How to Be a Film Buff - Your Guide to Becoming a Movie Nerd
Embrace Your Inner Cinephilia With Just A Few Helpful Steps...
If you love movies and are just itching for a way to know more about them, then you've come to the right place, film fanatics! Today we're going to get down to the nitty-gritty of just exactly what it takes to start you on the road to becoming a true-blue movie aficionado. Don't worry, it's easier than it sounds.
Remember, though, this is only meant to be a beginners guide, guys; I can't watch the movies for you and I certainly can't force you to enjoy them. You're on your own there. But what I can do is lead you in the right direction of what you need to learn, tips on how you can learn it, and maybe point you to a few particular great movies, books, and websites that may help you get the ball rolling on your way to becoming the ultimate movie nerd.
And, boy, is it worth it! Perhaps the greatest art form of the modern age, movies embody all that's great in the world of media. All rolled into one, we get beautiful visuals, gorgeous music, thought-provoking stories, parables on morality, commentaries on society, insights into history, and so much more. Not to mention, they're just really friggin' fun to watch; so why wouldn't you want to learn more about them?
How To Best Watch A Movie
Five Steps To Enjoying A Film
Step 1: Lose all distractions
Whether you're watching them at home or at the theater, the first and most important thing to remember when watching a movie is to void yourself of all those pesky, everyday distractions. I know it's hard, guys, but it's a must if you want to get the most out of your movie-going experience. Movies are meant to act as a means of escapism; so allow them to do just that. Lay aside your smart phone, turn off the ringer, close out Twitter and Facebook, and just focus, focus, focus. This is key. If you don't allow yourself to get lost in the world the film presents to you, then you won't be capable of growing an emotional connection with the story and the characters involved; thus you won't be fully appreciating the film itself. When you turn off the movie, it should feel like you're getting off from a roller coaster ride and reentering the real world after a long vacation from reality.
Personally, I'd even recommend seeing the movie alone for the first time, as it can make for a more intimate and personal viewing experience.
Step 2: Get comfortable
Now that you've freed yourself from the shackles of society and reality, make sure your environment is comfy enough to sit in throughout the duration of the film you're about to watch. Go to the bathroom first, grab some food, if needed, turn down the lights, and you should be good to go.
Step 3: Don't try too hard to understand confusing plots on your first viewing
The first time you watch a movie, try not to worry yourself about too many technical issues if it's a particularly confusing picture. Just sit back and experience what you're being shown. You can always go back and rewatch the movie again later on.
Step 4: Think about what you've just watched, then watch it again!
After the movie is over, if you really liked it or are unsure if you liked it, now is the time to ruminate on what you've seen. If you're so inclined, you can also even go as far as to read more about it online or discuss it with others in order to gain a better insight into it. When you've had time to do this, and you're no longer worried about what's going to happen next, try watching the movie again and focusing more on understanding the more technical aspects, metaphors, and messages of the film. Your new knowledge of the film may make this second viewing a new and unique experience.
Step 5: Show off the film to others!
Now that you've got a good understanding of the film -- or have at least gained your own perspective on it -- try showing it to others who've never seen it before. This is actually one of my favorite steps because you get to almost relive your first viewing of the film over again through their eyes. After its over, maybe you can even have a discussion about the movie to see if their perspective on it is the same as yours.
Know Your Directors!
Just like a book, it's always useful to know the author...
Many people hear the words Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Editor, and Writer being tossed around so willy-nilly that it makes their head spin. And ya know what? That's okay; it happens. But it also makes it incredibly difficult to know exactly who the heck really is the head honcho responsible for the quality of the films you're watching. So if there's only one piece of advice you aspiring film aficionados need to take from this list, it should be this: Learn your film directors! The importance of this advice cannot be stressed enough if you ever want to be a true movie buff.
What IS a film director?
