About Schmidt

About Schmidt (2002)

Dir. Alexander Payne

Written by: Alexander Payne (from the novel by Louis Begley)

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney


About Schmidt feels like a forgotten movie. I rarely hear anyone mention it, and I know that it has been largely ignored by myself. I purchased this film on DVD sometime in 2003 from Blockbuster Video. At that time in my life, Blockbuster was a big source of DVDs for me. They would almost always have their used rental discs for sale at pretty good prices about a year after their release, due to the store’s policy of stocking heavily on new releases and then downsizing their stock once the movies got a little older. Myself and my best friend would go to the area stores and raid their used DVD bins, stocking up on 4 for $20 discs. Our logic was that since it was about $3 to rent a DVD for the night, if we could get a disc for $5 and watch it twice then we were getting a good deal. I’ve watched About Schmidt more than two times since purchasing it some 13 years ago, but not many. I remember enjoying the movie, but it never made a huge impression on me, however it has hung around in my DVD collection when I’ve lost or misplaced other, more cherished discs.

It isn’t so much that About Schmidt is a bad movie, it’s just that it’s a very bland one, and it hasn’t aged particularly well. The film begins with the retirement of Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) from his job at a Midwestern insurance firm. Already put off by the loss of his familiar work routines, Warren is thrown into a full three-quarter-life crisis after the death of his wife Helen (June Squibb) and his subsequent discovery of her decades-long affair with his best friend. Warren’s solution to his crisis is to set out in the RV that he and Helen purchased to spend their retirement together, and drive cross country from Nebraska to Colorado to attend the upcoming nuptials of his daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis). Along the way, Warren begins to learn more about himself, and about the people around him, as he starts to accept and adjust to his new life.


Like the rest of Alexander Payne’s output, I feel About Schmidt is a fine piece of entertainment. It’s largely a light comedy, and it succeeds at hitting the beats it’s supposed to. The performances are solid across the board, with Nicholson and Kathy Bates receiving deserved Oscar nominations for their roles. However, my favorite performance was Dermot Mulroney as Randall, Jeannie’s ponytailed fiancée, who sells waterbeds, invests in pyramid schemes, and very obviously does not meet Warren’s approval. Randall is the film’s most obvious comic relief, but Mulroney never plays him as a total clown. Randall takes pride in his work, but he works to live rather than living to work. In this way, he provides a foil for the workaholic Warren, who sees Randall as a rube, unfit to wed his daughter. It’s telling that Warren made his living selling life insurance, a product that can’t be cashed in while the purchaser is still alive, versus the waterbeds that Randall sells, which are meant to provide comfort and enjoyment in the here and now. Halfway through the film, Randall approaches Warren with an opportunity to invest in what is “definitely not a pyramid scheme,” in an attempt to bolster his economic prospects in a changing economy, but also in an attempt to ingratiate himself to his future father in law, and to try to make an entry into the world of the upper middle class. Warren’s rejection of Randall is indicative of his classist attitude, as he repeatedly claims that Randall is “not good enough” to marry Jeannie, despite the obvious evidence that he makes Jeannie happy.


While Warren’s classist nature is revealed through his interactions with Randall, the film’s voice over narration often reveals its tendency towards White paternalism. Early in his retirement, Warren sees a commercial for Childreach, which leads him to sponsor a six year old boy in Tanzania named Ndugu. Throughout the film, Warren writes letters to Ndugu, which are narrated in voice over. Warren introduces himself to Ndugu as his new “foster father,” and proceeds to use his letters to Ndugu as a way to vent his frustrations and project his unfulfilled dreams onto the child. The letters are presented comically in the film, and they are often genuinely funny, but the content reveals Warren’s basic inability to understand or relate to cultures other than his own. The fact that Warren finishes off his first letter by writing that he’s sure Ndugu wants to “hurry down and cash that check and get [him]self something to eat,” is funny, but it also underlines a paternalism inherent in the attitudes of otherwise well-meaning do-gooders. I feel that this sort of well-meaning sentiment applies to the film as a whole. It’s funny, the acting is good, and it is largely enjoyable, but the point of view that it represents as the norm likely wasn’t relatable to most average Americans on its release, let alone now, when American society has become more diversified and stratified than ever.

