A Higher Calling: How to Be a Cinema Snob

| Jay Ditzer |

Several rows of empty red chairs in a theater.

Denise Jans/unsplash.com

Do you have strong opinions about subtitles? Do words and phrases like “revisionist,” “mise en scène,” and “pre-code” frequently pop up in your conversations? Can you correctly pronounce Krzystof Kieślowski?

If you answered yes to those questions, you might be European—but you also might have what it takes to be a world-class Cinema Snob. And who doesn’t want to be perceived as a sanctimonious, know-it-all nerd? You might think that to achieve this noble title all you need to do is watch a bunch of movies, but it’s not that easy, Grasshopper.

It’s Not a Pilgrimage If You Stay at Home

Technically speaking, movies are movies—it doesn’t matter where you see them: as a pristine print in a well-run theater, through streaming services at home, on Blu-ray, on the seatback monitor during a long-distance flight, via dusty old VHS tape, or on your smartphone (if you absolutely must). If you were able to follow the story and understand what was going on, congratulations, you saw that movie.

However, for Cinema Snob purposes, you have to watch movies in a movie theater because that’s how they were meant to be seen, and the more the merrier. Features will be the bulk of your options, but don’t neglect shorts, documentaries, animation, silent movies … individual trailers don’t count (you have to draw the line somewhere) but full-on curated trailer shows do. And then there’s the motherlode: a double feature—or better still, an honest-to-god all-day or all-night film festival. Anything you see in a theater counts.

“Counts toward what,” you ask?

Unspooled celluloid on yellow, orange, and purple background.


The Numbers Game

What fun is seeing all these movies if you don’t treat it like a contest to be won? Quality and quantity count in this pastime. Be sure to set up a Letterboxd account to further gamify the movie-going experience. It’s the easiest way to keep track of your conquests and lord it over your soon-to-be dwindling number of friends who don’t get to enjoy all the movie options that you do. 

When checking for future screenings to add to your spreadsheet (you have a spreadsheet, right?), look for words like “retrospective,” “series,” “festival,” “tribute,” or “the films of…,” and plan accordingly. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of any scheduling concerns you may have. To wit, starting January 26, you’ll be spending every Thursday night at the Heights Theater reading subtitles and enjoying film noir from Argentina (who knew?). Just like with Pokémon, you gotta catch ‘em all.

And as long as we’re talking numbers, movie programmers LOVE anniversaries, so expect to see plenty of movies from 1973, 1983, and 1993 at all your favorite repertory theaters in the coming year (post-millennials from 2003 and 2013 are mostly not yet ripe for vintage viewing). True fact: John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) played roughly 37 times in theaters all across the Twin Cities last year. Repeat viewings count as long as they’re in a theater.

The Obscurer, the Betterer

Feel free to see big-budget Hollywood blockbusters—they count the same way Ingmar Bergman movies do. But those movies will play on multiple screens at multiple theaters for multiple weeks, so time is on your side with mainstream fare.

On the other hand, you’ll only have three days at most to catch a repertory booking. Frequently, these screenings are one and done, meaning if you can’t make it to the theater at 7 p.m. on Thursday, you ain’t gonna see that movie. If that doesn’t light a fire under your ass, nothing will.

Screengrab from the 2009 film Fast & Furious. Vin Diesel, a bald muscular man dressed in a black t-shirt and blue jeans, is sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, holding the steering wheel and gear shift with each of his hands and looking out the passenger window.

Universal Studios

And this goes without saying, but … one Darren Aronofsky movie > any three Fast and Furious installments; any Safdie Brothers movie > the last three Russo Brothers movies; one well-made horror movie like Midsommar > the latest Halloween remake/reboot/reimagining; Sony Pictures Classics > Sony Pictures. Janus Films + A24 = Cinema Snob wet dream. And a foreign movie, subtitled not dubbed, from the 1960s or earlier? Trifecta!

Screengrab from the 2019 film Midsommar. Florence Pugh, a young woman with a sad look on her face, is dressed in a bombastic flower gown and head covering. She is standing in the middle of a green field.


Only the Lonely

Ideally you have no personal burdens like a family or friends. While I’ve heard it can be pleasant to attend a screening with a pal, the sad reality is that neither your spouse nor your friends will be hellbent on seeing two or three or 11 movies a week every week, especially ones at 9 p.m. on a weeknight. You’ll need to either really up your powers of persuasion or get used to going to the movies solo.

