A better way to use Netflix: Mini-movie festivals

Alright, alright, alright.
Alright, alright, alright.
Image: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
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There’s too much choice on my television. When my husband and I sit down for a movie night finding something to watch sometimes seems to take almost as long as the film itself. As the parents of two small children our time together feels too precious to spend bickering over what to watch. Even with all the time in world, scrolling through Netflix becomes annoying after about five minutes.

The solution we’ve come up with is to program mini-film festivals for ourselves. It’s a classic choice-reduction tactic—when you have pretty much every film and television show ever made (with a few notable exceptions) to pick from, paralysis sets in. Here are a few ways to scroll less and watch more.

By actor or director

I was telling a friend about this strategy and she asked, “But how do you choose? I’d probably just say, Julia Roberts movies, or something.” This is actually a great way in. Right now my husband and I are revisiting Matthew McConaughey’s body of work, which is exceptionally fun. Who doesn’t want an excuse to watch Dazed and Confused again? We also enjoyed the excuse to view Reign of Fire from 2002,a truly silly post-apocalyptic action movie in which McConaughey plays a cigar-chomping dragon hunter who  wears a leather and shearling vest over a bare chest. Frailty, from 2001 is a surprisingly satisfying crime drama directed by the late Bill Paxton that I never would have watched otherwise.

It’s fascinating to watch how say, Tom Cruise went from Legend to Top Gun to Born on the Fourth of July to Mission Impossible or how Ridley Scott (I highly recommend his body of work as a viewing project) could possibly be the director of both Blade Runner and Thelma and LouiseGQ has a series of videos chatting with actors and directors about their favorite, or most iconic, roles and movies, this can be a good way to find some inspiration, and also to decide whether you want to look at someone’s face for a five- or 10-movie run. Pro-tip: Do not feel like you have to watch every movie—you’re not researching a term paper here.

By theme

Choosing an actor or director is fairly simple, but you can have a lot of fun choosing a theme, like summer camp (Porkys, Wet Hot American Summer, Moonrise Kingdom, The Parent Trap), post-apocalypse (Mad Max, 28 Days Later, Escape from New York) or high school alienation movies (The Breakfast Club, Heathers, The Craft). There are also lots of lists online to help you pick from categories like “Unintentionally Terrifying Kids’ Movies,” or “90s Erotic Thrillers” to really Netflix and chill.

This is how we choose themes in my house.
This is how we choose themes in my house.
Image: Annaliese Griffin

Just listen to Spike Lee

Or, watch this video with Spike Lee, who is a professor of film at New York University in addition to being a prolific director whose movies are worthy of their own deep dive. Consider this his primer on American film. Here’s the short version, but please know that you are missing out if you don’t listen to Lee discussing film history, his family, and a scene that Martin Scorsese showed him that had to be cut from Goodfellas because it was too gruesome. He name checks On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd, Mean Streets, The Night of the Hunter, Doctor Zhivago, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and his own Malcolm X, and that is one a hell of a film festival.