As I mentioned, About Schmidt simply feels outdated today. The film was released in December of 2002, into a much different America than the one that I live in today. The idea of a gold watch retirement from a career after 50 years of service with one company seemed antiquated to me in 2003, and feels even more so watching the film again today. While the prospects for a retiree in the early part of the 21st century may have seemed bright, the reality for most American workers just 15 years later is that there may be little chance for a true retirement of any sort. The type of middle class prosperity that Warren Schmidt is meant to represent in this film is largely unachievable for most American workers in the year 2016. And while the film is dubious, or even downright pessimistic, about the happiness that can be found through a life dedicated to the achievement of material and monetary wealth, the relative comfort that a man in Warren Schmidt’s position has been able to enjoy, even at the expense of a more meaningful marriage or relationship with his daughter, must be preferable to an existence spent working overtime for a degrading wage simply to provide the bare necessities for your family.


The feeling that this film’s subject matter is distinctively out of step with the modern world is a problem that I’ve come to have with the films of Alexander Payne, in general. I have seen all of the films that he’s directed with the exception of his debut, Citizen Ruth, and they have always struck me as decent movies that leave little impression on me as a viewer. I have trouble relating to the Midwestern-ness of About Schmidt and Nebraska, and I also have trouble relating to the privilege and overbearing White-ness of Sideways and The Descendants. While I’ve enjoyed all of these movies at different times, and still think that they’re largely decent films with strong performances and are generally of high production quality, I can’t help but feel that they aren’t reflective of the face of America. As a viewer, I’m getting bored of the dominance of movies about White male elites, and I am hoping to see more representation of women, people of color, gays, and other marginalized groups in the films that get made. I’m hoping to see more films being made by people in these marginalized groups. There have been plenty of just fine movies made about the experiences of aging White men, and those movies will always continue to be made, but I hope that it isn’t at the expense of potentially great movies about characters who look less like the folks in Omaha.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Dir. Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke

Starring: Keir Dullea


I’m not sure what I can say about 2001: A Space Odyssey that hasn’t already been said. Universally considered one of the best films ever made, 2001’s place in the pantheon of cinema isn’t in question. 2001 is Stanley Kubrick’s meditation on human progress, and his first (and possibly only) foray into the realm of the cinematically sublime. The film, based on Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, charts the history of the development of human intelligence, beginning with the spark of human intelligence in a group of our simian ancestors, and jumping forward into the (then) far future, where human minds had outgrown their earthly concerns and turned their gaze to the stars. The film’s speculative and visionary subject matter is reflected in Kubrick’s grandiose imagery and sublime visual poetry.

2001 opens with a segment titled “The Dawn of Man,” in which we see a group of apes begin their evolutionary journey, as they learn to use tools and wage war. Their leap in intelligence is sparked by the appearance of a vibrating black monolith, which seems to bestow knowledge upon those who encounter it. Fast forwarding millennia, the film then shows us a speculative year 2001, in which space travel has become commonplace, and in which a second monolith has been discovered in a crater on the moon. This monolith is transmitting signals in the direction of Jupiter, and the quest to find its source informs the primary plot of 2001. The film’s more narrative middle section shows us life aboard the space ship Discovery, where astronauts Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), along with their on-board computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain) have taken on the quest of finding the source of the monolith’s transmission. What they find, both on Discovery, and beyond Jupiter brings into question the nature of humanity, and humanity’s role in the larger universe.


I first encountered 2001 right around the year 2001, when I was about 16 years old, and I was wholly unprepared to digest the film’s dense, philosophical themes. It was, however, the first time that I can remember being completely in awe of a film. I had never experienced a film whose visuals so greatly impacted and enchanted me, and in so many different ways. The early portions of the film perfectly capture the mundane minutiae of space travel in the year 2001, where our journey to the stars has been commodified and coopted by corporate sponsorship. The film’s final segment, in which astronaut Dave Bowman encounters the source of human intelligence, and is able to experience the evolution of man into his next form, are visually spectacular by contrast. Bowman’s journey beyond Jupiter is presented as a psychedelic blur of color and shape, assaulting the senses and jarring the viewer after experiencing the first two hours of the film which are meditative and defined by their restraint and glacial pacing. I was hooked.