To help put things in perspective, let's think of the director of a movie in the same way we would the author of a book. With the knowledge of who this author is, you typically know what you're in for when you delve into their library of work; you know their style, you know whether or not they typically produce quality work, and you know from your enjoyment (or lack thereof) of that work, what to expect of their upcoming projects.
Unlike an author, though, not every director actually writes their own scripts. But for the medium of film that's not really a biggie. They're still the ones who call most of the shots when the film is being made. They're the artists who take the words from the page and bring them to life by using cinematography, music, telling the actors what to do, and giving the film a unique look and feel.
While it's fine and dandy to know your writers and actors, they're really just a few of the many tools used by the director to make the film into what it becomes.
How knowing your directors can help you
- It helps you find the movies right for you. If you enjoy one Spielberg movie, you're that much more likely to enjoy another. In knowing your directors, you will be able to better narrow down which films and film styles that you want to watch.
- It helps you mentally organize and categorize movies in your head. When you know your directors, you no longer have to think about all movies as individual films you need to remember. Instead of saying you love Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, The Departed, Casino, and The Color of Money, you can just say you love Martin Scorsese movies; as each one is made by that director.
- It lets you know what upcoming movies to look forward to. If you hear about a new film starring your favorite actor, you're likely to be more excited about that film than you would others. Well, the same goes for directors. If you enjoyed their style in previous films, you may enjoy it again.
- It helps you to recognize the many different styles of filmmaking. All you have to do is watch a handful of Woody Allen movies, Wes Anderson movies, or Kevin Smith movies to be able to recognize their style from then on out. For each film they make, filmmakers will typically reuse their favorite styles repeatedly. After watching their films and knowing who they are, you should soon be able to easily recognize some of those various styles whenever you see them.
How to learn more about directors
Don't worry, it's not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, you're probably already faithful fans of a few directors without even knowing it!
Have you ever watched a movie and noticed that stylistically, from the type of music used, to the type of humor, to even the cast of actors involved, it seems uncannily similar to a few other movies you've watched? If so, then those movies were likely made by the same director. While all of a filmmakers movies may be different from each other, the directors familiar style usually shines through, almost as if it's a unique personality. And once you're familiar with that personality, you should then be able to spot that filmmakers work almost every time you come across it.
- Know who directed your favorite movies. Think of some of your favorite movies (a top 10 or top 20) and then take a look at who directed each one of them. Chances are that some of those movies will probably have been made by the same director. If so, then that filmmakers style is right for you. Try looking up the directors filmography online and watching some more of his or her films.
- Make it a habit to notice who directs everything you watch. Whenever you watch new movies, simply pay attention to who directed them in the same way you would pay attention to what actors star in them. If it's a film that particularly knocks your socks off, check out some more of that directors work.
- Look up the greats. Try looking up who people consider to be some of the greatest directors of all time. Not all of them will be for you (and you'll probably downright loathe many of them) but you will eventually come across many you enjoy. To better narrow down the ones you think you'll like the best, check out their filmographies and see if you've already seen and enjoyed any of their past work.
- See what directors other directors enjoy and have been influenced by. If you already have a few favorite directors, try doing a search for what directors have influenced them. Many filmmakers have gone on record about some of their own favorite directors and favorite movies, so this shouldn't be too difficult to find.
Know Your Cult Films!
With cult-like followings, there must be SOMETHING special about them, right?
Ah, the incomparable cult film! Is there anything more appealing?
These are the elusive pictures that, while typically failing to achieve media hype or box-office success, have since gone on to become classics in their own right after growing large "cult" followings due simply to their merit alone. Which is all the more reason why these hidden jewels deserve your attention! Because if a films content and substance is good enough to transcend failure and anonymity, you know it's got to be at least worth a look.
It must be remembered, though, that you certainly won't enjoy every single cult-film you come across. With their tendencies of straying from the norm and the eccentricities which made them standout in the first place, they're all pretty niche by their very definition. Suffice it to say, every one is going to be an acquired taste. Nevertheless, when you start watching through them, you're bound to not only find one that meets your unique taste, but meets it unlike any other ever has before.
