popflick logo

Mastering Cinema: Your 20-Step Journey to Becoming a Movie Buff

flim buff 01

Everybody likes movies, but it takes a real movie buff to rejoice in the beauty of cinema. We are not casual viewers - nothing is wrong with that! -but true believers in the power of film. If you want to improve your cinephile game, we are ready to share some insights on how we do movies correctly.

Movie Theaters as a Battlefield

1. Get A Monthly Subscription To A Theater

I have a love-and-hate relationship with movie theaters. Even though they have compromised quality by cutting down on professional projectionists, a darkened theater with a big screen and surround sound is still the best way to experience a movie. Most theater chains have a membership program that offers good value for frequent visitors. For a monthly fee of $19.95, AMC allows you to catch up to three movies per week. REGAL goes from $18.99 to $23.99, with different privileges at three levels. If you go at least two times a month, you cover the expense.

They don’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts. They are trying to lock you down in a velvet-gloved loyalty program. If you don’t want to tie yourself to a particular chain, the app MoviePass is making a comeback, but it can be harder to manage and only covers 2D screenings. I love my local AMC, even though they have a permanently blue-ish screen where most indie fare gets stuck.

If you want assurance that the projection will be in tip-top form, grab tickets for the Dolby HD theater or one of the faux-IMAX screens. If you eagerly await a particular movie, catch it on opening week. It might move to a smaller auditorium with unpredictable projection quality by the second week. This year, "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part 1" (Christopher McQuarrie, 2023) is the one that got away from me. I let too much time pass, and now it's only playing in tiny auditoriums. Tom Cruise was right about being concerned about the encroaching "Barbie" (Greta Gerwig, 2023) and "Oppenheimer" (Christopher Nolan, 2023).

If there is a problem with the projection, let management know. Be that guy. I know. It sucks to leave the theater and miss a bit of the movie, but your viewing experience is already compromised. Please don't take it out on the personnel. They are not at fault for the state of the business. If the theater offers ways to provide feedback online, report your complaints. If they don't know the service sucks, they will never improve it. And take your trash with you, will you? Avoid disruptive patrons by booking your tickets for early afternoon or late-night screenings. With fewer people attending, there is less chance of annoying seat neighbors talking up a storm, taking calls, or making TikTok videos. Jezz, people! Watch the damned movie!

2. Support Your Local Art House

Patronize your local Art House cinema. They are your best source for film festivals' winners, black and withe movie classics, and cult classic movies. Sign in for any membership program they have, which will get you nifty discounts and allow them to keep serving the community with alternative programming. Everybody wins! Invite friends and family to go with you to screenings. They might get hooked on the experience. Also, give gift cards and memberships for birthdays and Christmas. It’s better than a scented candle and lasts longer than a bottle of wine.

flim buff theater

3. Seek Out Alternative Venues

We movie buffs tend to get precious about watching movies in optimum conditions, but even if you live in New York and Los Angeles, you will miss out if you do not tolerate a less-than-perfect experience. Seek out museum cinematheques, cultural societies from foreign countries, libraries, and universities. They offer programming that you might not find anywhere else. It’s usually cheaper than regular theaters, or free, even! One of my most memorable viewing experiences was watching “Orpheus” (Jean Cocteau, 1950) for the first time in an open-air hall at the Alliance Francaise in Managua, Nicaragua. The manager himself ran a clunky single 16mm projector and had to take breaks to switch the rolls. It was glorious.

The Home Front

4. Get a DVD/BR Player

Streaming may be convenient, but it never puts everything you want to see within reach. Copyrights, studio mendacity, and technical issues got in the way of our collective pipe dream. Movies come and go according to the whims of studio executives and distribution contracts. Physical media remains the best bet for cinephiles who want to see what they want to see when they want to see it. It allows you to collect your favorite titles or seek out things that fall out of mainstream fare.

Boutique labels like Criterion, Kino, Vinegar Syndrome, and others consistently put out classics, vintage commercial cinema, and underground fare that let you be your film programmer. Having movies at home is like having books. It gives you comfort and provides you with entertainment. So, dust off your old DVD/ BR player, or get a new one, to enjoy those sweet UHD reissues.

5. You Know What? Make That DVD/BR Player An All-Region Player

Movie buffs must consider shelling out for all-region players. Although the number of discs you can play anywhere is increasing, too many titles still abide by the archaic system created to protect theatrical distribution and divide markets. Amazing stuff gets edited for Europe or Japan without signing a local release. One of my most valued possessions is a complete set of Eric Rohmer's works, put out by Potemkine in France about ten years ago. A similar group for the American market never materialized. Not cheap, but oh, so sweet.

