How Movies Got Me Through 2020

Happy New Year, fellow nerds! This is the third and final post in a series wrapping up a different year in a different way. I’ve been recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. Since this post is going live on New Year’s Eve, I want to wish you all a happy, safe, and healthy start to 2021. May we all find brighter days in the coming year!

I’m not sure how to talk about movies this year.

Movies got me through 2018. And 2019. And I was ready for them to get me through 2020. In a string of years that featured major work stress, family health issues, and personal struggles, movies were my saving grace. When I stepped into a movie theater, I could forget about my own life for a couple of hours and become enveloped by a story that was all-encompassing. And when I stepped back out into the world, the world felt different. It felt brighter. It felt lighter. It felt bigger than me and my problems.

Then, a pandemic happened. And my world suddenly shrank to the four walls of my house and the often claustrophobic confines of my anxiety-ridden brain. The world felt so much smaller—suffocating and smothering.

And when it felt that way, I found myself missing movies, missing the ability to walk into a dark room and go somewhere else—anywhere else—and emerge from that journey feeling better than I did before the previews began.

I found myself missing the shared joy of a New Year’s Day family excursion to see The Rise of Skywalker, the excitement of taking myself to a Saturday matinee of Parasite, the emotional journey of Onward turning out to be nothing like I expected—in the best possible way.

I started 2020 on a movie fan high—seeing every Best Picture Oscar nominee before the ceremony for the first time in more than a decade. I was going to the movies by myself more often—relishing the sense of independence it gave me and the deeply personal, almost spiritual, experience that’s the closest thing I get to church (outside of church itself). I was making plans with friends and family to see a long lineup of great movies that were set to open this year.

And then it all stopped.

Of course I still watched movies. I enjoyed the lush beauty of Emma. I found Disney’s new take on Mulan to be thrilling and gorgeous to look at. I rewatched a lot of Star Wars movies and took comfort in animated favorites.

But it didn’t feel the same.

My couch is comfortable, and my TV screen is big. I’ve watched plenty of new movies at home before. But it never feels the same as a trip to the theater.

The phone rings. People walk into the room to talk. The siren song of Twitter and Instagram is so close. The lights are too bright, and the popcorn never tastes exactly the same.

So for a long time, I didn’t watch any movies. And I could feel my world getting smaller—and my problems feeling bigger—as a result.

It took until Christmas Day—and two miraculous movies—for that to start to change.

On a day when I’m usually running around to see family that I don’t see for the rest of the year, I instead chose to stay safe and stay home. However, the world didn’t feel claustrophobic that day. It felt comfortable. And it was all because my sister and I made a plan to spend the day watching movies, really watching them. Not half-watching while doomscrolling through social media. But really watching them.

And close to the end of Wonder Woman 1984 something happened to me that hadn’t happened during a movie since I saw Onward in theaters a week before the world shut down.

I started to cry. Really cry—tears running down my neck, ugly crying.

Something about this larger-than-life story opened my world up again. It opened me up again.

And even though I’d been stuck in my house since March, it finally felt like I was home.

That feeling continued through Soul and its completely transportive tale of what it means to live. Soul reminds us that the meaning of life isn’t to achieve success. A life isn’t meaningful because it’s successful. A life is meaningful because it’s lived.

Soul

Big moments, small moments, seemingly insignificant moments—they all make up the symphony of our life. And they all have value. They all have meaning.

That’s our purpose—to live. Not to strive. Not to hustle. To live.

And when I turned off the movie and got ready for bed, that lesson stayed in my brain as surely as it would have if I was mulling it over on the long walk from the warm movie theater to my car on a December night in Buffalo.

Movies help me feel alive. They always have—since I was three years old and completely captivated by how big Belle and Beast seemed in that ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. And for now, the way I experience movies might not be ideal, but Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul taught me that even on a smaller screen, the right movies can still make my world feel bigger.

Movies got me through this year with valuable lessons about life, love, and standing in your truth. But they also got me through this year by giving me something to hope for.

We all have that one place we dream of going back to—our physical anchor to the hope that one day this too shall pass. For some people, it’s an airport. For others, it’s Disney World or Las Vegas or their favorite restaurant on a busy Saturday night. Some people dream of football stadiums, while others dream of the theater. Some people crave the smell of their parents’ house when their mom is making red sauce; others replay the sounds of a concert.

Me? I dream of movie theaters.

