads me astray. I could not even say how many discs are sitting here unwatched. Still, like you, I have considerably lowered the number of acquisitions over the past year.