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What to Watch?

~ Iain Pardoe

I recently overheard my older daughter being asked, “What kind of movies do you like?” I empathized with her as she struggled to answer, because I too am typically stumped by this innocuous question. Sometimes, I’ll try to sound cooler than I am by saying, “Oh, um, I prefer foreign film, art-house flicks, independent cinema, you know …” Or I’ll confess to not really having a preferred type of movie and that I have pretty eclectic tastes. But then I think I just come off like a pompous doofus.

The truth is I like all kinds of movies and have enjoyed excellent examples of just about any genre or type of movie you could think of. This got me thinking about how I go about choosing the movies I watch. Growing up in a small town in England with a one-screen cinema, I’d go see the blockbuster of the day. At home I’d watch whatever my parents wanted to watch on the three TV channels available or occasionally we’d splash out on a VHS video rental. I started to become more selective after leaving home and living in larger cities, where I could go to the burgeoning multiplexes or those independent cinemas strong enough to survive.

During this time I would generally decide what to see based on what everyone was talking about or friends’ opinions or whether the movie was by a favourite director. Then for a while I became very influenced by professional critics’ reviews. In particular, I found that I invariably liked movies given a thumbs-up by Roger Ebert. For a few years I kept a list of Ebert’s 3 and 4-star movies and was reluctant to watch anything not on this list.

As my movie-viewing has become more family-oriented in recent years, I’ve become a little less rigid. I still like to read reviews – the website I visit most often remains, even though the man himself has sadly passed on – and will often seek out movies that are universally well-liked. But I’m a bit more willing to try out a movie I know nothing about these days. And with two daughters just entering their teenage years, I’ve enjoyed quite a few family and young-adult movies recently (in amongst a few more drek-worthy efforts).

So now, when I’m thinking about whether to watch a particular movie, I’m willing to give almost anything a chance. I think I remain influenced by all the factors that have guided my movie-watching habits over the years – family members, friends, critics, popular opinion – but I take all these viewpoints with a pinch of salt. I’ve watched movies in the past that have ticked all the boxes – well-reviewed, recommended by friends, strong box-office numbers – and hated them. But I’ve also watched movies that I’ve known next-to-nothing about beforehand and loved them. And that’s part of the fun, not knowing until you’ve watched a movie which of these it’s going to be.

Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.