A year ago I joined Letterboxd, a social networking site where users log the movies they watch, add reviews, and follow others with similar interests to discover films. It’s a haven for movie geeks with a calling for making lists, and I imagined users would express their joys about movies with complete abandon. But spoiler alert: so much of the commentary is snark, complaints, and outright bitchery. These are people who supposedly love movies and use their time to write trash about them. Like friends, family and life, movies aren’t perfect but there’s usually something to enjoy, and it's said that every film made is someone's favorite.
I'm currently in a film studies program and I've begun to experience movies is a new, more thoughtful and artful way. My entire personal journey is marked by the movie watching experience, from childhood where I watched movies with my father and brothers, through adolescence where they showed me a world I was about to start exploring, to a mortgage-paying adult who de-stresses after work by watching people be scared to death. Film is an art form that I truly admire, and I have identified four tenets to better appreciate and enjoy movies. Coincidentally, the same four tenets may also help you live a happier life!
1. Movies are not all good or all bad.
I worked with a friend named Mitch at Blockbuster Movies during my college years, and he was a true movie geek. I was so inspired by his knowledge of film history, and his ability to name directors and dates off the cuff. The most valuable lesson he taught me is that movies are not all good or all bad. There will be positives and negatives, and your experience will be maximized if you can live with the balance in-between. No one element or pain point should color the entire experience unless it's egregiously inept, or perhaps personal point for you. There is a tipping point, of course, when on one side far outweighs the other.
2. Not every movie is made for you.
Filmmakers may craft movies with a specific audience in mind, and the reality is that most of them are not made for your tastes, interests, gender, education, experience or age-level. Even within my preferred horror genre, there are countless sub-genres that do not appeal to me. I could say that all teen slasher movies are trash, but those are not necessarily made for a middle-aged man who prefers supernatural or haunted house movies. A movie not made for you shouldn’t automatically be deemed a bad movie. Dig deeper, try new experiences, stretch your interests, and put yourself in someone else's shoes for a couple hours.
3. Objectively view the merits.
If a movie is not your preferred cup of bloody friggin' tea you can still admire the art of ther filmmaker, like notable cinematography, great acting, amazing effects, fantastic dialogue. In some films, only the scores may be striking. You learn quickly after sitting through many art and foreign films that there are many elements to analyze and applaud. Indie filmmakers, for example, have very limited budgets that do not allow for top talent, special effects or sets but they have great stories, concepts or dialogue. You'd be surprised at how many good horror movies started out as zero-budget shorts on YouTube. There’s usually something to admire, even if it’s a commitment to be brash, trashy, deviant or serve as a commentary on the norm.
4. Eliminate all expectations.
This is the most important one of all. The best way to enjoy movies is to have no expectations about them at all. We live with marketing, trailers, posters, stars, reviews, and social media that bullishly influence how we feel about a movie months before it is released. Trailers set up unrealistic expectations about the “scariest film of the year.” Word of mouth (through social media) talk up films from elite film festivals that everyday consumers have no access to. TV show appearances and magazine articles talk with stars, directors and producers about their latest amazing, life-changing projects. The hype machine is always set to maximum volume. The truth is that nothing in life will live up to your expectations, ever: not movies, friendships, work, Amazon products, cake from that Instagram bakery, Tinder dates, craft cocktails, the holidays or exotic vacations. If you want to have a better time at the movies (and a happier life in general) eliminate all traces of expectations. I will not lie – this is very difficult to do and takes practice. To start, I did this:
I’ve stopped watching trailers over 2 years ago and I found that I enjoy movies so much more. I don’t know the whole plot of a movie, the surprises are intact, and haven’t seen the scariest scenes or best effects before seeing the movie.
I approach movies with a “let’s see what they came up with” rather than “this better be scary.” If it’s a director I admire, I think, “I wonder if she’s done it again” rather than “this better be as good as the last one.” The worse is approaching new movies smothered in nostalgia: “There’s no way this remake will be as good as the original that I love.”
And finally, I save the in-depth reviews, interviews, Dread Central blog posts, ending explained videos, and Fangoria articles until after I've watched the movie and formed my own opinions.
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Further Reading I recommend the article on NerdyCreator.com titled “How to Live a Life Without Expectations and Disappointment” which communicates seven easy-to-understand guidelines to better deal with expectations. While this is more life advice than movie advice, removing all expectations can benefit your enjoyment of everything you do in your life – including watching movies.