Over roughly the next five years of my life, 2001 was my favorite film, and Kubrick was undoubtedly my favorite filmmaker. I shared the film with anyone who would allow me, attempting to tease out its mysteries through shared viewership and late night dorm room conversations. It wasn’t for everyone. I can remember bringing the VHS home from the public library for the first time and my father telling me the story of when he went to see 2001 in 1969. The film’s pacing, length, and lack of dialogue turned him off. He said that he walked out during the film’s famous docking sequence set to Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz”, thinking, “What did I just pay money to see?” But for me, the esoteric nature of the film was a part of its appeal. Not only had I never before seen a film that posed such deep philosophical questions, I had never seen a film that felt as if it were a question that needed to be answered itself. I felt rewarded with each repeat viewing as I started to formulate my own answers to the film’s internal riddles, and the beauty of the film began to reveal itself to me with each subsequent trip beyond Jupiter.


After some time, though, I no longer felt the need to continue to revisit this classic. My familiarity with its structure, its classic shots, and its cerebral questing was total. However, as I moved on from 2001 in my early 20s, and began to revisit Kubrick’s other films, I gained a new appreciation for 2001 and began to regard it in a different light. I began to appreciate what I referred to earlier as the sublime visual poetry on display in the film. When I watched the film after having read Michel Ciment’s Kubrick, an in-depth examination of the director’s films and visual style, and after fully experiencing the director’s entire body of work, I began to be interested in 2001 less for its inherent mysteries than in its ability to elevate the cold and the artificial to a place of warmth and emotion through its visual style. 2001 may be the Kubrick film least interested in human-centered narratives, but ironically, I find it to be his most emotionally in depth work, and it is certainly the Kubrick film that elicits the most emotional response from me.


The grandeur of the Blue Danube sequence, when we are first given a glimpse of Earth from space, and introduced to the realities of space travel in the year 2001, is a perfect marriage of sound and image and an introduction to what I have been referring to as the film’s sublime visual poetry. The sequence, which is free of any dialogue, links human artistic achievement in Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz” with human technological achievement and prowess in the impressive space ships. Following immediately after the “Dawn of Man” segment that opens the film and which is linked visually to that sequence through the famous graphic match of a bone with a space ship, the “Blue Danube” sequence underscores the progress that humanity has made, while also serving as a reminder that despite our technological and cultural achievements, man and his creations are still dwarfed by the awesome void of outer space. The juxtaposition of the mundane (a man falling asleep in his chair while watching television) with the fantastical or awe-inspiring (that man’s chair being on a spacecraft, where a flight attendant casually retrieves his pen before it floats away in the zero gravity environment), are at the heart of the film’s exploration of the sublime. It is a dichotomy that Kubrick returns to again and again, underscoring the insignificance of man’s activities on the Universal scale, while at the same time acknowledging man’s destiny and deserved place among the stars.

The film’s final scene returns to this juxtaposition, as Bowman goes beyond Jupiter, and is confronted with both his mortality, and evidence of man’s ultimate evolutionary destiny. At the end of his journey, Bowman finds himself in a lavishly decorated apartment where he watches himself live and age, eventually becoming a bedridden old man. The scene gives the impression that Bowman understands that he is on display, much like an animal in a zoo, as he goes through the end of his life alone,  eating meals quietly. Just before he is going to die, Bowman is presented with the monolith, and as he reaches out for it, accepting both its knowledge and his place in the Universe, he is reincarnated as the Star Child. Bowman becomes the next step in man’s evolutionary development, a being of pure energy, seemingly possessive of the answers to the mysteries of the Universe. In the final shot of the film, the Star Child returns to Earth, accompanied by the strains of Wagner’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Again Kubrick is juxtaposing his beautiful images with established classical music to indicate the presence of the sublime. While there is some debate on the role of the Star Child, I believe that he returned to Earth as an ambassador, not a warrior or a weapon. His role is to elevate mankind and show the ultimate potential of humans to ascend to a higher plane among the stars.


