Trust film curators

For over a year, I was in a movie rut where merely “fine” movies dominated what I watched. Most were only mildly recommendable. It was passable entertainment, but I missed that feeling of raw exuberance that came with the greats, where I couldn’t wait to tell friends and family what I just saw.

For someone who argued on how important it was to push beyond algorithms, ironically, I had fallen into the trap of my own “algorithm.” With limited time and firmly held personal tastes, I wasn’t taking risks on fresh ideas or untested genres.

But over the last few months, I’ve had a breakthrough: I found curators I trusted and gave into their recommendations.

That may sound like banal advice. But from my experience, it’s direction easy to ignore in practice. I hope my revelation isn’t just instructive for a movie nut who regularly watches ninety-plus movies a year but for practically anyone who seeks something interesting to watch next.

The insight began when I took an honest look at the movies I raved about over the past year. Half came from exactly where I expected, generally big awards and festival contenders with wide critical praise or from a director I already followed. However, the other half felt seemingly random. When I dug deeper, these “random” films mostly came from two sources: the TIFF Cinematheque program here in Toronto and the streaming service MUBI’s highlighted film of the day.

Both sources played out similarly. I had free time, liked many other movies that TIFF and MUBI highlighted earlier, and took a chance. The first movie I watched from each source was solid but not especially noteworthy, the proverbial mildly good selection I often see. But I liked enough of the experience to commit myself to something from each place regularly.

The decision paid off. While continuing to take gambles inevitably led to some big misses, it was all worthwhile for gems where I came into a film with zero expectations and came out satisfied.

Notably, machine algorithms aren’t driving the programming at TIFF or MUBI. Human beings orchestrated the programming I saw. Algorithms at Apple, Max, or Netflix can help, but I still think my post from years ago holds merit. Finding what’s best for you is greatly amplified by some manual digging. Your curator is what speaks to you, not what necessarily what others gravitate towards. That could be a film critic. It could also be an influencer on YouTube or a friend.

Also, “giving in” goes beyond cherry-picking the safe picks you might already like. That’s how I treated MUBI and virtually all of my other film recommendations. They were less trusted curators, and more data points filtered through my quirks.

Giving in meant a few of the films I saw were buzzworthy on film podcasts I listen to. They were not crowding the top of watch lists on Letterboxd. They rarely entered my thoughts as something to watch until days or even minutes before they started. But ultimately, many were greatly rewarding to see. The right curators made it possible, and they can do the same for you if you give them a decent chance.