When it comes to entertainment options in Quarantine Times, my wife and I are spoiled for choice. We don’t have cable, but we do subscribe to (or have access to passwords for) Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max and the Criterion Channel, not to mention the
free streaming services. So… why can’t we choose a goddam movie?
Since lockdown began—but actually, since our relationship began—we’ve spent more time arguing over what movie we want to watch than actually watching movies. Half the time we end up in a low-key fight over the other person’s indifferent mood or terrible taste before we’ve picked anything; the other half of the time, it’s too late to watch anything by that point anyway. You’ll notice this adds up to 100% percent of the time, and that’s only a slight exaggeration—but I’ve finally found a solution for our choice paralysis.
It comes via the cinematic power couple of Karina Longworth, creator of the essential film history podcast You Must Remember This, and her husband Rian Johnson, director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Knives Out (the latter being a film my wife and I did manage to agree to watch; she didn’t like it). It turns out even famous directors and film historians can’t agree on what to watch, but Longworth figured out a solution, as revealed on the third episode of her other movie podcast, the quarantine-themed The Pictures That Got Small.
“[Rian Johnson] and I had got into a situation of just passive aggressively being like ‘You choose what we watch, no you choose what we watch.’ And so I created an innovation in our household: I basically made a list of every movie I could think about that we had talked about, ‘Oh, we should watch that sometime,’ plus some deep cuts of directors I’m trying to get to know better, plus some Criterion Blu-rays we had lying around. We put it in an app that can randomize any list. And so, every night that we’re going to watch something, we press the random button and it tells us what we’re going to watch.”
Longworth and Johnson have dubbed their solution the Randomizer. To maintain and randomize their list, they use the Random app, which is dubbed as the “All Things Generator.” It’s a great—free!—option that can store and mix up any list and choose one item on it at random; you can also use it to flip a coin, generate a random number, roll a die and more. It’s only available for iOS, however, but you can jury-rig the same results with a Google Docs spreadsheet and any random number generator (for ease of use, I like the one at Random.org).
There are other movie-selection schemes built on random chance. In our Slack, Lifehacker tech editor David Murphy recommended Netflix Roulette, which will choose a movie for you at random from the entire Netflix library (and if you create an account, HBO, Prime Video, Hulu and “50+ others”). Even though you can narrow down your pool of potential choices by genre and Rotten Tomatoes score, this solution is just a bit too wild west for me. (I mean, what if it tried to make me watch Wild Wild West?)
I prefer the self-curation element of the Randomizer. My wife and I are constantly discussing movies we might like to watch someday, but never in one place; we have options spread across Alexa lists, multiple streaming service watch queues, random texts and ancient emails, and yet for some reason every time we fire up the Roku, we can’t think of anything we’re remotely interested in. Using the Randomizer model, we’ll not only have all of our options in one place, but the hard part—the choosing part—is out of our hands.
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Now, this is a solution that requires both setup—it’s going to take a while to assemble your what-to-watch list, and you’ll likely be curating it constantly as streaming services add and drop films—and buy-in—everyone subject to the Randomizer must agree to abide by the rules of the Randomizer. If you just wind up hitting the “random” button again if you don’t like what you’re given, you may as well go back to the Netflix “Browse Endlessly” plan.
If that’s too rigid for the health of your relationships with your co-watchers, consider implementing some house rules. Perhaps you can sort your lists by genre (so you don’t end up watching a horror film on Valentine’s Day) or give each person one veto per viewing session—whatever you have to do to keep the peace and finally just watch a fucking movie.