Creating a Film Festival Playlist

Denisa and the girls are going to be gone for two weeks at the end of August, meaning I’ll be flying solo for that time. When I was trying to figure out what I’d do, an idea that really appealed to me right away was to have a film festival. Nothing too extravagant or anything. It’s not like I’d be renting out a movie theater or anything. But I thought it would be fun to have a few friends over for a pre-selected slate of movies over an extended period of time. My first thought was to have it every evening while they were away, but the logistics of that quickly showed me that wasn’t in the cards. So instead, I decided to plan something that would just last five days.

But what movies to pick?

There are so many different ways to approach this. For my graduation party, I did something I called Stupid Movie Fest, where we watched a string of comedies all day long. (I think it was 5 movies total. It was glorious.) So I could pick a particular genre of movies and really explore it, or I could pick movies from a certain time period, or go with movies in a series. Choices, choices, choices.

I didn’t want to show movies that are too well-known, because I really like the idea of introducing people to films that are classics. The nice thing is that the older I get, the more movies I’ve seen, and the more the movies that I watched a ton when I was younger become forgotten today. So I can look like I really know what I’m talking about, without having to watch literally everything out there. In the end, I thought it would be most fun to pick a movie from each decade, from the 1920s to the 2010s. But even that was really difficult to winnow down. One movie that was supposed to somehow represent the entire decade?

It was a starting point, at least.

So I looked at my schedule and tried to figure out how best to handle it. If I was going to watch 10 movies in 5 days, there would have to be multiple films in the same day. For that, I wanted the movies to speak to each other somehow. I thought about going with films that had the same director or same actor, for example. At the same time, i also wanted this to be pretty family-friendly, so no one would feel uncomfortable by anything they were watching, if possible. That narrowed things down even further.

In the end, I decided to go with certain themes for three days, and then one-off movies that were strong enough for a discussion all on their own for the last two days. And since I’m sure you all really want to know what’s on the slate, here you go. I just wish I could invite everyone, but my theater set up is limited, alas.

Day One: Early horror masterpieces. If I’m starting with a movie from the 20s, then it’s going to need to be a genre movie. I was torn between slapstick and horror, and I went with horror, because this is a Bryce film festival, after all, and you can show the really influential horror movies from these decades and not worry about people getting icked out.

  • 6pm–Nosferatu (1922) is an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is famous as being one of the first horror movies ever. Actually, Stoker’s estate sued the filmmakers, and they were successful. All copies of the movie were ordered destroyed. Thankfully, that wasn’t 100% successful. Yes, it’s black and white. Yes, it’s a silent movie. Yes, it was made in Germany. None of that matters. Watch it.
  • 8pm–King Kong (1933)–I could have done an entire film festival just on Kong movies, but they all stem back to this one, dubbed by Rotten Tomatoes as the best horror movie of all time. Groundbreaking special effects. Long lasting influence on pop culture. What more do you want?

Day Two: The evolution of the Western. So many different choices for these decades. I could have gone with war movies or noir or mysteries or comedies or you name it. I went with Westerns because I found three that spanned the three decades pretty much perfectly. Maybe I’ll do something else next time. 🙂

  • 2pm–Red River (1948) is one of Howard Hawks’ best films, and that’s saying something. He directed a slew of fantastic movies, many of which I debated having in the festival. Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, Sergeant York, Rio Bravo, and more. It also stars John Wayne in one of his key earlier roles. (Stagecoach appeared in 1939, so it got aced out by King Kong). Interestingly, it’s in black and white, despite the fact that it could have been in color. Hawks chose black and white because he felt it fit better, stylistically. The American Film Institute lists it as the 5th best Western.
  • 5pm–The Searchers (1956) won the top spot on AFI’s list of Westerns (and comes in at #12 on its list of best movies of all time!) Another John Wayne movie (two in one day!), this one is directed by the great John Ford. (He won the Oscar for best director four times, people. Four. Times.) This movie was a huge influence on later films and filmmakers, from Steven Spielberg to Martin Scorcese.
  • 8pm–Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) was a tough call. Do I go with this one, or The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly? In the end, I think this one is slightly less well known to American audiences, because it’s Charles Bronson instead of Clint Eastwood. (Also, because the theme music isn’t nearly as good, but what can you do?) This, despite the fact that most critics agree Once Upon a Time in the West is the better film. We needed a spaghetti western in here, and it’s great to get Henry Fonda in as well. (Sorry, Clint. It’s really your fault, seeing as how you turned down the role before it was given to Bronson.)

Day Three: Play Ball! I wanted this day to be the most family friendly of the bunch, and these three movies are all great. I picked sports movies at first, but that proved really difficult to narrow and still feel like I was doing everything justice, so I went even more narrow and picked baseball movies. I kind of assume people will have seen these, but at the same time, who doesn’t want to watch them again?

  • 2pm–The Bad News Bears (1976) is a PG movie from a different era. Back before things like “PG-13” and political correctness. So it’s got some issues, but it’s still a great baseball movie. Who wouldn’t want to watch Walter Matthau coach a little league team? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this one. I look forward to the rewatch.
  • 5pm–The Natural (1984) has my personal vote for the best baseball movie of all time. Robert Redford is just fantastic. Yes, I could have gone with Field of Dreams, instead, but in a cage match between the two movies, the Natural wins. That’s just a well-known fact. Plus, the soundtrack by Randy Newman is superb.
  • 8pm–The Sandlot (1994) is one I would expect most people have seen, but how can you have a movie about baseball and skip it? I really look forward to a conversation about baseball on film after watching all three of these back to back. Of course, that assumes someone comes and actually watches all three of them back to back other than me, but maybe I’ll just have that conversation in my head.

Day Four: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). There are few films that I’ve finished watching once and then decided immediately that I wanted to watch it the next day a second time. This one by Michel Gondry, starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, is one of those movies. Part science fiction, part romance, part cerebral, it really is a fantastic movie, and I think it sailed under the radar for most of the world. Yes, it’s R for language, but it is just so good and thought provoking. In a world where it’s possible to erase memories (see any connections to The Memory Thief, anyone?) Jim Carrey discovers his girlfriend has erased her memories of him, so he decides to reciprocate.

Day Five: Spotlight (2015). I initially went with The Social Network, but Daniela won’t be there, and I’d really like to watch that with her, so I shifted to this one, instead. It’s a Best Picture, so hardly one that people won’t have heard of, but it’s such a good example of the importance of unbiased reporting, something which is more and more moving to the wayside these days. Another R rating, though for more for the subject matter than the content. In the end, I picked this one because I’ve only seen it once, and I really wanted to see it again.

And there you have it. Is it the perfect line up? No, but I’m not sure the perfect line up exists. My hope is that it’s gone some movies on there people haven’t seen, and some that are worth everyone revisiting. (I mean, I’ve already seen all of them, so . . . ) Will I ever do another film festival like it? Who knows, but it should be fun to have tried it once.

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