So, three weeks into January. Still keeping to those New Year’s resolutions, or have they all fallen by the wayside now? Just like last year and the year before, I’m sure. Setting up unrealistic expectations at the start of the year and then failing to keep to them is a national tradition, and by the beginning of February, chances are that you’ll have even forgotten what it was that you were trying to achieve. All those grand plans to change the world, or at least your waistline, will have gone out of the window for another year and nothing will really change. So how about a resolution that isn’t just for January, is guaranteed to expand your horizons and might just change your life?
Then my recommendation for you is to watch 100 films in a cinema. This year. It might already be past the middle of January, but there’s still plenty of time to get in a century of films before people start singing Auld Lang Syne, and it might be easier than you think. But why 100? Why a year? (If you’re next question is “why films?” or “why in a cinema?” then you’re probably reading the wrong blog, given that my whole point is to try to encourage you to watch films in a cinema.) In terms of a goal, I’ve already suggested a short term target, that you can, if you put your mind to it, watch seven films in one day. But this is the cinematic equivalent of running the 100 metres, and not everyone can cover that distance in ten seconds. So consider this to be your marathon rather than your sprint, and if you put your mind to it, there’s no reason why you can’t be celebrating a cinematic ton by the end of the year.
The other thing it’s worth doing, and this applies to any resolution setting, is to make sure that you’ve set yourself a SMART goal. Now, SMART goals might be taken from the school of business thinking commonly known as Management Bollocks™ but bear with me; these things have prominence in businesses for a reason, mainly that they do actually work. A SMART goal, if you’ve not come across them before, is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. Seeing 100 films in a cinema in a calendar year is actually all of the above, so allow me to share with you the how, what, where, when and why you should give this challenge a go.
It’s admittedly a very specific goal, and it’s simply our reliance on the decimal system that means 100 films feels like more of a milestone than, say 97 or 43. (If, for some reason, you’ve taken to counting only in binary, then this challenge is going to be ridiculously easy.) I would say, of course, that I’m not suggesting you stop when you reach 100, but rather that this be at least the point you aim to be at come December 31st. I’ve now done it three times in the last four years, but actually the first time was the only time I actively set out to do it.
But why 100? In 2008 I’d had a spare day at the beginning of January, so decided to have a cinema day and took in four films. Those four were The Golden Compass, Enchanted, I Am Legend and Lust, Caution. As you can imagine, for someone who’s seen seven in a day, four is a stroll in the park, so when I had a free Saturday the following weekend, I took in another four: this time it was Dan In Real Life, Charlie Wilson’s War, No Country For Old Men and The Kite Runner. Two sets of films that cover pretty much every end of the emotional spectrum, seeing four in a day also guarantees that if you don’t like one film, there’ll be another along in a minute that you do.
At that point, most people would have been thinking, “Time to go home and have a lay down for a week or two.” I’m not most people, so it got me to thinking, if I’ve seen eight in January, how many could I actually see in a full year? Eight in a month, twelve months in the year, and given that I’d done the eight in just two days, that should be easy to repeat across a whole year. But if I could get to ninety-six, then it’s only a short hop to imagine that the magic 100 figure could be achieved. Thinking that and doing it are two entirely different things, but despite a few ups and downs I got there, and on December 4th I watched Quarantine, my 100th film of the year, and promptly swore I’d never do it again.
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll remember that I’ve actually done this three times now. After sticking to my resolve in 2009 that I wouldn’t go mad, I only saw 52 films. At the time it felt like a more manageable number, an easing of the hectic pace of the year before. Even in 2010, by the end of April I was only on 29, but the bug was starting to take hold again. It was about that point that I had the crazy idea of starting a film blog. Compare that year to 2008, and you can see that as soon as the blog started, things started to get a little intense.