6. Improve Your Home Viewing Setup

You don’t have to break the bank to improve your home viewing setup. First, adjust your TV settings to deactivate motion-smoothing. Get some blackout curtains and lower the lights when you watch a movie.

Flatscreens have notoriously bad speakers, so invest in a sound bar or a surround sound system. I’m cautious about wireless systems since Sonos canceled support for early models in 2020, forcing users to buy new speakers. So, on my wishlist, there is an old-fashioned wired system.

If expense is not an issue, turn a room or a basement into a home theater. Go wild. Paint it black! Get some theater seating! Buy a projector! You might have to sell a kidney, but you have two! Get your priorities straight, people.

flim buff stream

7. Shut Down Your Phone

Nothing diminishes the viewing experience as a distraction, so you must shut down your phone to immerse yourself in a movie. Don’t just mute the ringer. Turn the thing off. And don’t get me started on people who live-tweet a movie. Watch it, and if you think the universe cares about your thoughts, share them when the final credits roll away - you do watch them to the end, right? -.

I know dine-in theaters are a thing now, but anything that forces you to look off the screen and down to a plate goes against the movie. That is why popcorn is king. Get your snacks and drinks within reach. Go to the bathroom before hitting play. Think of your home screening room as your private theater. These are the things that separate movie buffs from dilettantes.

Self-Improvement for Cinephiles

8. Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone

I may be a film critic and tired of superhero movies, but I don't resent anybody for their fun. Knock yourself off, and watch "The Flash" (Andy Muschietti, 2023) many times if you want to. You will miss out on other things if you get too entrenched in a particular genre. Our taste evolves. Give yourself the chance to discover new things. Challenge your biases. As a kid, I disliked Western for reasons I can't quite phantom. Might it be because everybody looked like they badly needed a shower? Had I stuck to that position, I would have missed out on the pleasures of spaghetti westerns, "Johnny Guitar" (Nicholas Ray, 1954), and the Ranown cycle by Budd Boetticher. And I'd be poorer for that.

9. Skip Opinion Aggregators

Who cares what is popular? Film buffs don’t, but opinion aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes do. A recent article in Vulture lifted the veil over their operation, revealing how easy it is for studios, distributors, and PR firms to game the system and push their products on the scale. Even if they worked, aggregators flatten opinion and sell uniformity. The beauty of the film lies in its diversity.

10. Go Beyond The Algorithm

Streaming services are in the engagement business. The more you watch, say, Netflix, the better chances they have that you will keep paying the subscription fee. They are not in the business of expanding your cinematic horizons. So, they always push more of the same. You liked “The Kissing Booth” (Vince Marcello, 2018)? Watch “Red, White and Royal Blue” (Matthew López, 2023)! Enjoyed “Iron Man” (Jon Favreau, 2008)? Keep watching “The Avengers” (Joss Whedon, 2012)! See how it works? Categories are too loose and wide. They neutralize nuance. So, scroll down the “recommended to you” carrousels and see what else is in store. Don’t let a machine decide what you watch.

11. Feed Your Watchlists

There are so many streaming services available, with so many movies, that it is easy to freeze up in front of apparently endless possibilities. We only have so much free time to indulge ourselves. Chances are you have spent many hours doom-scrolling, trying to decide what to watch, only to end up passed out in front of an old sitcom rerun. Try to impose some order in this chaos. Add titles that interest you to a watchlist. Next time you log in, make it your first stop. Some online platforms, like JustWatch and IMDB, allow you to organize a watchlist across streaming services. It's great to have all the information in one place.

12. Reconcile With (Good) Movie Critics

The war against criticism is a disquieting development in public discourse, made more acute by social media and certain anti-intellectual trends in popular culture. For some strange reason, people began to look towards critics to confirm and validate their tastes. Do we need a stranger to tell us that that Marvel film you like is awesome? Critics have been made into straw enemies to solidify fandom and brand devotion.

This state of affairs reached ridiculous heights when stars like Mark Ruffalo came out on social media to "defend" superhero movies from Martin Scorsese's lack of enthusiasm for the genre. If a critic does not like what you like, it does not diminish your enjoyment. If anything, an opposing view may enrich your experience, offering an alternative point of view that makes you revisit the film and reconsider what you saw.

