Sunday, April 19, 2009

Best Moviegoing Experiences

Movies are made to be seen at the theater. They can be watched and appreciated on anything from a flat screen to an iPod, but you will rarely find a venue with as tangible (the sound, the size) and intangible (the collective laughter in a comedy) assets as a movie theater. As such, there are certain movies that MUST be seen at a movie theater for its full potential to be realized. 

Some may scoff at the fact that Rocky beat out Network and Taxi Driver for Best Picture in 1977. (Hell, I prefer the latter two.) But hearing my parents say how the entire audience chanted, "Rocky!" during the film's climactic fight makes me really feel it was an experience of a lifetime. I kick myself to this day for missing out on Saving Private Ryan (I compensated by seeing Enemy at the Gates opening night...). Something About Mary? American Beauty? Missed 'em. There are plenty that I chose to "...wait until it came out on [video/DVD]", only to have similar regrets.

Strangely, when scanning my facebook page,  among my favorite movies, I only consider one as a top moviegoing experience. Here are my top five:

(NOTE: this only includes movies in their original theatrical runs, not retrospective screenings - i.e. It's a Wonderful Life at IFC.)

5. The Matrix. I saw this movie pre-buzz. There was a solid audience, but it was far from full. The lights went down and, wow...

If anything could beat the originality of the premise, it was the original action POVs. It was completely revolutionary, enhancing an already mind-blowing story. The action built and built until the climax totally dwarfed the beginning. (And the best part: no one in the audience knew it would be ruined with a second and a third!)

I went with my dad and my friend. We sat in our seats a few minutes of credits, a rarity. My dad looked over at us and asked, "Are you real?" Totally awesome.

4. The Dark Knight. I preferred Slumdog Millionaire. The story, I feel, is more original, the storytelling is clean, it's beautifully shot, it's got heart ... it's my favorite movie of 2008.

But that gets to the heart of what makes a moviegoing experience. The Dark Knight action scenes were incredible, and Heath Ledger's Joker scenes provided icing on the cake. The score mirrors the strength of the characters. The camera always seems to be moving, as if in a state of panic. It's special for a two and a half hour movie to begin with a bang and end with an even bigger bang. 

Afterwards, I could deconstruct some of the movie's logistics, and certain criticisms from blogs and film buffs rang true. But that didn't keep me from going back and experiencing it again.

3. Home Alone. For a six-year-old, watching an eight-year-old command his world was the coolest thing. First of all, he's home alone, meaning he has access to parents awesome TV, he 
can eat as much ice cream as he wants, he can order his own pizza, and he can watch violent movies. Secondly, this kid is cool. He can outsmart the check-out lady with witty remarks, scare away an inept pizza clerk, and talk to grown-ups on their own level. And when two accomplished burglars attempt to step on his turf, he outsmarts them and kicks their ass (yes, he even gets to say "ass"!).

Children are at the mercy of their parents. But for me and my friends, Home Alone allowed us to vicariously spread our wings.

2. Kingpin. What parent would let a ten-year-old watch this movie? An awesome one. This was 
quite possibly the funniest movie I've ever seen in theaters. What's not to love? There's a constant stream of jokes both subtle ("We present 'The Jeffersons on Ice!'") and over-the-top ("Roy, can you get sick from drinking piss? ... Even if it's your own?"); an ex-bowler protagonist with a hook for a hand who steals a baby's breast milk to supplant coffee creamer; a 40-year-old amish Randy Quaid introduced to the decadency of America; and a creepy/hysterical performance by Bill Murray. The great thing about seeing a comedy at the theater is that you're watching it with many senses of humor. And as a result, everything was funny.

I still watch this once a year. It has something most comedies lack: a heart. It's a story about redemption, and the ability to rebuild one's self-esteem. It's not only one of my favorite movie-going experiences, but one of my all time favorite movies.

1. Jurassic Park. The magic of seeing real live dinosaurs was simply captivating. I revisited the theater three times to watch this movie, got into countless debates with other eight-year-olds
about whether such a theme park could actually be built (one was not only convinced that it could be done but that it had been done, and his rich parents took him there!), and spent countless hours watching dinosaur TV specials and reading dinosaur books. Sadly, I was not one of the cool kids as I lacked the Jurassic Park lunchbox...

