On Seeking the Virtuous, Lovely, of Good Report, and Praiseworthy

A Review of My Summer Media Consumption

If you weren’t aware, from 18 April 2016 to 3 September 2016 I watched at least one movie a day and read 20 books, totaling 6779 pages, including 760 from a graduate-level Romanticism class, 1 play, and 5 Mormon themed books. I watched 141 movies in 139 days (138 unique films, 119 first viewings, 19 that I’ve previously watched), 3 repeat viewings, 2 days with 2 movies. So, what have I learned from all this movie watching and book reading?

Some superficial things like it’s far easier to watch a movie a day than to read some set number of pages a day, perhaps because of the complete nature of a movie and that my reading goal was page count oriented, not dependent on a streak of number of days where I read x-number of pages in a row. Also, that after about 110-115 days of a movie-a-day the experience feels more like a chore and things blur together quite remarkably (and unproductively).

But those are somewhat unsurprising insights. And no, I didn’t need to go on a similarly lengthed purge. There were 4 days where I didn’t watch a film, but then I dove right back in to pre-Marathon, regular film-viewing habits. I love film (obviously) and find it a valuable way to relate to and make sense of the world, alongside literature and Mormonism. I integrate all of them and don’t really know anything else that I could do. I truly strive to seek after what is virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. I recognize that those all have somewhat ambiguous definitions and that what I think satisfies them, others could find remarkably unsatisfactory.

  1. Cinematic connections matter. Film, like the rest of life, does not exist in a vacuum. When I watch things I immediately (consciously and unconsciously) make connections to other things that I’ve seen. Some of those connections are different than what others would make because of the random assortment of facts that I know, but we all do it. This undoubtedly shapes how I view any given film. For example, I watched Fight Club, Office Space, Thelma and Louise, and American Beauty fairly close to one another (and The Matrix not too long before that). This might seem like an odd grouping of films, but they were all released in the 90s and all strike me as working through similar problems and themes (corporate America angst, mid-life crises, trapped in suburbia, lost individuality, that sort of thing). I think they function far more interestingly together than any one of them does by itself. Similarly, I watched a number of movies with writers at the forefront that worked together in interesting ways (Barton Fink, Shakespeare in Love, Trumbo) and then some contrasting uses of violence that I am still puzzling through (Django Unchained and The Nice Guys). The cinematic map that I place things in (relating not only to the order in which I experience movies, but the background I have about them and where I think it fits in with what else I’ve seen before I even watch it) matters a great deal to how I experience something.
  2. Context matters. I am constantly reminded that content in and of itself is of limited use to me in determining whether I’ll find something valuable, gratuitous, offensive, shocking, productive, or any combination of those things. The context in which that content is presented is incredibly important. Thankfully, there are loads of ways to determine a decent amount of the context surrounding the content in a film to know beforehand. Everything will always have a filter of an individual’s experience, but understanding context of content is immensely important. Is Schindler’s List a shockingly violent and disturbing film? Yes. Does that serve a purpose that justifies its inclusion? For me, that answer is unequivocally, yes. Do all films that have similar levels of violence and disturbing content share the purpose and provide the uplifting and enlightening experience that Schindler’s List does? No. Do some do different, but equally valuable things? Sure. Yet what makes things worthwhile differs from person to person, which is beautiful, yet complicates the process of seeking entertainment that you feel is virtuous, lovely, of good report, and/or praiseworthy.
  3. Seek balance. I typically am in the mood for any sort of movie. As long as it’s good, I can usually get into it. However, when I was watching daily, it was important to mix things up and try to balance out what I was watching. You can think of it like movies are different types of food, different movies in certain genres are in the same general category, but potentially different dishes. Some movies are rich and flavorful and provide nourishment for long periods of time. Others just disappear. Some people have a fairly standard diet and that works for them. I need some variety and feel that sometimes it’s an injustice to the richness of a film I watched to follow it immediately with another incredibly rich film. Some things need time to settle and be properly digested. So, lighter fare can aid in that endeavor.
  4. Matinees are great. Evenings are a great time to watch a movie. However, I sometimes find that I’m not mentally able to grapple with a film in the evening the way that I really want to. I’ve found that matinees are great. I watch in the afternoon and have the rest of my day to let my mind process what I watched, maybe over dinner after watching. It works for me.
  5. Properly prepare. My experience watching a film can be improved or ruined by how I prepare for it. What that preparation looks like varies from film to film. And sometimes I don’t really know whether I prepared right or what I did to prepare until later. Some of it is knowing what kind of content is coming and selecting the right venue and inviting the right people for those factors. Sometimes watching other movies helps or reading about the movie (watching Star Wars Episodes I-VI before VII or the Bourne trilogy before Jason Bourne this summer). Sometimes not doing those things is the best strategy (10 Cloverfield Lane is definitely best experienced with as blank of a slate as possible). So, try your best to prepare the best you can for each individual film experience (general rules of thumb: genre films or entries in a series I best experience by immersing myself in those film worlds/series before watching, while more indie and artsy films I tend to enjoy more with less knowledge).
  6. Be open. A film is like a person. You’re able to sorta gain new experiences and life points simply by watching. Yet, for that to work best, I’ve found that I need to accept films for what they are. Appreciate their good qualities and understand their negative ones. Yet, it is what it is only in the harmony of them both. The more open I am, the more likely I am to appreciate a film (even if I don’t like it or don’t want to spend any more time with it, I can understand some good in it). This openness has given me some profound film experiences: The Lobster, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Tickled, many of the Coen Brothers’ films, Wes Anderson’s filmography, and many more.
  7. Be alert. I’ve found it vital to be alert while I watch film. Movies are conveying messages to us and it’s important that we recognize what those are and wrestle with them rather than simply allowing them to wash over us unchallenged. I firmly believe in critical thinking and engaging across the board, and with film is no exception. When I just sort of casually watch and don’t process what I’m watching I am more prone to becoming subject to influences beyond my control and I don’t really dig that. So, be alert. Also, it’s far more rewarding in my experience to watch and wrestle with a film than to simply passively let it go by. But that might just be me…