The rest of 2010, and as you can see most of 2011, featured cinema trips at a significantly quicker rate than previously. I hit 100 in September in 2010 and in August last year, and neither time was I consciously attempting to achieve the milestone, it just… happened. As you can tell from this rudimentary graph, though, I do have a fairly good handle on what I’ve seen, and when, and if you want to hit 100 as well, I would suggest some method of keeping track of what you’re watching. The method I use is The Internet Movie Database.
If you log into IMDb, then go to the MyMovies link (as circled above), you’ll find quite a comprehensive list making functionality. You can rate your films out of ten, and then make them into lists; there’s also a Watchlist, so you can even make a generic list of what you’re going to watch and then move it into your latest list when you’ve seen it. When you’ve made a list, you can then export it into something such as a spreadsheet package, where you can make various graphs of your pointless achievements to bore your friends with. Here’s another one to show how pointless you can be – a bar graph showing all the lengths of the films I saw last year, sorted from shortest to longest. Lovely.
As with anything, keeping track of your progress will give you that sense of achievement, or alternatively that creeping sense of panic if you fall well behind your target.
There is a certain sense of gratification in being able to say you’ve achieved something like this, although I’d be lying if there wasn’t part of me which wishes I could say I’d climbed the Andes or flown single-handedly across the Black Sea in a plane made out of old crisp packets – you know, something useful or meaningful. But whenever I’ve told people that I’ve seen so many films, they always sound impressed – at least, until someone said to me, “That’s not much – it’s only two a week.” When you look at it from that perspective, it suddenly becomes eminently achievable; most people in a 9 to 5 job should be able to fit in a double bill after work, or you can see one on a school night and one at the weekend. You even get to have two weeks in the year when you don’t see anything and then still hit your target.
You might also wonder if there are 100 films worth seeing in a calendar year. Ever picked up a copy of Empire or Total Film and looked at the number of films being reviewed in a given month? Typically somewhere between 20 and 30, and all of these films are playing in a cinema, somewhere. It’s just a question of your particular tastes – I’m as happy seeing the latest Disney animation as I am seeing an unrated Korean revenge thriller or even a British costume drama, and admittedly not everyone is going to have such broad tastes. But all you have to do is find two films a week that interest you; you might spend more time in the cinema in Awards Season (late December to mid-February) or Blockbuster Season (late April to early August) than you do at other times, depending on your taste, but there really is enough for everyone out there to hit this target.
The other concern you might have is about cost, and that’s where – unless you’re John Doe from Seven, and “independently wealthy” – you might need to be living in the right area to make this truly work. If you live near a Cineworld, and there are over 80 of them in the UK, then £14.99 will get you all of the films you can manage, or an investment of under £180 plus popcorn. I also live near two of the more arty Picturehouse chain, for which I have an annual membership which also gives me three free tickets a year and £2 off any film at any Picturehouse. Even last year, when I saw £164 films, I paid under £3 a film over the course of the year. It should mean you don’t have to turn to a life of crime to spend a significant amount more time in the cinema.
The one absolute about this challenge is that the more cinema screens you live near to, the easier this becomes. Within half an hour’s drive of me there are 32 cinema screens, so I’m fairly spoiled for choice, but I also take other opportunities when they present themselves. If I’m away for work, I’ll often check what’s showing in the nearby cinemas – it beats staring at the four walls of a hotel room for the best part of the evening. I’ve not yet managed to watch a film while I’ve been away on holiday, but you can be sure when I’m away I’ll have a look at the listings; just to see what’s on, of course. I did, in the course of 2011, manage to set foot in 22 different cinemas to see all of the films I saw; ten of them were worlds of Cine, which meant they were all inclusive, and three more were Picturehouses, giving me a decent discount. (Disclaimer: other cinema chains are available. They might cost a bit more, but even then they’ll often have super saver days, and most do Orange Wednesdays, so there’s ways and means of doing this.)