Learn More About Your Favorite Movies
Learn about the film world by reading about the movies you already love!
Alright, this is an easy one. Simply think of the movies you enjoy the most and then study more about them. Voila! That's it!
In reading about the movies you already enjoy, you'll be learning more and having fun all at the same time. For instance, if you're a big fan of the 1980 film The Shining, you'd be surprised at how gratifying it is to do a quick Wikipedia search of that film online. In studying about it, you allow yourself to almost relive the picture that you already enjoyed while simultaneously finding more insights into its story. For this particular example, you'll come across the directors name (Stanley Kubrick) being repeatedly mentioned and alluded to, you'll learn about his part in pioneering the Steadicam (you'll also learn what that is), and you'll see many references explaining his style of filmmaking and references to the past films he's made. After this, you may even start thinking, "They sure did mention 2001: A Space Odyssey a lot," and the next thing you know, you'll be hunting that flick down to watch it as well.
In the example above, just in doing something as simple as a quick Wikipedia search, you've gained new insights into a movie you already adored, learned more about what styles of filmmaking were involved in the production of the film, found out a little more about the movies director (and what's involved with a directors job), and discovered a new movie that looks like it may interest you. It's little things like this which culminate into a much larger knowledge of movies in general. And the best part about it is that you don't even really have to try to learn; it's just a natural offset of reading about a movie which interests you.
A few places to read more about your favorite films include:
The Internet Movie Database - Read movie trivia, see movie news, watch trailers, get involved in message board discussions, and more here!
Wikipedia - With extremely comprehensive articles about every movie, actor, director, and writer you can think of, Wikipedia is a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about everything to do with the film world.
Rotten Tomatoes - See if your favorite movies are rated fresh or rotten by both critics and fans at Rotten Tomatoes.
IGN - IGN isn't just about games, they've got plenty of film reviews and Top Lists for movie fans too.
RogerEbert.com - Gone but not forgotten, Roger Ebert lives on through his writings about movies. On RogerEbert.com you can find all of his film reviews plus current reviews from other top critics!
Watch Movies About The History Of Movies
Using movies to learn about movies...
One fantastic way to introduce yourself to classic tales of Hollywood and the film industry is to to try checking out movies showing dramatized accounts of real life stories about actors, directors, and the films they made.
For instance, one of my own personal favorite films as a youngster was Tim Burton's 1994 biopic, Ed Wood, about the life of cult filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr.. Whenever I watched this movie (and I watched it a lot) I wasn't doing so in order to learn about the man it was about or the actors and characters he surrounded himself with; but that's precisely what happened. Due to my enjoyment of the film, I inadvertently got my first introduction not only to Ed Wood and his classic B (or should I say D?) movies, but also to such classic figures of Hollywood's past as Bela Lugosi, Vampira, and Orson Welles. Granted, the film didn't teach me everything about these people or their movies, but it did put their names in my vocabulary and sparked my first interest in them and their stories. And that's all we're looking to do here.
However, these movies about movies have a tendency to throw in a hefty dose of fiction along with their "true stories". So take a lot of what you see and hear with a grain of salt. Their educational value is primarily in their ability to introduce you to the basics of who people are, what they're known for, and some of the more pivotal moments in the history of film.
Watch Documentaries About Hollywood And The Film Industry
Sometimes the most interesting Hollywood stories are the true ones...
Speaking of watching movies about movies, we mustn't forget about the documentaries which show us the most real side of Hollywood and the film industry that you're going to find. There are tons of these documentaries available; some were theatrical releases, others were TV originals, and they all focus on either the history of film, the behind the scenes juiciness, or the lives of the actors and filmmakers involved with the movies.
