January 13, 2009

Good Times in 2008

12:19 AM, July 18, 2008, Block E, Downtown Minneapolis
(pic courtesy of my friend Tom's iPhone)

You know that I see movies almost exclusively in the theater, because you know that I revere the theater experience as sacred. Here follows, in a lazily copied format from last year's list (meaning no logical order other than by date), my most memorable theater experiences from 2008:

Cassandra's Dream (The Lagoon): With a few friends, the first official movie of the year. I was the only one who didn't hate the movie. Afterwards, we went to Old Chicago and argued about who the best living actor was. This was right before Oscar nominations were announced, and I declared myself the victor by choosing Daniel Day-Lewis. I still think it's a good call.

Cloverfield (AMC Rosedale): With my brother and sister at a packed opening weekend showing. One of the most hyped early movies of the year, this ended up being pretty terrible. Which is to say it fully met my expectations.

U2 3D (IMAX - Minnesota Zoo): With my brother and sister on a weekend afternoon. This wasn't quite the experience I hoped it would be (meaning I hoped it would be like seeing them in concert again), but it wasn't a complete waste of time, either. Something needs to be done with these "concert movies" to make them more engaging, I just don't know exactly what it is. Guess it worked for Hannah Montana anyway.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Walker Art Center): Alone, this was a horrifying affair to watch on that huge Walker cinema screen. Definitely peeking through my fingers for a couple scenes.

In Bruges (The Uptown): With Matt, this was the first indie of 2008, arriving with fresh buzz from Sundance in January. Opening night, empty theater. It would remain in theaters until June.

The Band's Visit (Landmark Edina): With my parents, brother and sister on a Sunday afternoon. Had some memorably bad coffee at the Starbucks around the corner beforehand. I had hyped this movie quite a bit and I think I ended up liking it the most, which is a little embarrassing.

Shine A Light (Marcus Oakdale): Alone on an early Saturday afternoon, I saw this sucker on the ULTRASCREEN, and for some reason I sat waaaaay too close to the front. Kind of like seeing the Stones live! Except not really. (Incidentally, this is the first movie I reviewed in my "300 Words" format, which eventually led to my current format.)

Standard Operating Procedure (Walker Art Center): With my brother on a Tuesday evening. Errol Morris was in attendance for a post-discussion following the film, at which he absolutely unloaded on an innocent audience member asking about the soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Read more at the end of my review.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (St. Anthony Main - MSPIFF): Alone on a weeknight during the first week of the MSP International Film Festival. Jumped into this one after my volunteer shift and, along with a packed audience in a hot theater, laughed like crazy. Stepped into it for a few minutes at the second screening two nights later and enjoyed it just as much.

American Teen (St. Anthony Main - MSPIFF): Alone, followed by an audience Q & A with Nanette Burnstein. I was giddy with emotion during this movie (thanks to a sugar rush from a soda and some Dots), which caused me to laugh louder and tear up much more than I normally would. Great trip down memory lane back to high school.

Dry Season
(St. Anthony Main - MSPIFF): With my family on a Sunday afternoon. Definitely one of the most interesting movies I saw all year, this screening was a minor disappointment because the director, from Chad, apparently couldn't get a visa or some kind of paperwork to leave the country and attend the festival, where he was supposed to present the film. Highly, highly recommended movie for your Netflix queue.

Up the Yangtze
(St. Anthony Main - MSPIFF): With my parents, whom I met after another volunteer shift. Standing room only (there were literally people standing throughout the aisles), this movie left an indelible mark on me for the rest of the year. Watching the great river rise on the big screen was truly and unforgettably shocking.

His Girl Friday (The Parkway): Alone, and the first time I'd seen this in its entirety. Had a cup of soup at Turtle Bread Co. before joining a raucous crowd for this installment of Barry Kryshka's Screwball Comedy series. Best $5 I spent all year.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (AMC Rosedale): With Matt, a weeknight doubleheader of grown men acting like children. Why we went to Harold and Kumar, I do not know (I never even saw the first one) - but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hysterically laughing during the George W. Bush scene. I reviewed neither of these movies, but only Forgetting Sarah Marshall is worth a memory.

