Not Tonight, Dear: The Importance of Mood in Film Selection

The other day, while fighting a cold, I was in a NyQuil fog. I needed to rest, and there’s no better way to rest than lounging on the couch with a movie. But not just any movie will do. I pried open the treasure chest of cinematic delights on my DVR, and found… a flood of foreign and silent films. The mood wasn’t right.

It might be awhile before I'm in the mood for a Mel Gibson movie again.

You see, I’m a firm believer in giving films the best possible chance at success when you watch them. If Mel Gibson’s just done something that offends me (which happens a lot, but I digress), it’s probably not the best time to check out Mad Max for the first time. The other day in my NyQuil fog is the perfect example. My brain wasn’t clicking at full capacity. Whatever I watched, there was a decent chance I was going to fall asleep watching it. And whatever I did manage to see before passing out wasn’t going to find fertile territory in my skull.

This happens all the time. Every June and July, I’ll load up on French films in anticipation of updating my list of the 50 best French films. By the time August rolls around, I’m completely burnt out and not in the mood for more French films, at least not for a month or two. I’ve been watching loads of classic American comedies lately, and it’s put me in the mood for comedy. But I hadn’t updated my Facets queue, and wound up receiving Truffaut’s The Soft Skin at home. Now… it was a fine film. But it was hard to choke down because I simply wasn’t looking for a Truffaut film at that particular moment. And unfortunately, now I feel like it was much more difficult to watch than it actually is. To be blunt, I owe it a fair re-watch. The first viewing didn’t do the film justice.

If only there was some way to combine this guy's indie work with the horror genre.

Sometimes I’m in the mood for horror. And when that happens, it would be completely unfair to try, say, an indie film. Sometimes, I want to catch up on the previous summer’s blockbusters. That’s precisely the last time I should be watching a Hammer horror. If I’m in a crappy mood or if I’m stressed out, why bother with a comedy? “I didn’t laugh once”, I might say after seeing it. Of course I didn’t laugh. Life intervened.

Of course, this is a two-way street. If I want to give any film, any genre, any director the best possible chance, then I’ll watch them Saturday morning. It’s part of my weekly routine. I don’t usually watch movies on Thursday precisely because I’m saving them for Saturday morning, when I can wake up to a nice bright weekend sun and fire up something entertaining. It’s the best part of my movie-watching week.

Mood is so important for a film. A bad or ill-fitted mood can make you think that a great movie is average, and average movie is bad, and a bad movie is torture. The right mood, the best-fitted mood, will  set you up with a chance for the best movie experience.


20 Comments

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20 responses to “Not Tonight, Dear: The Importance of Mood in Film Selection

  1. I understand what you mean. I don’t own very many comedies, which are generally the films I watch when I get drunk and feel filmy (though one time I watched Battleship Potemkin while intoxicated and it looked like the scariest movie ever made). One time I was searching for something to watch and my eyes fell on Michael Haneke’s Caché. Now, I bloody love that film to pieces but I was asleep before the opening credits had even finished. Not a good drunk choice.

    Generally, the one thing I own that I can watch no matter what my mood is my Fawlty Towers DVD set. It is the funniest thing in all creation. Ever. Whether drunk or sober, I’m roaring with laughter and unable to stop after just one episode. Definitely my pick for a lazy night in where I don’t have to think too much.

    • In that same vein, I bought the first three seasons of The Simpsons a few months back. Those episodes never air anymore in syndication, and it had been… 10 years(?) since I’d seen a lot of them. It’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

  2. I wonder how many movies I’ve misjudged because I was in the wrong mood when I watched them the first time.

    • I guarantee I have hundreds, if not thousands. I don’t know how many movies you watch per week or month, but when you get into the higher numbers, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll run into one that you’re not in the mood for.

  3. This is so right! There are few films that can be well received at any mood or moment in life. The mood is important so as the right moment in your life. Some films I would have watched like five years ago I wouldn’t have connected like I do now.

    • I think it’s only natural, Michael. It’s also a big reason that I’m in favor of re-watching movies, especially the critically acclaimed films.

  4. Dan

    You bring up a good point that has a larger influence than I expect we realize. We watched The Adventures of Tintin the other night, and I was exhausted. I ended up finding a lot of it pretty irritating, particularly John Williams’ overblown Raiders-esque score. Was I giving it a rougher go because I wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie at all? I’ve also found that I do need to be in the right mood to focus for certain films.

    • Along those exact same lines, I’ve recently seen two other Spielberg films- Hook, and Always. I went in to Always hoping that it was a hidden gem. And I wound up really disliking it. Then I went in to Hook expecting something as bad as Always… and despite the flaws, I sort of liked it. I think they’re pretty comparable in quality, it’s the same filmmaker, by all rights I should have felt the same about both. And yet I was ok with one, disliked the other.

  5. TheBestofAlexandra

    This is so very true. There are days I really want to be a good nerd and re-watch a Hitchcock movie or dive into Bergman, but all I can do is head to Netflix and select Law and Order:SVU. Which gets me thinking, what’s your “comfort food”? What’s your go-to thing if you’re not feeling like anything else?

    • When I’m not feeling it, I head straight for comedy, every time. Sometimes it’s sitcoms- the Seinfelds and South Parks and Simpsons of the universe- and other times it’s stuff like Idiocracy or Animal House. Great question, BTW.

  6. I know exactly what you mean. I often spend several minutes browsing my Netflix Instant queue just trying to find something that fits the particular mood I am in. Like, the other night I was really feeling a newer cult movie and opted for the 2007 film, Stuck. It ended up hitting the spot, but there was no way I could have sat through something like a classic western at that time (even though I generally enjoy that genre).

  7. I definitely get in funks like that, currently my DVR is about 80% full and I’m just not in the right mindset to watch any of the films on it.

    • I know EXACTLY how that goes. Things take over a year sometimes to come off of my DVR. Actually, I think Flowers of St. Francis might be coming up on two years now.

      • Yay, I don’t feel as bad lol. I start to get stressed right around the time I tape something and the little note pops up “you have less than 10% of space…you might want to watch some of these movies you lazy bum.” That last part might be in my mind lol.

        • I wish you could personalize those notes from the DVR. I’d make mine say “Dude, you’re going to watch another Nat. Geo. show? Don’t you remember DVR’ing this other stuff?”

          • Haha, that is EXACTLY what my DVR was full of when I had cable: random Nat Geo shows and movies from IFC and the like. I was particularly fond of Locked Up Abroad.

  8. You’re absolutely right that the right mood makes for a better viewing experience. Right now I’m so obsessing on BBC’s Spooks and don’t feel like watching anything else 🙂 Btw, now that I think about it, I almost never watch anything in the morning, somehow I prefer afternoon or evening for movie watching, not sure why.

    • I know exactly how that goes. When you get in the zone with something that you enjoy, it almost feels forced to watch anything else.

  9. It’s something every serious movielover runs into. I have nights where I’ll go through a list of hundred movies and not find any I’d want to see. If that’s the case I know it’s better to just do something else instead.

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