Fascinating, entertaining, and educational, there are many benefits that come with watching these documentaries about movies that may greatly assist in helping you to better understand and appreciate film:
New exposure to different movies
Oftentimes documentaries about movies and the film industry will (unsurprisingly) reference and speak at length about movies of the past that have some connection with the subject of the documentary you're watching. Through showing clips from those movies, having interviewees speak passionately about them, and/or being told of the impact and contribution they have given, these documentaries are not only exposing you to films you may have not seen, but they are also making strong cases for why you should see them.
(An example of this could be the 2003 documentary, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which focuses on 1970s Hollywood and all the changes happening to film during that time. When you watch the documentary, you will see many clips from these groundbreaking pictures, hear behind the scenes stories about them, and discover much about each ones impact on both American cinema and popular culture. Many of the films mentioned will no doubt be familiar to you, but many won't. And it's those films that you may find yourself interested in.)
You will gain a new appreciation for movies after learning more about the behind the scenes world of them
Watching a movie and knowing nothing about the history of the medium is fine. There's no denying that; the movies are still going to be an enjoyable and engaging experience, regardless. But when you actually do learn more about their behind the scenes history, the work gone into them and the drama, scandals and personal stories that occurred during their making, it can add a whole new level of enjoyment to the process.
Finding comfort in knowing that you're not alone in your passion for film
One of the most gratifying things about watching a documentary about movies, filmmakers and celebrities, is getting to hear other movie buffs talk as passionately about them as you feel. Just like with anything you feel strongly about, the sense of knowing you're not alone is a pretty great feeling.
Learning The Classics
Try not to neglect the golden oldies that started it all...
For many who have grown up loving movies but only being exposed to primarily modern, color films, it can be understandably difficult to take that first leap into the world of older black and white movies, silent pictures and other pre-1970s films. Without recognizing any of the actors, being incapable of relating to the time-period, and being unaccustomed to that particular style of movie in general, it can most certainly be a daunting task not only to know where to start when taking your first steps toward these silver screen classics, but to get yourself into the correct mindset of enjoying a style of filmmaking and acting that is so far from what you're used to.
But don't fret! This is far from a lost cause. And you know what? It's pretty darn normal too. So don't let anyone make you feel stupid if you happen to have some trouble getting into these gems of the past. Sometimes you just have to ease yourself into new things, that's all. Here's a few tips to help make the process easier for you:
Try starting with innovative films that were "before their time"
While they're all old, some actually look and feel like they could have been made today as far as their style, acting, and stories go. Starting off with these types of films, which are so close in style to those made today, may be a great place to begin easing your way into the oldies of cinema. A few good examples I'd recommend starting with include:
On The Waterfront (1954) - Gritty and real, this crime drama directed by Elia Kazan foreshadowed the new style of filmmaking that was to come along in the 1970s by such directors as Martin Scorsese. But what really makes the film stick out is the low-key acting by Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger, which has since become the norm of all movies today.
Sunset Boulevard (1950) - A kind-of-dark comedy as well as a film noir, Sunset Boulevard had a certain wit and cynicism to it that really makes it stick out among its contemporaries, and would fit right in with the films of today. The movie also has some great camera angles, including one of the coolest opening shots you'll ever find. In fact, that opening shot (of a dead body floating in a pool) should really be all it takes to grab the attention of any new viewer of old films.
The Defiant Ones (1958) - We've got two escaped prisoners, one black and one white, shackled together, and having to find a way to deal with their racial prejudices if they want to survive and evade the police hunting them down. As you can tell from the subject matter alone, this film dealt with some pretty serious issues and it did it in a completely non-hammy way.
Citizen Kane (1941) - Hailed as one of the greatest films ever made, this movie brought with it a whole new visual style of filmmaking that still looks stunning to this day. From its reputation alone, you already know the story is going to be well-worth viewing, but it's this visual style that should really attract the eye of new viewers.
