Argentine-American storyteller based in Appalachia

My Year Reviewing Films

I spent a year reviewing films in my DVD collection. It didn't make me a penny. But, it helped me remember what I love about movies.

My Year Reviewing Films

I've never been much of a collector.

For most of his life, my grandpa has collected coins. My dad collects fishing rods. Various friends of mine collect cigars, pipes, knives, guns, and whiskey. But, other than a few boxes of baseball and hockey cards I won at penny raffles as a kid, I've never owned much of any one thing.

Last year, after watching the Academy Awards, a friend and I got to talking about this. How much of any one thing we own. I told her, Other than books, I don't really own much of anything. I felt a little bad about it too. I figured, men are supposed to know a lot about very specific things.

Then, I remembered my DVDs.

I hadn't had them out on display at the house since I'd gotten married. Haley stuffed them away in boxes and old luggages when we moved in together. These are your single guy things, she explained to me.

My collection wasn't much: maybe two or three dozen assorted DVDs from years of picking them up at flea markets and in bargain bins at Blockbuster, WalMart, and McKay's, the greatest used stuff store in the world.

But, the week after that conversation, I started digging them out. I was within two weeks of having a baby. The pandemic would strike in a little more than a month. I needed a passion project to fill my time at home.

So, I decided to start an Instagram documenting my collection.

I called the account Cinema Che  (che is a traditional Argentine greeting, like yo for Americans), something uncommon that felt like me. I took a photo of the cover of each DVD case and included with the post a personalized review of each film.

I realized pretty soon after launching that I wasn't going to make money writing reviews of films that I owned. Like many of us, I buy what I buy because I love it—not because everyone else does. My DVDs are a reflection of my own idiosyncrasies and fascinations.

So, I decided to focus not on writing for others. Instead, I documented my viewings of every DVD for myself. I used it for my own memory.

I find myself constantly fighting to remember things. This may be typical of life now. Our attention is constantly fought over by social media platforms, influencers, television stations, streaming platforms—not to mention pre-tech era activities like mowing the lawn, bathing the baby, and sleep. Just this morning, I tried to list what movies I'd watched in the cinema since COVID-19 hit, and it took checking my Letterboxd and Regal apps, asking my wife, and squinting really hard while rubbing my forehead to remember (the answers were Crazy Rich Asians, Tenet, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Minari)

Taking the time to pick out a movie at least once a week, watch it alone or with Haley, write down my thoughts, and then read reviews or watch breakdowns online (if you love film essays or analysis, check out Thomas Flight, Like Stories of Old, and The Nerdwriter) took hours of my time. But, it was time well spent. It was time spent doing something I love.

In Nina LaCour's novel Everything Leads to You, her film-loving protagonist says what may be the best synopsis of why movies are so special that I've read:

“We love films because they make us feel something. They speak to our desires, which are never small. They allow us to escape and to dream and to gaze into eyes that are impossibly beautiful and huge. They fill us with longing. But also. They tell us to remember; they remind us of life. Remember, they say, how much it hurts to have your heart broken. Remember about death and suffering and the complexities of living. Remember what it is like to love someone. Remember how it is to be loved. Remember what you feel in this moment. Remember this. Remember this.”

For me, writing my Cinema Che reviews was about remembering. And it helped. I didn't gain a ton of followers. I didn't make a splash (in fact, I barely made a drop). But, I now have this archive of 65 reviews to look back on the next time I pick up a movie I've already seen and wonder whether it was any good or not. The next time someone asks me, Was the book or the movie better?, I'll have a reference.

Sometimes that's enough of a reason to do something.

If there are any films you'd like me to review or are interested in learning more about, ask me. I love to talk about movies.

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Jamie Larson