My love of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) remains untarnished by Pauline Kael’s legendary pan. If anything, it enriches the film. Good critics can open new avenues of enjoyment, pointing out references and influences. They lead you down paths you would not have explored otherwise - I will always be grateful to Glenn Kenny for opening my eyes to the thrills of a good Giallo -. Also, learn to differentiate between critics and influencers who pass themselves as critics who operate as extensions of the PR machine.

flim buff home

13. Neutralize Recency Bias

It's normal to fall into the trap of recency bias, to think that anything new is better than everything that came before. The truth is that cinema, like any other art, is timeless. Abstraction or hyperrealism in painting did not destroy the beauty conveyed by Renaissance masters. It's something similar to movies. You have to be open to accepting the limits imposed by the march of progress.

Early cinema is silent because the technology to record sound did not exist back then, but you can learn to appreciate how filmmakers worked around that limitation. How? By watching silent movies. Films from the first half of the XX century are black and white, not because people were stupid back then, but because filming in color was not yet developed. And once it did, some chose to work in black and white for aesthetic reasons. The filmmakers wanted their movies to look like this. Check out our rundown of modern black & white films that you should watch immediately.

14. Read Books!

You can better appreciate film if you know its historical context and how it fits in a director's work. Many academics and critics dedicate their time and effort to pondering the intricacies of movies and genres. You would be surprised how even the most commercial or popular movies speak volumes about our times and culture. Check out Carol J. Clover's "Men, Women, and Chainsaws," a landmark study on horror movies from a feminist perspective. Or contemplate the problematic legacy of "Gone With The Wind" (Victor Fleming, 1939) through Molly Haskell's magnificent "Frankly, My Dear: 'Gone With The Wind' Revisited."

15. Get a Library Card

Do you know where you can find those books? At the library! You can also loan DVDs there, free of charge. Also, check if your local library offers access to Kanopy, a streaming service full of foreign and classic films. Did I mention that it is free?

16. Follow Critics On Social Media

Critics on social media share articles and viewing habits. They may alert you to movies you don’t know about. Identify those critics whose work enriches your cinephilia and follow them. Again, there are a lot of shills in cyberspace, but it’s very easy to tell who is who.

flim buff critic

17. Embrace Subtitles

American audiences have a legendary aversion to subtitles. Ironically, the hegemony of Hollywood as the world's film provider imposes subtitles on non-English speaking countries - film buffs consider dubbing an aberration, so we will not give it the time of day. If you avoid subtitles, you shut off a wealth of films. It's easy to think you "miss" the picture if you read the words at the bottom of the screen. So, here's a little hack from somebody who has spent his lifetime watching subtitled movies: try to sit further back, whether in a theater or at home. Leave enough space to catch the full screen comfortably within your field of view. In time, you will get used to taking in the subtitles as part of the complete frame instead of concentrating on them so much that it feels like the rest of the image disappears.

18. Keep A Log, A Diary, A Record Of Some Sort

It's fun to keep a log of the films you watch. It's more important to record what you watch than prevent accidental revisits. Last year, I started to watch the pre-code wonder "Night Nurse" (William Wellman, 1931), and right after the credits rolled, it dawned on me that I had already seen it. Reader, it did not matter. I was hooked and saw it a second time. What can I tell you? It was a blast. Every film buff knows good movies reward rewatches. A simple spreadsheet can do the trick, but Letterboxd pushed movie record-keeping to the next level, adding social media elements and creating a well-developed community.


19. Don’t Be a Snob

As a child, I was obsessed with watching the Oscars and every Oscar-winning movie available within my reach. I now know that was a sign of immaturity but a necessary step to fall in love with cinema. In time, I learned to appreciate the beauty of non-industry-sanctified movies. Quentin Tarantino taught us that you can find cinematic pleasure even in the less reputable movies. Open up your mind, and find those diamonds in the rough.

And Now, The Most Important Thing You Have To Do

20. Subscribe to Popflick!

Of course, you have to subscribe to Popflick! We are a unique streaming service offering a carefully curated selection of independent cinema, classic films, and alternative content. And now, we have a special offer: pay just 99¢ for a full-month trial. It’s the perfect way to bring some diversity into your movie diet. Any self-respecting movie buff would give it a try.

Movie poster

Watch “Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl

The story of Amy Lopez and Derrick Ross, the couple behind Arizona's cult music sensation "Nowhere Man & a Whiskey Girl."

Stream Now

Want to get an email when we publish new content?

Subscribe today