Upon this rewatch, I was instantly reminded of the awe I felt that first time I watched 2001 as a teenager. I hadn’t seen the film in its entirety in at least five years, but as I mentioned, its rhythms feel like they’re a part of my unconscious, always playing in the background of my dreams. Watching it again, on a new Bluray disc that I purchased about three years ago after realizing that I no longer had my DVD copy, I was immediately taken in by the film’s beauty. The transfer was great, and I was able to watch the film with more visual clarity than I ever had before. The sterile white of the film’s space ship interiors seemed to pop off the screen when contrasted with the vast blackness of the outer space exteriors. The colors in the “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” sequence at the film’s end were hallucinogenic and brighter than I remembered them being. I was taken in by the films rhythms, which were still so familiar, but which I hadn’t experienced in so long. Everything about the pacing is perfect, from the tense, episodic structure of the “Dawn of Man” segment, to the fluid, yet precise construction of the “Blue Danube” sequence, the film is a master work in editing. Although the only real narrative tension doesn’t appear until very late in the film’s second act, it is propelled forward by its beautiful imagery and excellent craftsmanship. I was again left with the feeling that the film was being presented as a question, or maybe as a challenge. I thought nearly a decade ago that I had unraveled all of this film’s secrets, but I’m sure now that I never really will. It should probably work its way back into my yearly rotation, though.

21 Grams

21 Grams (2003)

Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Written by: Guillermo Arriaga

Starring: Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio del Toro


21 Grams focuses on the aftermath of a fatal accident that brings Cristina (Watts), Paul (Penn), and Jack (del Toro) together in tragic fashion. All three of these characters bring a cargo hold’s worth of baggage into the film, but when Cristina’s husband and daughters are killed in a hit-and-run accident, their lives begin to spiral out of control and intersect as they circle the same drain. Paul, who is in the final stages of a terminal illness, is temporarily saved when he is transplanted Cristina’s husband’s heart, leading him to seek her out and begin a relationship. He becomes dragged into Cristina’s quest to get revenge on Jack, an ex-con who had been born again and was attempting to turn his life around when he caused the accident that killed Cristina’s family. Through these three characters, and their intertwining tale of redemption and revenge, Inarritu and Arriaga explore themes of death, grief, responsibility, and faith.


The film’s theatrical release was in November 2003, the beginning of my senior year of high school, although I’m sure it probably never made its way to the small town in West Virginia where I grew up. My first introduction to 21 Grams (and to most of the films I will write about here) was on DVD. The late high school years were the beginning of my development into a true cinephile, fueled by the easy access to anything I could imagine on home video, and the relative low cost of collecting DVDs at the time. My tastes at the time were somewhat eclectic; my collection was comprised mostly of classic American cinema (heavy on the American New Wave), 1990s independent cinema (heavy on Tarantino and the Coens), kung-fu movies, horror, and a scattering of basic contemporary “indie” cinema. My tastes in that last category could basically be described as enjoying films with non-linear narratives (Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), maudlin viewpoints or mopey protagonists (American Splendor, Punch Drunk Love), narrative synchronicity (Magnolia), or some combination thereof. I also had a great fondness for Focus Features releases at the time, so even without having seen more than a trailer, I confidently purchased 21 Grams sometime in the spring of 2004.

That spring and summer I know I must have watched this film a half dozen times. I watched it alone, I watched it with friends, with my girlfriend. At that time, it’s quite likely that I might have listed 21 Grams among my favorite films, right alongside Fight Club and Trainspotting. 21 Grams distilled so many of the generic tropes and narrative tics that I was fond of into their perfect form. Its story is presented in a jumble of scenes, jumping backward and forward in time, requiring and rewarding close watches as the interconnections between these characters are developed and revealed. The titular 21 grams refer to the weight that a person loses upon death, the weight of the soul leaving the body. The film’s central thematic conceit, what is the true weight of a life, or of a death, seemed like a puzzle to be solved. At that time, 21 Grams was certainly my favorite film featuring Naomi Watts, and I already owned Mulholland Drive, a film that is undoubtedly one of the greatest of the 21st century and probably my favorite film of all time now.