My Blueberry Nights (The Lagoon): Alone, I spent a couple hours indoors on one of the nicest Saturdays of the spring - and it was totally worth it. Lost in a sea of color and light, this was my first WKW film as well.

Encounters at the End of the World (Kerasotes Block E): Alone at the closing night film for MSPIFF, followed by a decent get-together at Seven Sushi afterward. The underwater scene remains one of the most memorable of the year.

Young @ Heart (Landmark Edina): Alone at 9:00 PM on a Monday night in an empty theater. I don't think I cried the rest of 2008 after this movie because my tear ducts were worn out. The movie shook me to the core, and was the first ever to receive an A+ on this site. Trivia - what's the second...?

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (AMC Rosedale): With my girlfriend, brother, sister, and sister's friend, late afternoon showing on a beautifully warm opening day. Absolutely electric atmosphere in the theater that didn't die until...well, the ridiculous electric skull aliens took over the screen. Went to La Chaya Bistro in South Minneapolis afterward, where a deafening table of gabbing housewives nearly ruined the evening.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (The Parkway): With my girlfriend, a couple days after seeing Indy IV, chips and salsa at Pepito's beforehand. Boy, this was a bizarre experience, complete with a dad dressed up in a full Indiana Jones costume. More details in my review, and keep an eye out for the adaptation of this adaptation.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (The Lagoon): Should I go? Should I not go? Should I go? Should I not go? I thought about it all day at work. The movie just wasn't grabbing me. I made a last minute decision to go, alone right after work, and ended up seeing one of the best documentaries of the year. Definitely made the right call on this one and would have really regretted missing it.

Quid Pro Quo (Walker Art Center): Alone, followed by an audience Q & A with producer and local heiress Sally Pillsbury. I had no idea what this movie was about when I walked in, so it was a totally gripping thriller as I sat there. In hindsight, eh, maybe it wasn't as good as I remember, and it was never released locally. In D. C later in the summer, I would see it offered on the hotel's pay-per-view for $19.99. Mind-boggling.

The Happening (Kerasotes Block E): With Matt, opening night. You never forget seeing the worst movie of a particular year, and this was it. I was speechless, yet I couldn't stop talking afterwards. It just didn't seem possible that Shyamalan had made something worse than Lady in the Water. I still don't know where they stand in relation to each other, but I'd rather not spend any time thinking about it.

(Shattuck Cinemas, Berkeley): With my girlfriend, following what would be our first of two meals that weekend at Jupiter Pizza near the UC-Berkeley campus. It was freezing that night (compared to MN, ironically), and I had to bundle up in a hoodie I had purchased upon arriving in San Francisco that week. I almost caught a cold. Anyway, packed theater, opening weekend. Everyone stayed through the entire credits and we couldn't figure out why - turns out one of the animation studios was based right their in town. Cheers and applause.

The Dark Knight (Kerasotes Block E): At midnight with about a dozen friends and about a thousand strangers (pictured above). It was playing on several screens and the theater tried to stagger the seating times, but when the first screen opened its doors the line system completely broke down. I mean it was almost a trampling. As we involuntarily surged with the crowd, a second screen opened its doors right next to us. Bang, right in, 2/3 of the way up and dead center. Perfect.

Tropic Thunder (AMC Rosedale): With Colin Covert and pals at a promotional screening on a hot summer evening, followed by a rousing discussion at Granite City - everything a summer movie-going experience should be.

Boy A (The Lagoon): With Matt, the first movie I was able to walk to after moving to my new apartment. That's it - but it was pretty satisfying.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (AMC Southdale): Alone, the first movie I reviewed for the Star Tribune, with 24 hours notice. No idea what to expect, or what to do when I arrived, and certainly felt out of place amongst a theater full chattering teens. But it was great fun to take on the challenge, and fortunately a decent movie to take time to write about.

Blindness (Kerasotes Block E): With a handful of friends on opening night. I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn't know it was going to be horribly, viscerally, mind-numbingly awful. I was in shock for the rest of the weekend.

Ballast (Walker Art Center): Alone on a Wednesday night, followed by an audience Q & A with Lance Hammer. A beautifully evocative film that never received enough attention this year, I now wonder if Hammer's decision to go it alone on the distribution front might have backfired. Hopefully he made some good connections along the way for future projects.