I say embrace your inner lone wolf. You’re on a holy quest that cannot be encumbered by human companionship. Besides, everybody is alone once the lights go down. Nothing better represents the overwhelming desire to fill the gaping, pitch-black void of existence than a darkened movie theater.

And don’t let something like steady employment hamper your mission. Check with your company’s HR department to see how much leeway you can finagle with sick time and “emergency” half-days to better accommodate those sweet, sweet weekday matinees. Tell them you’re going to therapy sessions.


Are you Quentin Tarantino? Do you have a personal collection of 35mm prints and a ton of Hollywood clout, and, oh yeah, your own movie theater? Then you can tell DCP to kiss your ass.

But the brutal reality for most of us is that DCP is here to stay, at least until they come up with some new format and DCP becomes obsolete.

Speaking of obsolete, thousands of older, oddball, and otherwise obscure motion pictures will never be converted to DCP, and the extant prints will eventually deteriorate beyond salvaging and be lost forever. Hurray for progress.

Yes, 35mm (and 70mm and 16mm) film is great. Hardcore Cinema Snobs even get off on cigarette burns, missing frames, Eastman fade, and its foreign exchange student friend Fuji rot. So if you want to split that formatting hair, feel free, but it will severely limit your movie options—and your weekly/yearly/lifetime tallies. If anybody asks, make sure you let them know that while you tolerate DCP, you prefer vinyl 35mm.

Numbers Game 2: Electric Boogaloo

I get a thrill when there are two movies at two different theaters and I can catch both on the same day. I plan these events (yeah, I call them “events”) the way a general plans a military campaign (note to self: stop calling them “events” and start calling them “campaigns”). I saw a San Francisco double feature of Vertigo at Alamo Drafthouse and The Conversation (on 35mm) at Trylon on April 24, and I felt like I had really accomplished something afterward. I conducted a similar campaign with The Road Warrior (Alamo) and Mandy (Trylon) on August 29.

Of course, you can do it the easy way and see multiple movies at the same theater. Sundays at the Trylon are great for this. Some of the big chain theaters, however, seem to discourage this practice by overlapping start times or deliberately scheduling lengthy gaps between the end of one movie and the beginning of another. But that’s not gonna stop you from pursuing your cinema dreams. Go to a nearby coffee shop or just sit in your car by yourself like a perfectly normal, sane human being would do and wait them out. Your move, AMC.


Megha Mangal/pexels.com


Well, you have to eat sooner or later. But since this hobby is largely sedentary, go easy on the salt and butter.

To Pee or Not to Pee

What happens if you need to tinkle during a movie? Normal people go relieve themselves and just hope they don’t miss anything important or “good,” but you’re not a normal person, so gut it out and wait for the movie to end.

This is no problem if the movie is 90-100 minutes but it will become quite a test of endurance if you get the urge while you’re still in the “Dawn of Man” sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And may God have mercy on your soul and your bladder if nature calls during an MCU movie—those things are approximately five hours long and you gotta stick around for all those mid-credit and post-credit stingers. Let me tell you from painful experience, a LOT of people are acknowledged during MCU credits. I haven’t ever purchased Depends, but I have considered it for just such emergencies. Just kidding. (Or am I … ?) 

To prevent any discomfort, avoid fluid intake for at least two hours before showtime. The comfort of an empty bladder will override any mild dehydration you may experience. 

Old Man Winter Hates the Arts

If a repertory cinema is screening anything you want to see, ignore the weather. If you have to drive through 8 inches of snow and ice to get there, leave your house earlier than you would in, for example, June. Or call an Uber and let them risk their wheels for your cinematic edification. Or see if you can persuade, sweet-talk, cajole, or otherwise bullshit one of your friends into taking you, if you have any friends left. There was one of those “surprise” early-spring snowstorms that happen nearly every year in Minneapolis during Trylon’s April 2018 Warren Oates double feature, and because I didn’t feel like shoveling out my car, I didn’t go to the final screening of Two-Lane Blacktop—a decision I regret to this day.

To alleviate this problem, consider renting an apartment (nothing fancy; a studio will do) near the theater you most frequently patronize. Then you can just walk.

Trailers: They’re Like Tiny Little Movies, Kind Of

Talking during the trailers should be a felony. If you can’t shut your stupid yap when the lights go down, go to a bar instead of the movies. This goes quadruple for the feature presentation. What kind of sick weirdo goes to a movie to chat with their friends? For the Cinema Snob, a movie theater is a place of worship. STFU.

Collecting Ticket Stubs

Don’t. Retain a smidgen of dignity.

Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon

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