I say all of that, to now say something that is probably obvious at this point: somewhere along the way, my strong affection for 21 Grams soured. I moved to Pittsburgh in the fall of 2004 to study film, and over the course of my first year living away from home, and my first year truly immersing myself in a culture of watching films seriously, my tastes began to develop and change. I split a Blockbuster movie pass with my friend, Brian, and we abused the Hell out of it, sometimes renting three movies a night from the Blockbuster on Forbes Avenue. I was so busy exposing myself to new ideas that I rarely went back to many of the DVDs that I had brought to college with me, often treating them like comfort food, and 21 Grams was certainly lost in the shuffle. I mentioned it earlier alongside Fight Club and Trainspotting as a favorite of the time, and those stayed relevant much longer because of their status as “new classics,” and their visceral, fun styles. The languid pace, morbid tone, and philosophical bent of 21 Grams didn’t lend itself to providing relief in my more serious film schedule, so I always passed it up.

Over the years, and without another viewing since 2004/2005, I began to think of 21 Grams as being built around a somewhat trite formal conceit, its non-linear structure, and using that to prop up an otherwise flimsy narrative overwrought with philosophical import. I felt that its twists were unearned. After so many viewings, its revelations were trite. I suspect that that opinion initially formed after being largely unimpressed by Inarittu’s follow up film, Babel. That film is much of the same, exploring the same grand philosophical themes of 21 Grams through a more linear, but globe spanning, narrative. The failures of Babel to break new ground, and my general distaste for the film over the years, confirmed my bias against 21 Grams, and as such I hadn’t watched it in over a decade until it came time for this project.



Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I did like 21 Grams. There were times when the film felt a bit self-important, but I had forgotten just how great the performances from all of the lead actors were, and that really helped to make up for some of the overly weighty dialogue. Watts’s performance feels like an exposed nerve, and del Toro is totally convincing as Jack, whose loss of faith after killing Cristina’s family was the most interesting character arc in the film for me. I had also forgotten the film’s visual style, which evokes a sense of total despair as the characters’ lives unravel. The visual palate, alternating from cold, blue interiors, to sun-bleached, yellow exteriors in the desert, is striking. While his later work has gained him critical accolades, I feel that 21 Grams may be Inarittu’s best film, and I think it is certainly the best of his early career triptych, formed by his partnership with writer Guillermo Arriaga. For me, personally, Inarittu’s films have provided diminishing returns since 21 Grams, as he has become a visually masterful director, who increasingly leans on his own screenplays to the detriments of the films overall. Perhaps another multi-film partnership with a talented screenwriter could push Inarittu away from being such a technical wizard and back into making more rewarding, and well-rounded films. While it certainly doesn’t hold up to the early regard that I had upon first seeing it at 18, 21 Grams really does have some pretty impressive performances and the groundwork of Inarittu as a visual auteur of the cinema is apparent in its style. But, like much his later work, the narrative is never as compelling as the impressive style, and the film’s themes and philosophy are both too broad and too vague. I likely won’t go back to 21 Grams anytime soon, but I was glad to have the opportunity to reevaluate it.

12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys (1995)

Dir. Terry Gilliam

Written by: Chris Marker (inspired by La Jetee), David Peoples, Janet Peoples

Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt

This particular movie is a great one to start off with, because it is likely to be fairly emblematic of the nature of this project. Many of the films that I’ll be writing about in this series are ones that I haven’t viewed in years, however they always remain on the periphery of my film viewing consciousness. The physical presence of the cases on the shelf a reminder of half a life of serious film viewership and a latent urge towards criticism. Many of the films that will come are not essential or classic, but they helped to shape my journey into the world of cinema. In the age of streaming where there are countless films available at the press of a button, and it’s possible to spend as much time surfing through titles trying to choose a film to watch as you actually spend watching the film, it’s easy to get swept up in searching for new, unfamiliar titles. That access has been wonderful, if sometimes daunting, but it has also led me to ignore some of the formative films that I had regarded as important or valuable earlier in my life.



