Film Writing

5 tips from 10 years of filmlogging

In July 2008, while on a 24-hour break from the summer camp I was working at, I saw The Dark Knight with some fellow camp counselors. The next day I cracked open the new 3-subject composition notebook I’d brought to camp, flipped to the back third, and wrote a few lines on what I thought of the movie:

I hope this gets some Oscar nods. It’s smashing B.O. records for good reason. Heath Ledger owns this movie. Very smart, very dark, and very good.

Thus began a routine that is now 10 years old. Except for a gap between January and July 2010, since then I’ve been writing my initial thoughts on all first viewings of movies I see, new and old.

It took a month or two before I settled on the now standard structure of 4 lines per movie. I didn’t bother with star ratings or other metadata as I wanted to make it as easy as possible for myself to keep up with the exercise. And they all have a similar tone to that first one, like succinct bulletins to myself.

That first notebook lasted until December 2014. Then I decided to give the film log its own notebook.

Though my Logbook captures all my viewing and reading, I still keep up the paper film log. Not only for tradition and continuity’s sake, but because I find it valuable to capture my first fresh thoughts on what I watch in a tangible record. To see the pages gradually fill gives me visual evidence of all the amazing (and not so amazing) movies I’ve been able to see.

With that in mind, here are some tips for starting and keeping a logbook:

Tips for logging

1. Keep it simple.

I knew if I added too much beyond the basics to the logging process—a star rating, specifically where and when I saw it, etc.—it would become too unwieldy and easy to give up. Each entry takes me less than a minute.

2. Log sooner rather than later.

Right after you watch the movie, if possible. The point of this is to capture your immediate, visceral, and concise thoughts, not write a New Yorker story. I often fail at this and have to catch up on a few movies at once, which is why I make sure to at least add them to the Logbook so I can refer to it later.

3. Structure it just enough.

My format of four lines per movie didn’t happen right away. It developed naturally based on how much I found myself writing about each one. It also meant each 24-line page would neatly hold six movies. Love me some consistency!

4. Don’t stop at the log.

Many times what I log about a film ends up being the basis of further writing about it, whether on Letterboxd or on this blog. On the flip side, I often just log it and forget it. I often surprise myself with a film I didn’t realize I’d already seen and logged but had no memory of.

5. Whatever you log, stick with it.

It’s really cool to have a handwritten record of something I love, a kind of cultural diary that I can match up to other life events and see what connects. Yours doesn’t have to be movies: log your reading, beer drinking, museum hopping, whatever. Heck, start an Austin Kleon-style logbook and log it all! Whatever it is, keep it up and enjoy seeing the pages multiply.

Politics Religion

Terror Will Lose

At the climax of The Dark Knight, Joker has Batman trapped on the top of a skyscraper while he waits for the boats full of prisoners and civilians to blow up. The clock strikes midnight — the deadline the Joker gave to those on the boat — but there’s no explosion. For the first time in the movie, the Joker looks surprised and out of control. Batman, despite being momentarily trapped and defenseless, chides him: “What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s exactly like you? You’re alone.”

I thought of this scene when reading about this brave British woman named Ingrid Loyau-Kennett who confronted the knife-wielding terrorists immediately after their barbarous acts today. They told her they wanted to start a war in London, to which she replied: “It is only you versus many people. You are going to lose; what would you like to do?”

Terror and fear don’t get to win. These men can be angry about people who are dying in Afghanistan, but propagating the “eye for an eye” principle leads only to self-destruction. These cowardly villains can make a grand show of their hate, but they won’t start a war in London nor anywhere else they wish. They won’t win converts to their twisted ideology, save for a few other confused souls. They are alone. And people like Ingrid Loyau-Kennett prove that every day.

Film Review

Best Films of 2008



By far the boldest movie of the year. The wordless first half-hour is delectably good and a bit subversive too. The plot sags once the robots leave Earth, but it remains a beauty to behold. I was surprised at how emotionally invested I was in those cute little robots. It’s certainly a better love story than anything I’ve seen humans try to pull off in a long time.

2. Happy-Go-Lucky

Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, an indelibly optimistic teacher who finds the good in everything around her-her stolen bicycle, her siblings’ rivalry, and even her racist driving instructor. She talks a mile a minute but it’s never overbearing and she’s always funny. This purely happy indie makes the perfect antidote for the depressing year we’ve had.

3. Man on Wire

What a thrill it was to watch this movie. A documentary about French acrobat Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center, Man on Wire shows through dramatic reenactments how Petit and his crew snuck to the top of the towers and accomplished a daring feat unlike any other. It gave me something good to think about whenever I see pictures of the Twin Towers.

4. In Bruges

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hit men sent to the scenic Belgian city of Bruges to hide out after a murder. Farrell’s character hates Bruges, while Gleeson’s loves it. They’re the funniest hit men since Pulp Fiction. The movie blends humor, action, and tragedy perfectly. No one saw this February release when it came out, but you have to see it now.