Try finding genres of the time that strike a cord with you
Sometimes you just need a style that's attractive to you. Two that really drug me in when I was young were the styles of film noir and old horror and science fiction films. The film noirs are typically darker, both visually and in their story's, than most films of the day. They typically deal with the lives of criminals, they have cool voice-over narrations, and include quick, sharp dialogue between the characters. Modern movies such as Sin City, Miller's Crossing, Se7en, and LA Confidential have fed heavily off from this style. A few classic film noirs include The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), D.O.A. (1950), Dark Passage (1947), and the aforementioned Sunset Boulevard (1950).
If you're more of a Twilight Zone and Outer Limits fan, you may want to go for the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genre of the time. Some of the greats here include, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). For the horror genre, the safe bet would be to start off with classic monster flicks by Universal, The Mummy (1932), Dracula (1931), The Wolf Man (1941), Frankenstein (1931), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Give the more provocative, infamous, and notorious pictures a shot
What better way to draw your attention to a film than hearing about how scandalous it was?! Some prominent films known for their controversy, as well as their substance, include Freaks (1932), which used actual side-show freaks for its cast (as legend has it, the film made F. Scott Fitzgerald blow chunks) and The Birth of a Nation (1915), which while revolutionizing the way films were made also happened to be a racist, pro-Ku Klux Klan picture.
View and judge the films on the context of their time
While many classic films of this "simpler time" are undeniably ageless, most really wouldn't work if they were released today (sorry, but it's true). The scripts may be strong, but the movies themselves were restricted by an overabundance of censorship, they used embarrassingly poor CGI (for today's standards, at least), and the acting could be over the top and unrealistic. For these particular movies (especially ones from the silent era) it's very important you judge them by the context of the time they were made. Comparing them to films of today is like comparing apples to oranges.
Have Movie Marathons
Whenever you get some time on your hands, try making a list (or using someone else's list) of types, genres, or other categories of movies that you're wanting to watch. Then simply grab a seat and have yourself a nice, long movie marathon. A few marathon ideas include:
You got your favorite directors down now? Good. Now grab their filmography, get your DVD's in order, and watch one after another. Watch them in order of their release and maybe you can spot the evolution of their style.
The same drill as above, only we're going to stick with actors this time. Pay attention to the directors too, though, especially with the movies that stick out to you the most.
- Top Movie Lists
Try using the movie lists made by fans (I have a few myself on this very site!). Use recommendations you trust and watch them all in order.
- Movies by Year
Try picking a year or a decade and only watch films from that time. Perhaps a 1960s Friday or 1994 Saturday — make an event out of it!
- Niche Genres and Subjects
These can go from holiday themed films, to movies about dogs, to anything else. Pick an odd or unique subject, find movies that match it, then commence the viewing!
Parting Tips To Keep In Mind
A few final helpful hints to remember...
- Start with what you know!
You already love movies, so start with what you already know you like and build from there. Note the directors, note the actors, and use that information (along with the information of this page, if you think it helps) to help you find more movies.
- Don't force it!
A passion for movies or anything else should never feel like work. If it does, then you're doing it wrong. Remember, this information is just to help you find better movies to watch and to perhaps assist you in gaining a better understanding of film in general. No one's expecting you to be an expert, so just learn what you can and enjoy what you see. Don't stress yourself!
While golden age classics, cult-films, and other "essential" films are great, try to stay open to everything. Give any movie a chance if you have the time. You'd be surprised at the hidden gems you'll find.
- Don't be afraid to go foreign!
A movie is a movie and greatness and quality isn't just limited to what's available in your language. So try not to neglect your foreign pictures. Whether they're subtitled or dubbed, it's not that big of a deal. Just watch them.
- Don't get a big head!
After you're oozing with movie knowledge, try not to get a superiority complex. You'll only be harming yourself and coming off as pretentious to others. Remember what Uncle Ben said: With great power comes great responsibility. Stay humble and try not to become a snob!