12 Monkeys is a time travel thriller alternating between a dystopian future where the last remaining humans on Earth have been forced underground and a present on the brink of an extinction level event. James Cole (Willis), a prisoner who has been volunteered to go back in time on a fact finding mission, is our entry point into this world. Initially sent to the year 1990, Cole is admitted to a mental hospital, where he meets psychiatrist Dr. Kathryn Railly (Stowe), as well as fellow patient Jeffrey Goines (Pitt), who is later revealed to be the leader of radical environmental activist group the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Cole eventually escapes the mental hospital and is returned to his present before being sent back through time to track Goines and the Army of the 12 Monkeys, who are believed to be behind the virus that will eventually nearly wipe out humanity. Back in 1996, Cole finds and kidnaps Dr. Railly, enlists her help in locating Goines and preventing the release of the virus, and eventually convinces her of the truth of his story. All the while, Cole is plagued by vivid, recurring dreams of a boy witnessing a foot chase and a shooting in an airport.


I picked up this movie sometime around 2003 I would imagine, when I was a junior in high school. I had seen the movie on cable, and I would imagine I probably picked it up because I liked Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt as the leads, and maybe to a lesser extent because of Terry Gilliam. At that point I was probably most familiar with Gilliam as a member of Monty Python, and for directing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which is still a favorite but not in my collection anymore, apparently. I still like Willis’s performance in this and most of his movies, Brad Pitt less so. I feel like his performances from the 90s haven’t always aged well. Although I haven’t gone back to it in probably seven or eight years, 12 Monkeys is still a very enjoyable sci-fi movie. The steam/cyber-punk aesthetic seems a bit dated, but Gilliam’s trademark imagery and directorial style are on full display, and he steers the complex narrative through its temporal slips with relative ease. The film’s twist ending is still poignant, even if it is a bit predictable.


The biggest difference in watching 12 Monkeys for me now, is that I can now watch it with the experience of having seen Chris Marker’s 1962 experimental short La Jetee, which inspired the film. 12 Monkeys borrows liberally from the earlier film, lifting its concept of a prisoner who is enlisted to return to the past in order to prevent a future apocalypse. Cole’s dreams of the shooting in the airport are also directly inspired by La Jetee. Marker’s film is great in its simplicity, as it is presented as a series of still photos with voice over narration explaining the story of the time traveler. Gilliam’s film is to be commended for taking as its source material something that is decidedly anti-cinematic and ballooning it into a richly visual cinematic world. While the world of La Jetee is purposefully obscure, allowing the story to exist outside of both time and place, 12 Monkeys is very clearly rooted in both a time and a place. Gilliam takes the philosophical core of La Jetee and fleshes out the narrative, providing a context and specificity not present in the original. Because of these adaptations, 12 Monkeys stands on its own as an engaging thriller. Familiarity with the film’s source material helps to add a bit of symbolic weight that Gilliam doesn’t fully explore when depicting Cole’s dreams of the airport, but 12 Monkeys is a wholly original film built on Gilliam’s memorable visual style and a strong lead performance by Willis. I feel that La Jetee is certainly an interesting film, but 12 Monkeys is ultimately the more entertaining and satisfying movie experience.


Webster’s dictionary defines a cinephile as “a devotee of motion pictures.” I first learned this portmanteau when I was 19 years old, in college, beginning my serious study of film. At that time, it made sense to me that I must be a young cinephile; I was in love with movies and had a voracious appetite for consuming them. I had long been a devotee, and I had spent much of my free time and money in high school going to the movies, collecting DVDs, and viewing films with friends late into the night. Like many passions of youth, my love for motion pictures burned hot, and my entry into a formal academic setting where the viewing and study of films was considered very serious business only served to stoke those flames even further. Now watching three films a day was not only not frowned upon, it was encouraged as research.