Yeah. So, that’s some stuff I learned. Now you don’t have to watch a movie a day for 139 days. Just read this and you’re golden. I’ve included the lists below of what I watched and read, as well as some top picks (an overall top 10 film list, 10 for mature audiences, and 10 for a more general audience, and top 3 books). Go forth and seek after what is virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. And if you find something particularly noteworthy, pass it along.

THE LISTS, for your consulting pleasure:

FILMS

Top 10

Tickled

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Batman the Movie (1966)

The Cabin in the Woods

Miller’s Crossing

Schindler’s List

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Hail, Caesar!

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Alien

Mature Audiences

Miller’s Crossing

Schindler’s List

Alien

Inglorious Basterds

Trumbo

The Cabin in the Woods

Captain Fantastic

Tickled

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

The Lobster

A More General Audience

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Genius

Batman the Movie (1966)

Captain America: Civil War

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Hail, Caesar!

All the President’s Men

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

 

ALL (in chronological order of viewing)

Argo

The Town

The Godfather Pt II

Hail, Caesar!

The Jungle Book

Atonement

Inside Man

Shawshank Redemption

Looper

He Named Me Malala

In Bruges

Eddie the Eagle

Jackie Brown

Chef

Alien

The Terminator

Gangs of New York

Captain America: Civil War

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Captain America: Civil War

Following

Ex Machina

Galaxy Quest

Risen

Se7en

Heat

Blood Simple

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

Macbeth

Donnie Darko

Clueless

Inglorious Basterds

The Babadook

Raising Arizona

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Apocalypse Now

Goodfellas

Schindler’s List

10 Things I Hate About You

Fight Club

Miller’s Crossing

Creed

Fruitvale Station

X-Men: Apocalypse

Insomnia

Saving Private Ryan

Taxi Driver

Barton Fink

The Mask You Live In

Shakespeare in Love

Django Unchained

The Nice Guys

Sunset Boulevard

Ali

The Hudsucker Proxy

Dear Jack

A Fistful of Dollars

Love Actually

American Beauty

Office Space

Trumbo

The Lobster

The Words

The English Patient

Philomena

The End of the Tour

The Cabin in the Woods

Now You See Me 2: The Second Act

Fargo

The Last Temptation of Christ

The World’s End

Genius (2016)

Hellboy

Suffragette

Les Miserables (1998)

The Big Lebowski

Ephraim’s Rescue

Independence Day

Knight and Day

The BFG

Saturday’s Warrior

The Three Musketeers (1981, animated)

Source Code

Interstellar

Unforgiven

The Musketeer

Die Hard

Serenity

Thelma and Louise + Tickled

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Noah

Trapped by the Mormons

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters (1984)

The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Supremacy

The Man Who Wasn’t There + Star Trek Beyond

The Illusionist

The Robe

Underworld

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

Captain Fantastic

Batman the Movie (1966)

Stardust

We Bought a Zoo

Star Trek Beyond

The Trip

Edge of the City

A Shade of Blue

Suicide Squad

The Saratov Approach

Jason Bourne

Pinnochio

All the President’s Men

Adventures in Babysitting

A Most Wanted Man

Left Behind

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Sixteen Candles

Jason Bourne

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Emma (1996, A&E)

Highlander

The Legend of Tarzan

Trouble with the Curve

Million Dollar Arm

The Book Thief

Lockout

Pawn Sacrifice

The Little Prince

First Knight

The Other Guys

The Passion of the Christ

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Big Fat Liar

The History of the World Part 1

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Intolerable Cruelty

 

BOOKS

Best of

Bring Up the Bodies

A Short Stay in Hell

Bleak House

The Full List

Saturday

Arcadia

Grace is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Fortunately, the Milk…

Manalive

Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

Infinite Jest

Literary Advertising and the Shaping of British Romanticism

Bring Up the Bodies

Redgauntlet

Bleak House

Nothing New Under the Sun: A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes

A Short Stay in Hell

Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology

Neverwhere

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Mindful Writing (2nd Edition)

My Lady Jane

The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy

Nevermore: A Graphic Adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories

 

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