But the most effective way to get a big number in during a short space of time is a film festival. For the last two years I’ve spent a huge amount of time in the Cambridge Film Festival, where I saw nineteen films in 2010, and twenty-seven last year. It’s an opportunity to see films that you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to, as well as often seeing films before they get a wider release. If you think there might not be a film festival near you, you’d be wrong: the list of film festivals in the UK is pretty extensive, and even if you can only spare two or three days at one, you might still hit your quota for the month. Often they’re also a chance to hear question and answer sessions with people involved in the production, to see short films as well as long ones and to generally immerse yourself in a world of film even more than you have already.
If there isn’t a film festival that you fancy, then why not make your own? Last year, on the long weekend of the Royal Wedding, I had a couple of days in London. I took in six different cinemas, from the comfortable class of the BFI Southbank to the mainstream madness of the Vue West End, via the slightly-scary-it-smells-a-bit-of-wee-in-here Odeon Panton St, and saw films that wouldn’t have got a release anywhere near me. If you’ve ever looked at a film magazine, read a review and thought, “I really fancy that, bet it’s not showing anywhere near me,” then the likes of Google’s cinema search, FindAnyFilm.com or Screenrush.co.uk (heck, even IMDb has cinema listings these days) will help you track down somewhere to see that unexpected classic that’s just waiting for you.
And if you think no-one else out there would be mad enough to try it, then think again. Even at the total of 164 I saw last year, I don’t rank anywhere near the top in terms of the long distance achievements of some. Of course, I pale in comparison to most film critics; Matthew Turner, film reviewer for ViewLondon, has a blog with his running total which hit 500 by the end of last year. Others, though, do it simply for the passion, and you may have read in the national press about Neil White, who attempted to see everything released in cinemas in 2011 and is repeating the feat in 2012. While there might be a few screeners and other home options in there, you can be sure that to see all of the 600+ films released in the cinema this year, there will be more than 100 cinema trips. If they can do 500 or more, then surely you doing 100 is a doddle?
Well, this last one’s fairly easy. Setting yourself a goal with such a long expiry date leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre; in 2008 I was slowing down, and only on 73 by the end of September, but in the end hit the goal with ease with nearly a month to spare. And I can’t stress enough that it doesn’t have to dominate your life. Remember the bar chart of film lengths earlier? There was a point to it after all. If you take an average of all of those films, by any of the standard average calculations, then it comes out at around 105 minutes. See two films in a week, and it’ll be taking up three and a half hours of your time, plus trailers, adverts and travelling time. (And there are ways for the experienced cinemagoer to cut down on their wasted time in front of ads, but that’s a story for another day.) Most hobbies that require any level of commitment are likely to take at least 3 – 4 hours a week, so if you’re serious about films, then this is one commitment that you should be able to make.
Hopefully that’s answered every question except one, and that’s the question in the title. Why? I hope I’ve pretty much covered how, what, when and where, but you might still be thinking that this is a worthless exercise, one for the extremists only. The real point of this is to encourage you to find those cinematic gems, the films that you’ll still get off the Blu-ray shelf in twenty years time to watch at home but might otherwise have never come across. Seeing them with an audience, with the best sound and vision imaginable, is still an unrivalled experience that no home cinema can ever replicate. And in the past three years, I’ve seen the likes of the following in cinemas, all excellent films with a place in my heart, that if I wasn’t doing this might have completely passed me by:Lars And The Real Girl Of Time And The City Hunger Dean Spanley Synecdoche, New York The White Ribbon Dogtooth Please Give The First Movie Of Gods And Men Neds Confessions TT3D: Closer To The Edge Le Quattro Volte Tomboy Tyrannosaur Weekend Take Shelter
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to give this a try. Forget gym memberships and giving up drinking, this is one plan you can stick to if you just give it a little of your time, and the potential rewards are absolutely worth the effort. Think it’s too late this year? Think again. I’ve only seen five films in the cinema at this point, and even if I carry on at the same slow rate, I’d get to at least eighty this year. Add in a festival and it’s almost too easy. So, who’s with me?