When the stress and bad news and isolation seem never-ending, I think of how it’s going to feel to walk back into a movie theater. To smell the popcorn the second you walk into the lobby. To settle in to your seat and let the darkness envelop you. To taste the Cherry Coke or the Snow Caps as the previews begin. To drop every problem as the lights drop, and to feel your heart, your mind, and your world open up as you lose yourself in a story that demands your full attention—your whole self. To hear the excited chattering (or stunned silence) as the credits roll. And to feel the fresh air hit your face as you walk into a world that’s changed—sometimes literally (my favorite moviegoing experiences are always matinees in the winter when you go inside and it’s daytime and you come out to a night sky) but sometimes just because you’ve changed in those few hours.

That’s what I long for. That’s what I hope for. That’s the story I tell myself on days when it seems like this is never going to end.

Movies give me something to hope for.

And hope is the only way we can get through anything.

11 thoughts on “How Movies Got Me Through 2020

  1. I watched 3 movies this year, which is not as many as I initially set out to, but was honestly pretty good for me. So I have no recommendations or stories.

    But I am so proud of you for writing this and for the framing of your year-end content this year. You found a format that felt right for you and the heart of NGN and it was all so good and a place for us to come together and share. Love you ❤

    • Three movies is still pretty good for this year, IMO! 😉

      And thank you so much, my beautiful tropical fish. Your encouragement while I figured out what I wanted this content to look like and your comments that inspired the rest of the NGN Family to join in the fun mean more than I can ever say. It feels like old times around these parts again, and I have you to thank in a big way for that.

  2. This has been a rough year for movies in the theater. Right now, I’m in the middle of the marathon of Thin Man movies on TCM. But as you say, it’s not the same as the theater experience. It’s killing me that The Maltese Falcon is going to be in theaters, and I can’t go because I’m trying to be a responsible adult and stay alive and keep my parents alive, too.

    Like Heather, I love how you’ve adapted the format and acknowledged the whole troop of elephants in the room: we can’t and don’t consume media in the same way. It would be disingenuous to pretend that we’re not in the middle of pandemic and life is the same. I love this exploration of what’s worked for you and what hasn’t. It’s also fun to hear about everyone’s excitement about stuff they read or seen. I will ALWAYS take the second-hand joy.

    Happy New Year’s NGN fam!

    • Thank you so much for the encouraging words about this change in format, Tempest! Being able to welcome you back to these parts and share joy with you has been such a blessing. Here’s hoping we can continue it in this new year!

  3. I agree, watching movies at home just isnt the same. Sean and I love going to the movies. Its such a low effort activity and a great reason to leave the house for a couple hours. And like you mentioned, its nice to have something that gets my full distraction free attention for 2 hours. Very few things do these days.

    I cant think of if I made it to the theater this year. I for sure remember seeing Star Wars last December, but my memory gets foggy after that…

    I do want to give a shout out to my friends for starting our Nic Cage moving watching club. I am indifferent on Nic Cage, but it was great to have an assigned movie to watch every week, and a chance to discuss it virtually with friends and beer. Picking a movie to watch is always really hard for me (again, that whole ‘watch with intention’ thing) and this took that pressure away. We saw some good movies, and some very very bad (I dont know why I despised ‘The Rock’ so much but I did) but we always had a good time talking about it. I have 2 pages of notes about ‘Con Air’! When we got tired of Nic Cage, we moved on to other themes like ‘teen movies’ and ‘holiday movies’. I dont know what the next theme will be, but I hope this is one tradition we can keep up after things go back to ‘normal’. Our group spans from California, to Oregon, to Mississippi, to Louisiana, to Massachusetts, so virtual hangouts will still be relevant, pandemic or no. My favorite movie we watched in our club was probably ‘Sing Street’ from our teen movie category.

    Outside of our movie club, my most watched new “movie” was the Pride and Prejudice musical from Paul Gordon (on Amazon Prime). Its far from perfect, and it might be my least favorite of his trilogy (Emma and Sense and Sensibility being the others) but when I need a shot of joy I put it on and it always makes me feel better. I put movie in quotes because it is just a recording of a stage musical, but I am counting it, especially since I was denied live theater all year.

    Fingers crossed all of us can safely enjoy the theater again in 2021!

    • A nationwide movie watching club? How very cool.

      I completely understand the whole “what was the last movie I saw in a theater?” since that was like 5 years ago — in other words, early 2020.

    • I have LOVED hearing/reading about your movie club! As someone who loves Con Air unapologetically (bonkers action movies always have a spot in my heart), your pages of notes bring me so much joy.