I was less enthused when I got the video for my tenth birthday; I was bored when I watched it when I was twenty-one. But there's no denying or forgetting that initial excitement. That was sixteen years ago. No doubt, it was my favorite movie-going experience.

What are your top 5?

(Note, here's a movie that nearly made my list: Titanic. In retrospect, the story is pretty lame, the lines are beyond cheesy, Billy Zane is a cartoonish villain, and you kind of want to punch DiCaprio in the face. It's hard to take it seriously nowadays. But I didn't know what to expect when I first saw it. I was really involved with an unexpected love story, and the ending was effective on a superficial and emotional level. And I know I'm not the only one.)


Zombie said...

Nice post! I'll have to do some thinking to boil it down to my five favorites, but one that immediately sticks out...

In middle school, I had a blind friend that a group of us would take to Saturday matinees with us. We did this so we could describe what was happening on-screen between dialogue without disturbing fellow movie-goers.

We took him to see Titanic, and during the nudie/sketching scene, we had a bit of exchange that went like this (and please remember, we were young adolescents):

Us: "Ok, so, whoa, yeah. Whoa! He's drawing her, and she is, like, completely naked!"
Him: "Well, rub it in. You know I have no idea what that looks like, dicks."

'Backer said...

That is so twisted. It bothers me that I'm amused by it.

Cake Man said...

Yeah, top five. Wow. That'll take quite a while to put together. But you're definitely right that it doesn't always take a great (or even good) movie to make a great movie-going experience - though, the movies you listed are all solid.

Over the past two or three years, back when we were still in school, my friends and I from back home would all get together and go to opening nights together. We saw Batman Begins that way - 18 of us taking up an entire row at the midnight screening at the Loews in Georgetown, D.C. We blasted the theme song from the campy Adam West Batman TV show all the way to the theater. And, at my insistance, we got there an hour and a half early. After the screening, more than half of us were left speechless. To have experienced such an enjoyable film with so many friends all sharing the same excitement going in was amazing.

(Side note: we also saw Snakes on A Plane this wya, though with SOAP, a few of us were drunk. Nonetheless, it was the last night before people began heading back to college, so there was a great buzz in the air with the group.)

I think Gladiator might be up there in my top 5 expereinces. It blew me away, and to this day, I can clearly remember the chariot match where one of the Romans falls off her chariott and is sliced in half by the wheel-mounted blade. Seeing that on the big screen was awesome.

Lastly, and I know Zombie hates this one, 28 Days Later was fun if for no other reason than we saw it in downtown Arlington, VA at the Courthouse theater. This was before all the bars and restaurants opened/began staying open late, so when we walked out of the movie at about 11pm, the streets were deserted. We had a blast trying to scare one another and doing our best zombie impressions on the way home.

Onyx said...

I'm a sucker for special forces, so Black Hawk Down had been on my radar for a while when it came out. I was totally blown away. It's a movie that I really feel is a different creature if you're watching it on a small tv with a weak sound system.

I definitely agree with you Backer on Jurassic Park. That movie felt like a one of a kind experience and every time I hear the music I get swept away in memories of just having a good time at the movies.

I'm also a sucker for samurai, so I loved The Last Samurai. The ninja ambush was probably the most fun I'd had in theatres in years.

In addition to Rocky, I would have loved seeing Predator in movie theatres. My old boss told me a story about how he got in a fight while watching Predator in theatres, and for some reason I was just amazed that people got to enjoy that movie on the big screen.

Onyx said...

I just want to add that although I liked The Dark Knight, I didn't think it was among the best theatre going experiences. A part of me just wants to annoy Cake Man, but another part of me is being honest.

When I think of The Dark Knight and what I liked I immediately remember the pencil trick and an assortment of Joker lines. Most of what I liked about that movie you didn't need the big screen for, in my opinion. Much of the action just doesn't stand out for me and I lump most of it together into one dark, gritty, gliding, emo, blob. But that's just me.