My 2016 Movie-Related New Year’s Resolution

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Some people make New Year’s resolutions about losing weight or drinking less or spending more time with their family.

I make New Year’s resolutions about movies.

In 2012, I vowed to write “more reflection and less prediction.” That’s probably a resolution I should re-up for 2017, but every year I like to do something different. What’s the fun in trying (and inevitably failing) to achieve the same goal? Much better to try and fail to achieve different goals. Otherwise you start to become a successful failure.

For this year’s movie-related New Year’s resolution, I’m inspired, as I often am, by the late Roger Ebert. The fourth and final volume of his series, The Great Movies, was published in September. I received a copy for my birthday and read long passages from it over the holiday weekend.

The books began life as a biweekly column Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times starting in 1997. According to Chaz Ebert in her introduction to The Great Movies IV, there was “never a formula” for selecting the 362 films that eventually became Ebert’s personal canon. “Some,” she writes, “he included because he thought they were important in the history of cinema, some because they made a point better than any other movie on the subject, some because of their social currency or topicality, some because he felt the filmmakers or actors deserved more praise, some because an anniversary of the film was looming, and some just because they delighted him.”

More important than the reason why any specific movie was included was the motivation behind the larger series, which Roger Ebert began in response to what he saw as “the relative invisibility of classic movies” at the turn of the century. In his 2002 introduction to the first Great Movies book, Ebert described the issue that provoked the column:

In theory home video should be a godsend for lovers of great films, and indeed most of these titles are available on video in one form or another, and that is how most people will have to see them. But when you enter the neighborhood video chain store, display boxes near the door push the latest ‘new on video’ Hollywood blockbusters, and you have to prowl in the shadows to find ‘foreign films and classics’ — often a pitiful selection.

14 years later, “the neighborhood video store” has gone the way of nitrate film stock, but replace “home video” with “Netflix” and the sentiment otherwise applies. The word “flicks” may be buried in the streaming giant’s name, but the site places an increasing emphasis on television and original content, to the point where “TV Shows” are now listed ahead of “Movies” on the Netflix home page. If you really want to find the great films Ebert wrote about, you’ll need to look elsewhere, to Blu-ray or sites like FilmStruck, Fandor, and Mubi.

Ebert’s words also still apply to the world of online film journalism. If you seek out specialty sites like Film Comment or Reverse Shot, you’ll find smart writing about serious works of cinema. On the majority of bigger sites, unless a movie remains wildly popular, has a notable anniversary, involves a superhero, or is getting a long-awaited sequel, you’re not going to read about it. Those same sites cover Netflix pretty well — but, again, Netflix is less and less interested in old movies, which means less and less coverage of classics. (Netflix’s “Classic Movies” sections currently holds a pitiful 85 movies, less than some of the old neighborhood video stores it helped drive out of business.)

With all of that in mind here’s my resolution:

In 2017, I’ll write more about older movies.

I’m not starting some kind of regular column like “The Great Movies.” And I’m definitely not comparing myself to Roger Ebert. I’m just aspiring to the example he set. When opportunities arise to talk about old movies — whether because they’re relevant to modern day, or the filmmakers deserve more praise, or simply because they delight me — I plan to seize them. A critic’s job shouldn’t end with the weekend’s new releases. Classic movies are still relatively invisible. We should try to do better. We can do better.

Ebert’s “Great Movies” column was biweekly, so he wrote about 25 of those pieces every year. That’s a nice round number for a resolution. Maybe that’s an unreasonable goal for 2017. A lot of the best resolutions are, whether or not they involve movies.

10 More Suggested Movie-Related New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Watch every movie from Roger Ebert’s Great Movies.
  2. Watch the 50 best movies in history, per the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll.
  3. Watch a movie released before you were born every week of the year.
  4. Watch one classic film for every new film you pay to see in the theater.
  5. Watch 10 great documentaries about the art of filmmaking.
  6. Watch 10 great silent movies.
  7. Read 10 great books about film history and criticism.
  8. Pick a great director and watch everything they made.
  9. Pick a great actor and watch everything they made.
  10. Eat every single item on one movie-related tie-in menu in a single sitting.
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