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Overcoming Option Paralysis

Do you ever find yourself taking so long trying to choose something to watch on Netflix (or Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, MUBI, Criterion Channel, Tubi TV, Peacock, Kanopy, KweliTV, or Red River’s own Virtual Cinema) that you wonder if you’re spending more time choosing what to watch than actually watching it? On top of what seems like the entire history of film and television at our fingertips (though don’t fool yourself; there’s plenty of content that isn’t available online), there are constantly new shows and movies being released. How do you choose from the wealth of cinema (and television) available to you? Here are a few ways to narrow your choices.

1. Choose a list

From The American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Movies” list to Sight & Sound’s more international “Greatest Films of All Time” lists, there are endless amounts of people and organizations ranking the so-called “greatest” works of cinema. It’s always fun to compare your own opinion to those of critics, filmmakers, and past audiences, and going through title by title can provide a real sense of accomplishment once you’ve checked off every film on the list.


2. Follow a Filmmaker

One of my favorite directors of all time is the late Jonathan Demme, and a couple years ago I sought out as much of his work as I could. During a career spanning roughly 50 years, he directed Oscar-winning feature films, documentaries, music videos, television episodes, this series of charming television ads for the People for the American Way Foundation, and more. Personally, I found going on a deep-dive into this one person’s body of work deepened my appreciation for their aesthetic style, artistic point of view, and technical prowess. I also found myself appreciating works that I had considered lesser before viewing them within the whole of his filmmaking career. The entire experience deepened my appreciation for not only Demme’s filmography, but the collaborative filmmaking process.

From directors to actors, cinematographers, screenwriters, producers or anyone else involved in filmmaking, choose a creator you like and watch as much of their work as you can find. This can be particularly rewarding when you watch their work in the order it was made and released, as you can trace their creative process from project to project. 


3. Watchthrough a Series

While the constant barrage of sequels, prequels, spinoffs, reboots, remakes and other such franchise-installments and pre-established intellectual property revists may seem like the death of cinema as an artform, it’s important to remember that remakes and sequels/story continuations have been part of cinema since the start. If you’ve ever sat through a theatrically-released serial from the 1920s or 30s, you’ll recognize many of the same storytelling tropes used today in anything from episodes of Breaking Bad and Stranger Things to feature film entries in the MCU, James Bond, Fast and Furious, or Star Wars franchises and beyond. Picking a franchise or series to watch from beginning to end can be as rewarding as following a filmmaker, with the added dimension of watching a story, character, or world evolve over time.


4. Join a Virtual Group

From Facebook to Letterboxd, there are a wealth of online communities dedicated to exploring and sharing opinions on movies. You can spend time discussing movies with likeminded people, exploring recommendations, or even watching movies at the same time as others and sharing your reactions together.

Alternatively, you can pull together a group of friends for a weekly movie night. Early on during the pandemic a few close friends and I decided to watch movies available online while using Zoom (or similar video services) to make the experience more personal. If you don’t feel like having two screens on at once, both Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video offer ways to share your experience simultaneously with others, and third party applications such as Teleparty allow you to share content and reactions with a variety of streaming services. Aside from the virtual interaction, group watches are fun because it gives people the chance to share their personal tastes or interests with one another and discuss them together afterwards. 

5. Surprise Yourself

There are so many titles available on such a wide variety of services, that it can be easy to just watch what you’re comfortable with all the time. Why not stretch yourself and take a chance on something you’d never have considered before? Maybe you don’t think you’d like slasher films, but have you seen the original Halloween, or Scream? Maybe you’ve never seen a Tyler Perry movie, or an Adam Sandler comedy. While I’d recommend doing at least some light research into the storyline or critical reception for a particular film you’re considering watching, stepping outside your comfort zone can be a lot of fun, and doesn’t have to mean you’re watching three-hour Soviet science fiction films about the nature of existence and free will (but it can be that as well!).



Click here to read more about Caleb McCandless!


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