A Rookie Cinephile's Guide to a Stronger Letterboxd Profile

Cinema is not my passion. It’s my purpose.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

When people hear the word “cinephile,” the first thing that comes to mind is usually someone who rambles endlessly about obscure film references from a time long gone like the ‘40s. A pretentious snob who talks about watching films (yes, “films,” never “movies”) like it’s a discipline, an art form in and of itself. And they may bore us sometimes, yet there’s a part of us that craves their validation—that surge of pride and sense of achievement when you manage to get an obscure film reference. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to build that extensive silver screen knowledge. And some of us would rather just put on Legally Blonde for the nth time and let Elle Woods dazzle us with her courtroom finesse. But not to worry, here’s a quick-and-easy guide to films that will help you get that Letterboxd clout. So grab the popcorn and be prepared to fake it ‘til you make it. 

1| The Godfather (1972), dir. Francis Ford Coppola

If there’s one film cinephiles love to talk about like it’s gospel truth, that would be Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. The plot revolves around the Corleone crime family and the violence-ridden path of transferring control of their empire from patriarch Vito Corleone (an older Marlon Brando at the time) to his youngest son, Michael Corleone (soon-to-be Hollywood’s premier star Al Pacino). As the story evolves, we see Michael’s transformation from reluctant successor to ruthless mafia don.

It also reinvents the gangster genre by veering away from the stereotypical criminal culture of prostitution and gambling. Instead, it absorbs the audience with the nuanced intersectionality of power, politics, and society from the perspective of the gangsters. 

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Tip: Talk about the genius of juxtaposing baptism and manslaughter for the film’s climax.  

 

2| Pulp Fiction (1994), dir. Quentin Tarantino

Crime films are notoriously popular within the exclusive cinephile society but Pulp Fiction is one of the only ones that have achieved peak cult status. It follows the interweaving stories of two hitmen (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), a gangster (Ving Rhames) and his wife (Uma Thurman), a boxer (Bruce Willis), and two novice robbers (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) in a tale of extreme violence and surprisingly, comedy. But more than the acclaimed cast, the film is also recognized for its philosophical dialogues (subtext; think “royale with cheese”) and unorthodox storytelling (the narrative isn’t told in chronological order). 

Tip: Use the words self-reflexive, neo-noir, and watershed when talking about the film. Better yet, just keep a vocabulary of terms you have to google in order to understand. Remember, big words are your best friends. 

 

3| In the Mood for Love (2000), dir. Wong Kar-Wai

The Notebook who? The only romantic movies you should recognize are those unrecognizable to most people. In the Mood for Love portrays the love story of Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung)—two neighbors who gradually develop feelings for one another after finding out their spouses are having an affair together. Now if that isn’t poetic justice.

But this is not just your typical film featuring beautiful people smoking cigarettes (although it is also that), Wong Kar-Wai actually makes a sublime statement about the complexity of love and relationships. Apparently, love is not always patient and kind, it is also haunting and tragic. Essentially, this film will give you the TOTGA trifecta: intimacy, yearning, and loss…if you’re in the mood for that.

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Tip: Not all romance movies are eye-roll-worthy, only the ones with a happy ending. 

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4| Psycho (1960), dir. Alfred Hitchcock

There’s a reason why Psycho is considered the mother of the modern horror archetype. Arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous work, this psychological thriller is a class act example of a film’s ability to manipulate the audience—by making them empathize, or even identify, with the characters no matter how questionable they may be. It centers on the mysterious disappearance of embezzler secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) after staying in a motel run by the elusive yet charming owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). 

Tip: You may need to get over that fear of horror films because cinephiles are never afraid of exploring different genres. From this point forward, the only thing you should be scared of is clichés. 

 

5| Rashomon (1950), dir. Akira Kurosawa

Two words: philosophical depth. Because everything has to have a deeper meaning, otherwise you might as well just find entertainment from shapes and colors like a toddler. Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon recounts the story of a man’s murder from four different points of view—his wife, a woodcutter, a bandit by the name of Tojumaru (Toshiro Mifune, who is kind of Kurosawa’s muse), and the man himself, speaking all the way from the afterlife through a medium. By showing four different versions of the truth, the film interrogates the nature of man. Is there really an absolute, objective truth? Is the concept of right or wrong arbitrary?  

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Tip: You are not only a cinephile, you are also a philosopher-in-training.   

 

6| Citizen Kane (1941), dir. Orson Welles

Ah yes, the “greatest film ever made.” Produced, directed, and starring Orson Welles, Citizen Kane examines the legacy of media tycoon Charles Foster Kane as reporters try to decipher the meaning behind “Rosebud,” his final utterance before meeting his demise. Talk about famous last words. It is also a staple in film class 101 because of its brilliant use of montage sequences to compress time and space. 

Tip: Always find a way to mention technical filmmaking terms—bonus points if they’re in French like mise-en-scène or auteur or Palme d'Or. Make sure to practice their correct pronunciations, too. 

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Kimberly John Bautista
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