Quantum of Solace (Kerasotes Block E): With friends the night before it opened wide, preceded by a ridiculous Smirnoff promotional party at NBA City beforehand that we dutifully avoided from the other side of the bar. The movie was started at 7:30 - the party planners unsuccessfully called last call at 7:15 PM. Needless to say, the theater was half empty. So was the movie.

I've Loved You So Long (The Lagoon): With my girlfriend on a Friday night, mostly memorable because it was the first movie we saw together after her move to Minneapolis. For some reason the movie didn't grab me enough to inspire a review, but the occasion was much more important anyway.

Slumdog Millionaire (Landmark Edina): With my girlfriend at the 7:00 PM Saturday night screening, opening weekend. We tried to go at 4:00 PM but it was packed, as was every showing that weekend (which means I wasn't the only one with a blabbering lady sitting behind me). Hot, hot theater for a movie that made your temperature rise anyway. I was literally sweating by the end but I didn't care in the least. During the end credits I kept mumbling, somewhat incredulously, "I can't believe how good that was." I still can't, two months later.

Let the Right One In (The Lagoon): Alone on a Sunday afternoon, this was another movie that I almost let get out of theaters before seeing. Walking back to my apartment in the quiet, snowy streets, it was like the movie never even ended.

Sunset Boulevard (The Parkway): Yep, that's right - I'd never seen this one, either. With my girlfriend on a Monday night in the middle of a near-blizzard, shared a chicken quesadilla at Pepito's beforehand. Great crowd despite the storm and a timeless classic to boot.

Bedtime Stories
("Theatres at Mall of America"...ugh...that name): With my girlfriend, at a promotional screening to review for the paper. Mostly full theater with a couple hundred kids clad in pajamas, presumably the result of some senseless radio station contest. Nice idea, tossing all the kids out into the snow wearing next to nothing the week before Christmas.


Looking back, it's evident that my most memorable experiences at the theater happened in the first six months of 2008, which surprises me (though I have to consider MSPIFF). Turns out that's also when I saw some of the best movies...(that's a teaser for my upcoming year-end list)...

What were your most memorable theater experiences in 2008? Any wild stories?


  1. As much as I like a quiet theater when I'm watching a movie, the best theater experiences I have had (last year and other years) are when the crowd is buzzing. Although The Dark Knight wasn't my favorite film, the energy at the screening I went to was amazing. Almost a week after the opening at a sold out show, the feeling of so many people being so excited about a movie is something I live for. MSPIFF had many similar moments: theaters full of people willing to venture into the unknown, with many people sitting down and saying, "Now what is this movie about." Be still my heart. If only the case were the same for movies like Chop Shop, where I was sitting in an empty or near empty theater. Unfortunately, too many of my theater experiences were the latter.

  2. Nice job with this. I’ve only had time to skim it thus far, but I’ll go back. A few thoughts …

    WALL-E: Actually, the staying-through-the-closing-credits thing wasn’t unique to the Bay Area. I saw this movie twice in the theater in Washington, DC, and both times the vast majority of the audience stuck around through the end. Part of it is that the Peter Gabriel song, which is pretty catchy, kicks in, and there are those nice mosaic-like depictions that remind of the journey we've been on, while also acting as the afterword. But more than anything, I think it’s reaction to WALL-E’s emotional wallop. For a movie that, compared to other animated fare, isn’t always dominate by flashing lights and quick cuts, I was overjoyed to see how kids responded to it: stunned still. Awesome! There’s hope for humanity yet!

    The Happening: I saw this with Cooler buddy Hokahey (who, like you and me, finds going to the theater to be a religious experience). We left the theater saying not much at all. Took the Metro to a restaurant. Sat down. And then spent the next hour looking at one another with silly, confused faces. There were no words to describe how terrible the movie is. Really, no words. Even now I find myself sitting here with that perplexed expression on my face. Not even “Lady in the Water” prepared me for this kind of suckage.

    The Dark Knight: “Two-thirds of the way up and dead center. Perfect.” Amen, brother.

  3. Ugh, I wish my experiences in the theatre were as interesting as yours!

  4. