Monday, February 23, 2009

Five Films in 13 1/2 Hours

On the day before the Oscars, Pam and I attended AMC Theatres' Best Picture Showcase 2009 -- a one day showing of all 5 Oscar Best Picture nominated feature films. There were several AMC locations where we could have watched the films. Our first choice, The AMC Burbank Town Center 6 was sold out. So, we searched or other locations. Even though some closer options were available, we opted for the AMC 30 at the Block in Orange (since we were familiar with the locations.)

The first film was set to start at 10:30, so we arrived at 10:00 AM. It's odd to arrive at an open-air mall before anything is open. Even the background music was not playing. Anyway, we picked up our tickets from the kiosk and got in line. I'd guess that there 150 people in front of us. The line moved in starts and stops; they were admitting roughly 20 people at a time. When we were let in, we were directed to a table outside the theater. We were each handed a collectible lanyard (that was our in-and-out pass) and a non-collectible popcorn bag. We then managed to obtain seats near the center of the 2nd-to-last row. With our seats secured, and the news that the first film would start a little late, Pam got up to get some popcorn and a large Coke Zero (we already had some Reece's Pieces courtesy of Target). She got back just as the movie was starting.

So, the first film up was Milk. Having grown up in the bay area during the 1970s, I was looking forward to seeing this film. I was familiar with the events of the story and even remember where I was when I heard the news that Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk had been shot. The film covers Milk's life from when he decides to move to San Francisco up to his assassination. You watch Harvey Milk change from resident to businessman to political activist to Supervisor using different events to drive the story forward. While I enjoyed the film, my familiarity with the outcomes of those events made the film a slight let down. That said, both Sean Penn's performance as Harvey Milk and Josh Brolin's performance as Dan White were fantastic. In fact, had Heath Ledger not passed away, I think Josh Brolin would have won best supporting actor; he nailed Dan White.

Anyway, I recommend "Milk". If not in the theater, at least on DVD. I'm hoping that when the film comes out on DVD and BlueRay, that there are extra scenes, perhaps the interviews used to create the story. Seeing "Milk" also makes me want to watch the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk again. I'm adding it to my Netflix queue.

Between the first and second films we had a short break. Just enough time to hit the restroom, refill the soda and get back to our seats in time for trivia. Yes, as part of the movie marathon, they had trivia. The prizes appeared to be a choice of a golf umbrella or a grab bag (that appeared to contain a calendar, some candy, and other stuff.) Unfortunately, the trivia was handled in a lame manor. Someone would shout out a question and someone else would pick on a raised hand for an answer. Because the person shouting the questions was at the very front and we were near the very back, we couldn't hear all of the questions. Over the course of the day, the questions asked included:

1. For which film did Sean Penn already win a Best Actor Oscar?
2. What does AMC stand for?
3. Which film has two songs nominated for Best Song?
4. How many Oscar nominations did "Titanic" receive?
5. How much does the Oscar statuette weigh?

Going in, The Reader was not a film that piqued my interest. I knew that Kate Winslet's performance had already received several awards and that part of the plot involved someone reading to her character. Not knowing anything about the story definitely enhanced my experience; I was surprised! What I liked most of this film was that it made me think without being preachy. The story paced pretty well, though it took a little while to pull me in. All in all, I liked it. Still, it's going to be a while before I watch it again.

Knowing that the next film was the longest, I made sure to take a bathroom break and get both soda and popcorn refills.

I had some idea of the story for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button before going in. Folks had said that, though the film was long (2 hours 46 minutes), it would keep you interested throughout. Unfortunately, that was not the case for me. There were points where I found myself about to nod off or asking myself, "OK, where's this going? When are they going to finally hook up?" The film also made me think of Forrest Gump (which had the same screenwriter -- Eric Roth). I really enjoyed "Forrest Gump". Now when watching one film makes you think of another film you think of as much better, then you know you're in trouble. This is not to say I disliked "Benjamin Button". I merely thought it was OK.

I know that enjoyed it more than me. She liked seeing New Orleans age throughout the film, and kept playing "spot the location."

The break after "Benjamin Button" coincided with dinner. Fortunately, they gave us 45 minutes instead of a half hour. After scouting some of the fast food locations at the block, we opted for Rubio's. We got back to the theatre with 15 minutes to spare.

Besides "Milk," Slumdog Millionaire was the other film we were both looking forward to seeing. Yes, I knew that it had a lot of hype. And yes, I had known that the general plot was that the main character was one question away from reaching the top prize in "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", had been arrested on suspicion of cheating, and how he recalled different events in his life which allowed him to know answers to the questions he was being asked. Did that impact my experience of the film? Nope. I thought it made for a great plot device to learn this man's story and his experiences. Like the interrogating officer in the film, I got sucked into his story. Of the five films, this was my favorite. If the bonus features on the DVD/BlueRay release are good enough, I'll even buy it.

With four films down and one to go, we were hoping we could get some caffeine from Starbucks. Unfortunately, a bunch of other people (who chose not to sit through "Slumdog Millionaire's" credits) had the same idea. The line was too long by the time we got there. Still, the walk outside was good and the soda refill gave us enough caffeine for the last film.

I wasn't that interested in seeing Frost/Nixon beforehand, but I wanted to say that I had seen all five nominees, so we stayed. I'm glad that I did. Now, while I remember some of the Nixon administration and Watergate, I don't remember watching the Frost and Nixon interviews. Yes, I've seen clips, but I have no memory of watching the actual interviews when they first aired. What did that mean for me? Well, I couldn't really compare the film with the actual interviews. This was not a bad thing. What got me into this film was watching the process of how the interviews came to take place -- what each side hoped to gain as a result. Enhancing the experience was the inclusion of clips of present day interviews with some of the key players behind the scenes at key events in the film. Yes, there were points where I asked myself the question "Did that really happen that way?" but then I reminded myself this is a drama. Still, I enjoyed watching the film and recommend it to any historical junkie. I'm hoping for some good bonus features when this gets released on DVD/BlueRay.

So, five films and 13 1/2 hours later, we were ready to head home. All in all, while it was a long day, it was a good one. If, next year, we find that we haven't seen most of the five best picture nominees, we'll do this again.

Addendum: The event cost $30 per person and included admission to all five films, free popcorn, and free refills (on popcorn and soda) all day. As a MovieWatcher member I could have saved $5 on each ticket by purchasing tickets at the theatre box office, but because I was not able to get to the theatre box office before the day of the show, I opted for the convenience of purchasing on-line. Even at $6 per film, this was a bargain.