“Movies can fix anything.”— Me, in a simpler, dumber time. 

I’m going to go out on a limb here – against my better judgement and my stubborn superstitions – and say that things are going to get better. The odd, propitious vaccine, election, or impeachment could bring even the most ardent pessimists blinking out into the sunlight at the promise of a new day. And while the world is still a smoking, virus-strewn wasteland, here’s to movies, too, which spool on, regardless.

In previous columns, I’ve lauded those Maine filmmakers who’ve braved this benighted year to create exciting new work or new innovations, and filled the rest of my column inches with reviews of movies from the before-times, and the occasional lifeline of little-known streaming options where the penned-in and movie-parched can slake their thirst when Netflix’s mirage-like well runs dry. 

Still, we’ve got a way to go until things get back to (let’s call them) normal. So, since obscure, insatiable and sometimes creative movie knowledge is all I have to offer in the way of usefulness, here are some unique (some would say cabin-fever-borne) ways I’ve spent my year-long vacation from real life – at the movies. 

FLICKCHART

This unassuming little movie site is singular in the ubiquitous internet movie landscape for a couple of reasons. One: It’s a fantastic way to waste the time we movie lovers have all got on our hands. The premise of the free site is simple – start a profile, then start rating movies on a head-to-head basis. Sometimes it’s easy. (If you’re picking the remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123” over the original, we are very different people.) Sometimes it’s hard. (“Alien” and “Local Hero” keep jostling for position in my top 10.) Gradually, you build up a comprehensive, empirically correct-to-you ranking of every movie you’ve ever seen. It is shockingly fun and addictive. Apart from that, the flashcards of movies you always meant to see will give you a goose to actually watch more movies, and the site even keeps a tally (your “List of Shame”) of the highest-rated movies you still haven’t seen. My highest: Chaplin’s “City Lights” (rated 15th of all time by users). I’ll get to it – back off, man. 

LETTERBOXD

One thing everyone in this divided nation should agree on is that social media has turned us into all-caps, doomscrolling zombie-people. Well, at least this free social networking site will only see you screaming at other people about movies. Like Flickchart, Letterboxd (the missing vowel tells you this is the internet) is a place for movie nerds of all degree to rate movies. In this case, it’s a bit more literate than simply picking movie A or movie B, as the site allows you to create a profile collecting your reviews of any movie you feel strongly about. And with everyone from professional critics to the terminally stuck-at-home binge-watcher on equal footing, the exercise allows you to connect with people who feel just as strongly as you do that, just to pick an example, Alex Cox’s 1987 crime comedy “Straight to Hell” is a subversively bananas cult classic. (We are out there, and we are lonely.) Plus, not to potentially crowd myself out of my chosen field, this is a fine outlet for your inner film critic to hone its craft, all while, once more, nudging you toward some hidden gems you otherwise might not have known.

MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIE FUN

Not a website, so much as what my mind has always done from the first time I ever got plunked down with my Raisinets in front of a movie screen. (Pretty sure it was a re-release of “Dumbo,” but don’t hold me to that.) Look, we’ve all been under an untenable strain this past year or more. And there are worse things to get obsessed about, addicted to, or stuffed with than movies. So here are my time-tested ways of making movie-watching a more active and – dare I say – creative experience:

Pick up a movie guide and a highlighter. I’ve done this ever since I picked up critic John Stanley’s slightly goofy 1980s horror movie guide “Creature Features” as a (weird) little kid, and happily checked off each gory monster movie and slasher as I saw them. It’s, once more, a rewardingly nerdy hobby to have, enhancing your film knowledge while you stack up fluorescent yellow proof that you’re amassing your own film file folder. My picks for maximum fringe movie enjoyment: Danny Peary’s “Cult Movies” books, “The Psychotronic Video Guide” and Pauline Kael’s “For Keeps.” 

Become a mini-expert. Aimlessly scrolling Netflix and Amazon’s sketchily categorized offerings is mind-numbing fun and all, but picking a concentration and mastering it (while eating popcorn) is singularly rewarding. My lovely wife and I spent the holiday season plowing through 1970s crime movies. (Do yourself a favor with a “Don’t Look Now,” “Serpico,” “The Silent Partner,” and “The Long Goodbye” marathon.) How about watching the only five movies late actor John Cazale starred in (“Godfather 1&2,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” The Deer Hunter” and “The Conversation” – all best picture nominees). Pick a director (I suggest Wong Kar-wai) or an actor (Pam Grier, anyone?) until you make yourself the world’s greatest authority. 

Until we can all go outside (and then inside, to a movie theater) again, here’s to using our screen time wisely. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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