The midlife crisis that turned into a 600-film odyssey


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The Independent Culture

In a good year for the film industry, the average Briton will go to the cinema three times. Neil White clocked up twice that number of movies in just one day as he chased his goal of watching every new release over the last 12 months.

Not just the big-budget action films, star-packed romantic comedies and multiplex-friendly 3D offerings for him. His quest has taken him to world cinema's most obscure corners, including African, Japanese and South American films. He has even taken in a political parable from Kyrgyzstan.

His cinematic odyssey has included a comedy-horror directed by a 17-year-old from Brighton, and a four-and-a-half hour Portuguese costume drama. He has been careful not to miss even the movies that were shown in just one British cinema for one week.

By the time New Year tolls, Mr White will have seen 600 films – all but a handful of those released during 2011. His total eclipses the 300 or so movies that the most diligent of paid critics racks up, and he has done it in his spare time.

Mr White, 48, admits his marathon film-going session has been a form of a midlife crisis, prompted by the departure of his children, Catherine and James, to university. He and his wife, Andrena, had bought a yearly pass to their local multiplex in Nottingham and decided to take their investment to its logical conclusion – and far beyond.

"We needed a bit of a challenge. I'm too unfit to climb mountains and unlike a lot of men in their 40s I didn't want to buy a motorbike. Despite the great claims of all the critics, nobody actually watches every film released in a year. I thought it would be nice to try to do something nobody else achieves."

While not quite mountaineering, watching two films a day has brought its own physical strain, he says: "Sleep hasn't been high on the agenda this year."

He has chronicled all this on his blog, along with reviews and ratings from 0 (Uncle David – "It literally made me feel sick") to 10 (boxing drama The Fighter). The site has attracted a global following, receiving some 70,000 views this month.

All this has been crammed in around his job as deputy editor of the Derby Telegraph, and he admits there were moments when he considered giving up.

But Mr White persevered, even though it meant taking 14 DVDs on holiday to Cyprus, and watching films on his laptop while his wife drove the couple to Sheffield to visit their son.

His heaviest day's viewing was the six movies he watched back-to-back in a 13-hour session in Nottingham from which he says he emerged "jet-lagged".

Less successful was the 160-mile round trip to Bradford to catch a Punjabi film that was, contrary to the cinema's assurances, not subtitled – or the time he picked up a £90 speeding fine hurrying to Leicester for the opening credits of a Bollywood epic.

Then there are the films he sat through simply to stay on target.

But he insists the good moments have far outweighed the moments of buttock-numbing boredom.

"There is some great stuff out there – including films that I would never have dreamt of seeing otherwise.

And his next challenge? Simple – he aims to see every film released in 2012.

Star rating: Neil White's year in movies

The best...

1. The Fighter

"In my opinion, the greatest sporting film ever made – but so much more. The fight scenes were stunning but secondary to a story which has poignancy and great humour."


2. Tangled

"Disney's 50th animation was a brilliant telling of the story of Rapunzel. Made me laugh out loud about 10 times."

3. The Interrupters

"My documentary of the year. I went to Sheffield to see director Steve James talk of how he had spent time with the former gang members who were trying to prevent killings on Chicago's streets."

... and the worst

Uncle David

"A gay paedophile induces his educationally challenged nephew into drug-fuelled suicide while spouting inane monologues."