My desire to study films, and to make films of my own, led me to Pittsburgh, PA, but it was born in my hometown of Charleston, WV. I was a part of a small clique in my school who were obsessed with movies and pop culture. We were equal opportunity nerds when it came to the movies, as enamored with Taxi Driver and The Godfather as we were with Dumb and Dumber and The Chinese Connection. We would watch our favorites over and over and over again, memorizing lines of dialogue and details of shot construction, beginning an informal education in the visual language of the movies. Our curriculum was dictated only by personal taste and by the availability of particular films on home video. We amassed large collections of DVDs and VHS tapes, trading with one another and spreading the movies like secrets.

My personal collection became fairly large during the early part of the 21st century. Over the years, I purchased hundreds of movies, and watched hundreds more. I never thought of myself as a collector, because I didn’t hold much inherent value in the physical media. I was only interested in collecting the stories contained therein. As a result, there was never much rhyme or reason put into what might be added to my personal collection. I liked what I liked, and during that time I was primarily interested in consuming as much cinema as possible as often as possible. However, as access to different sources of media developed, adding new discs to my collection seemed less and less important. I was an early adopter to Netflix’s disc service, and collecting little red envelopes began to supplant buying movies of my own. A few years later, as streaming services became my primary way of engaging with and viewing films and media, my DVD collection became nearly ornamental, a well-organized display of my personal taste choices.

There was also a period of my life during which I completely disengaged from watching movies altogether. After four years of undergraduate film school, and a brief stint in graduate school, I had become seriously burnt out. I felt the need to almost totally unplug myself from that life and that meant largely ignoring my previous interest in movies. During my mid-twenties I buried myself in work, occasionally going to the theater, but rarely engaging critically in the way that I had in film school. I stopped writing entirely. I tried to shake this rust off in 2012, starting a blog that I kept sporadically updating for about half a year, writing short reviews and analysis of both contemporary and classic films. Though I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped in keeping the blog going regularly, I was able to use it as a stepping stone to working on several longer, more involved essays over the next year. I also began going to the theater more frequently and, gradually, my interest in cinema in general began to be reignited.

Since that time, my engagement with the movies has been consistent, even if my engagement with writing about the movies has been less so. I have thought about several potential long and short term writing projects that I could put my mind to, but for various reasons they’ve never been able to come to fruition. Often a lack of free time would derail an attempt to write an essay, and other projects would often take precedence as I started taking on new and different professional and social responsibilities. Sometimes I lacked for a concrete source of inspiration for a writing project, and a sort of stasis would set in. I realized a few months ago, however, that the solution to this problem might have been right under my nose all along. As I sat at my desk one evening, I looked to the shelves where my DVD collection was held, so many of them untouched in years, and I realized I had a previously untapped source of inspiration. I made up my mind to work my way through each disc organized alphabetically on my shelves, from 12 Monkeys to Zodiac, and write a short essay about each one. I was interested to find out how some of these movies that I hadn’t watched in a decade would hold up. I was curious to see if I could remember the story of how each one came to be in my collection, and why it seemed important enough to have stayed with me for all these years.

So, I hope to use this space to release these essays as I work my way through my collection, and with over 200 movies this will certainly be a long term project. My desire is to have one new essay written each week exploring a new film, and my relationship to it, both now and then. Some of these movies I have seen so many times that I could probably write my essays from memory, some of them I have seen only once or twice, and I’m sure there are a couple lingering around that I may have never gotten around to seeing at all. I’m hoping that presenting these films alphabetically, without any thought to chronology (either of their release or of their introduction into my life) or theme, there may be some interesting juxtapositions or that the films may enlighten each other in some way through an unpredictable pairing. There are already some stories that I can’t wait to tell about some of these films and their roles in my life. Most of all, I’m excited to get back to writing about movies on a regular basis, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than to revisit some of the more formative films of my cinephilia.