5. Rachel Getting Married

A good ol’ dysfunctional family flick. Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a narcissistic addict who leaves rehab for the weekend to attend her sister’s wedding. Tensions rise to the surface as old wounds within the family are ripped open. The film honestly and perfectly shows the love/hate dynamic that binds every family together, for better or for worse.

6. Shotgun Stories

Roger Ebert recommended this unknown indie about two sets of half-brothers engage in a deadly civil war in rural Arkansas after their common father dies. The father’s first family, the one he abandoned, takes their hate for their father out on his other sons, and vice versa. It’s a quietly menacing yet ultimately uplifting story that rings true.

7. The Dark Knight ­­

A blockbuster that actually earned its acclaim. Heath Ledger certainly deserves at least an Oscar nod for his role-the best villain in a long time. Repeated viewings revealed the film’s biggest flaw; without the Joker, The Dark Knight would be pretty standard superhero movie fare. Nevertheless, it’s a thrill to watch.

8. Tell No One

A great French thriller about a man who goes on the run after being wrongly accused of his wife’s murder. Simply yet beautifully shot, it seems like any other standard spy movie until the twist-fest of an ending, when things unfold little by little with new reveals one after another. But what won me was the incredible amount of heart and love underneath it all.

9. Encounters at the End of the World

A religious experience. The famed enigmatic German director Werner Herzog tops his last documentary (2005’s Grizzly Man) with this meditative look at Antarctica and the stories of those who brave the elements down South, from the iceberg geologists to the pinniped seals. It’s a beautiful and haunting ode to the great unknown.

10. Milk

Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to office in America in 1970s San Francisco. While it follows similar guidelines for the standard biopic, Milk is enthralling, educational, and very moving. It’s also very topical, with California having recently passed a ban on gay marriage. Sean Penn is deservedly bound for another Oscar nod.

Worst of the Year: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Remember when Indiana Jones and his crew were on the quest for the skulls and they were balancing on that gigantic plate in an underground cave? That scene was ripped-off from National Treasure: Book of Secrets. When you’re stealing from a movie that stole its entire style from the original Indiana Jones movies, you’ve got a problem. Add that to the laughable jungle chase scene and ridiculous “it was aliens!” ending and you’re left with a hideous shell of a movie.

Most Underrated Film: W.

While it didn’t make the impact Oliver Stone wish it had, W. manages to make some sense out of our soon-to-be-ex-President; his Oedipal complex, conversion to Christianity, and rational for going to war are all treated fairly and make Dubya a sympathetic character. The political junkie in me loved the parts about his presidency, but I also liked seeing an idea of what it was like growing up beneath the daunting shadow of his father. Here’s hoping for a sequel.

Most Overrated Film: Slumdog Millionaire

In Mumbai, India, a boy from the slums grows up and goes on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The film tells his life story through each of the questions he answers. I grew tired of that stagey and predictable framing device early on, and the film’s inexcusable glamorization of the Mumbai slums just wrecked this one for me. Speaking of predictable: guy chases childhood sweetheart? Please.

Guilty Pleasure: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

A pleasant early-in-the-year surprise. I loved the 1930s sets, costumes, and music. Amy Adams shines in any role she takes. The first 20 minutes-a rapid-fire slapstick comedy scenario-were highly engaging. The rest of the movie slows down and falls into a Great Gatsby groove, but it ends up with great depth and heart. Hopefully it will at least pick up a few nominations for costumes and set design, though it definitely deserves more.


The Dark Knight – Round 2

Just saw The Dark Knight for the second time. I tried to take in all the theories and analyses I read after seeing it the first time and look at the film with a discerning eye.

The big thing I noticed was that Bruce’s love for Rachel fuels a lot of his decisions and affects the course of events greatly. But for having so much influence on the plot, it wasn’t the strongest part of the movie. I found myself either not caring or not understanding the love (or lack thereof) between Bruce and Rachel. It just seemed like an arc that belonged in a soap opera.

Either way, I still liked it the second time. To see so much depth in a summer blockbuster is a good thing. If it doesn’t get any important Oscar nominations then something is wrong, not with the movie but with the voters.

Film Life Sports Television

What’s Going On?

Haven’t been on much—camp is keeping me busy. It is nice, though, to be able to unplug from the world for a while and not be able to check your email and keep up on the news even if you want to. Here’s a few thoughts on random stuff:

—The Dark Knight was just amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

—In regards to the Favre-Packers debacle, the Packers organization I think has done right. Favre has lost all of the goodwill he earned throughout his career by continuing to flip-flop and run his mouth. I’ll always be a Favre fan, but I’m a Packers fan above all. He retired quite tearfully and emphatically. If he wants to come back he has to do it on the team’s terms.

—Ebert & Roeper at the Movies, Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper’s weekly movie review show will no longer be. Ebert and Disney could not come to an agreement about the show’s direction after Ebert’s departure and so both Ebert and Roeper will be leaving the show. I really, really hope they find a way to get back on the air on their own terms because the intelligent and entertaining film criticism it provides week to week is one of a kind.

—The two movies I was most looking forward to this summer—The Dark Knight and Wall-E—did not let me down. I’m not sure what else is coming out this summer that will be worth watching, but I’ll have lots of time after camp to check them out.