      I’m also super interested in watching that musical! I’ve missed the theater so much, and watching Hamilton on Disney + a million times can only fill up so much of that live-theater hole in my heart.

  4. This was beautiful. Truly, it’s all I have.

    I share your love of the movies and your final paragraph description was a five senses delight.

    When I think about 2020 and the loss of movie theater experiences I realize how many moments and memories over my life are tied to a movie theater experience. So much so that I intentionally created a tradition out of it for me and my child and our little 2-unit family. In a year that surrounded me with trauma and loss by the time I was running into the holidays that potential lost tradition was truly the straw that broke the camel’s back. That we had people from our village of friends answer a call of longing that I just voiced into the universe (Facebook) and make a Christmas miracle happen for me was extraordinary. It was hope. It was knowing that if you stretch your hand out into the void, someone is likely to clasp it to remind you you are not alone. Getting the gift of a movie theater back this year will once again leave an indelible mark on the memories that define my life.

    Like you, I watched Wonder Woman and Soul — although I watched them in reverse order of you. So I couldn’t help but take not only the idea the living is in fact the purpose of life, but that when we stop allowing shame narratives to define us that is where truth and hope thrive. I have refused to discuss both movies for the most part, because for me in that moment in this year that has been 2020 remembering that I am enough. That my effort is what defines my best self, not my outcomes. That my goodness lies in the reflection back at me through the eyes of those who love me not those who observe me. And that in a 6 minute sequence Pedro Pascal put on display every single emotion I have felt as a parent this year was the reminder that movies are personal. The experience is sacred. And that our hope can be restored in the simplest of ways.

    • Thank you so much, friend. ❤

      Everything you said about life memories being tied to movies resonated with me. I can mark so many milestones in life by what movies I saw, who I saw them with, and where I saw them. Losing that way to mark the passage of time and make memories this year was one of the hardest things to accept. Which is why your continued Christmas Eve tradition made me so happy I teared up seeing that you managed to make it work. That joy and love made me feel so much secondhand bliss, and I needed that on a weird day of losing many of my own traditions.

      I also love and feel deeply moved by everything you wrote about your experiences with those Christmas Day films. I love how they spoke to you—especially Pedro Pascal's performance—and how deeply personal that message is for you. I'm trying to figure out what exactly I want to write about WW84 because it resonated so powerfully with me for what it said about accepting your truth exactly as it is and letting that be enough—not wishing it was different or dreaming of perfection, but actively standing in the hard parts of your truth and understanding that only through doing the work can you change your story. I'm hoping that this renewed excitement around writing will produce something soon!

  5. This was beautiful, Katie. I cried a little reading it because while I may not have quite the same relationship to movies as you do, I know those same type of feelings. I’m so glad you were recently able to reconnect with movies and find a way to make it work for you, and I hope it continues to click for you throughout the movies we’ll watch at home in 2021. I’m also really looking forward to going to a movie theater again, whenever this is over – I miss movie theater popcorn! (I legitimately would’ve gone and bought the popcorn to take home if my theaters were still open lol.)

    I only watched 5 new movies this year, and probably rewatched a few others a handful of times, so while movies weren’t a big part of my year they were still a nice escape on occasion. I also watched Wonder Woman 1984 and enjoyed it, and am really looking forward to watching Soul soon! What you’ve said about Soul only makes me even more excited to see it as it sounds like exactly the type of themes I love.

    My favorite movie I watched this year was probably Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which I had somehow managed to miss when it initially came out. It is such a great movie in so many ways, from the soundtrack to the visuals to the writing, and how much fun and full of heart it is all at once is a delight. I suspect I’ll be rewatching it many times in the years to come, and it’s taken a place in my all-time favorites list.

    I’ve loved all 3 of your end-of-year posts this year, it’s been really nice to reflect not just on what we’ve enjoyed most this year but also on how our relationships to various forms of media have changed or stayed the same, on what we’ve learned, and what we’ve taken away from our experiences. Thanks for giving us all a place to have those conversations! ❤️

    • Thank you so much for everything you said, Leah, and for sharing not just on this post but on all of my year-end ones! It’s been so good to have your voice around these parts. ❤

      I think you're going to love Soul when you watch it (have tissues ready!), and can you believe I still have yet to see Into the Spider-Verse? I KNOW! I'm hoping to start watching way more movies this month, and that one is at the top of my list. My cousins' kids are obsessed with Miles Morales, so I'll finally know what they're talking about. 😉

      I also have to echo missing movie theater popcorn! Why is it never as good at home?

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