Four years ago I started watching classic movies in earnest. Specifically, I made a copy of AFI's (the American Film Institute) 100 years… 100 movies list and worked my way through it (there's actually 123 movies total on AFI's 1998 and 2007 lists), finishing earlier this year. To my surprise, when I first began I had only seen 55 of the top 100 movies. I thought I was a bigger movie buff than that.
So I began working through this list (and the list of Academy Award winners) and I found so many enjoyable gems like the Buster Keaton silent film The General (1927) and the Errol Flynn's swashbuckler Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). I saw John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart age as I flew through the decades. I saw great westerns like The Searchers (1956), High Noon (1952), and Stagecoach (1939) as well as a slew of film noir greats like Sunset Boulevard (1950), Double Indemnity (1944), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Chinatown (1974). I didn't really even know what film noir was, or how good it is, before I started going through this list.
I saw some great comedies, great war movies, great epic films… and 95% of the list was great film-making. But I also suffered through some truly miserable dreck like Caberet and Easy Rider, probably two of the worst on the entire list. More than a handful of the films were disagreeable to my tastes and sentiments; a couple of them I purposely waited to find edited versions because of the volume of offensive content. That said, I haven't yet dismissed a film for merely being offensive. If it was offensive on purpose, it might have been (crudely) making a legitimate point about the human condition. But I'm not a fan of just wallowing in the gutter for sake of wallowing. Only a handful of AFI's list seemed gratuitously pointless.
In the end, I've developed new tastes in story-telling. I've seen nearly the complete library of Alfred Hitchcock films as well as all the high points of directors like Billy Wilder, John Huston, John Ford, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Capra, and William Wyler. I've discovered a large number of silent films that are really, really good. And easily half of my favorite movies all-time, are classic movies that I've seen just in the last four years.
So now that I've wrapped up AFI's list, now what? Well, the top 100 came off a list of 400 nominees… And there are great foreign films… And there are so many great books to read… And some of these I'll want to re-watch with my kids as they get older… And…