My Movie a Year Challenge

November 29, 2021

In 2020 I set an ambitious goal of watching a movie a day for the entire year. I had hoped to watch as many new releases as possible and fill in some gaps in my movie knowledge. I got off to a strong start, staying on pace through most of March.

But then the pandemic hit. And while most people would think, "well, at least I have more time to watch movies," it had the opposite effect for me. I almost completely lost interest. Even just a week of not watching movies was enough to make meeting the goal seem almost impossible.

A chart of the movies I watched in 2020 by week with a steep drop in March.
Three months in, I all but gave up on my goal of watching 365 movies in 2020.

I finished the year having watched 138 movies. Still the highest I logged since joining Letterboxd in 2012, but far short of my goal of 365.

For 2021, I wanted to try something similar, but far less ambitious. I decided to watch a single movie I hadn't seen from each year since the year I was born (1975). From 365 to 46 movies. Easy, right?

Selecting the movies was no easy task. Letterboxd made it slightly easier by allowing me to browse movies by year and fading out the posters of films I've already seen. From there I could sort by rating or popularity (# of people who have logged the film).

At first I selected the most popular movie I hadn't seen from each year, but that meant I would have had to watch all of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and other movies I really had no interest in. (Sorry if you love those, but no thanks.)

The highest rated movie led me to a bunch of films that were either extremely obscure or otherwise hard to find on streaming services. Not to mention some films on my Spite list.

Eventually, I settled on some combination of a mix of highly rated and/or popular movies and ones that just sounded interesting to me. At times there was some shuffling of films on and off the list but the end result was a pretty eclectic mix of films that I feel good about having watched, even if they weren't all great.

You can check out the full list on Letterboxd but I'll share some of the highs and lows here.

Movies I Loved

Blue Velvet (1986) I'm not a huge fan of David Lynch's movies. I think he's an awesome person and I appreciate that his movies are largely uncompromising in sticking to his unique vision but most of his movies are just a little too out there for me. Blue Velvet, while definitely being "out there", is narratively probably his most comprehensible movie that I've seen. Such a wild ride with a great cast, particularly a scene-stealing Dean Stockwell, who recently passed away. This was the most fun movie I watched in the list.

Paris, Texas (1984) This one kind of blew me away. Tremendous performances by Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski. There's a long scene involving a two-way mirror near the end that's nothing short of remarkable. The kid (Hunter Carson) reminded me of my own son.

Come and See (1985) A harrowing war film and coming-of-age story. Incredible cinematography. Its squarish aspect ratio is used to great effect to capture intimate portraits of its characters. Not available on streaming, I ended up buying the Criterion edition (my first!) and have no regrets, even though it was so disturbing I'll probably never watch it again.

Chungking Express (1994) One of three Wong Kar-Wai films on my list and my favorite of the three. (Raise the Red Lantern and In the Mood for Love are also very good). Chungking Express is delightfully fun and features a great performance by Tony Leung, who appeared in a whopping five movies I watched this year and I'm now a huge fan of.

Silence (2016) A fascinating departure from his usual crime stories, Martin Scorsese's Silence is pretty incredible and feels deeply personal. I was kind of dreading this one because I'm not particularly into movies about religion but I ended up liking it a lot.

A sweeping shot of August Diehl working on a farm in the Austrian mountains
A Hidden Life was one of the most gorgeously shot films I watched.

A Hidden Life (2019) This was the last movie I watched from the list and the fourth Terrence Malick film. I was dreading this one as well because I wasn't particularly into any of the other Malick films I watched. All of them are immaculately shot, and A Hidden Life is no exception. Everything is shot in wide angle, accentuating the incredible beauty of Austria's mountains as well as the personal struggle of the main character, who is imprisoned for being a conscientious objector in Nazi Germany. A lot of similarities with Silence, which also finds its characters grappling with their faith in the face of extreme adversity.

Movies I Didn't Love

Stalker (1979) One of the highest rated films on the list and I absolutely hated it. Some incredible visuals but just an absolute chore to get through. It literally took me FOUR nights to watch this movie because it was so long and boring I kept falling asleep.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) The first movie I watched on the list, formerly on the Spite list mentioned above. I was so disappointed by it that I swapped out other Spite movies that made this list. I know a lot of people love this movie but I didn't find it particularly funny. Maybe its one of those movies people have nostalgia for that influenced so many other comedies since that seeing it for the first time now doesn't have the same effect.

Videodrome (1983) When Rick Baker's name pops up in the opening credits you know you're in for some shit. This movie basically predicted Fox News before it existed. It also stars insufferable piece of shit James Woods, which didn't really help me sympathize with his character. Some fun practical effects but this movie is a hot mess.

Most of these movies elicited this response from me.

Dogtooth (2009) I was interested in this because I'm a fan of director Yorgos Lanthimos' dark sensibilities (The Lobster, The Favourite, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) but Dogtooth was not nearly as entertaining as his later work. There's a couple of absolutely sublime moments surrounded by a lot of tediousness and superfluous cock shots.

The Act of Killing (2012) A deeply disturbing documentary in which perpetrators of genocide reenact their crimes in a movie within this movie. The film they make is really bad, and we spend a good chunk of the documentary watching them make it. It's only near the end that one of the subjects finally grasps the horrors he inflicted, and that moment is incredibly riveting, but maybe not worth sitting through the horrors that precede it.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) Everyone in this movie exists solely to progress the character arc of its white protagonist. All of the women and people of color are written as if the writer had never met one in real life. It tries so hard that it almost collapses under the weight of its own quirkiness. Olivia Cooke (Sound of Metal) is quite good, despite not having much to work with.

The next challenge awaits

This challenge turned out to be a lot of fun and mostly manageable. I did end up buying a half dozen or so movies on disc because they weren't available on streaming services. Thankfully none of them turned out to be absolute stinkers.

I've already made a list for next year that includes a bunch of movies from my Watchlist, movies I was tempted to add to this year's list, and movies that further fill in the gaps of particular directors or actors that this year's list got me interested in.

I'd like to make this a yearly thing even though it will only get harder as the list gets one movie longer each year and harder to populate as I see more and more movies.

If this inspired you to do your own Movie a Year challenge, make a list on Letterboxd and send me the link!

I'm Mike Aparicio, Principal Design Systems Engineer at Turquoise Health. I'm interested in helping companies large and small improve collaboration between design and engineering through the use of design systems. I specialize in creating custom CSS frameworks that empower engineering teams to get from concept to production quickly, while writing little to no CSS themselves. I write about web design and development, video games, pop culture, and other things I find interesting. I live in the Chicago area with my wife, three sons, and two dogs.

You can find me on most places on the Internet as @peruvianidol.

Get in touch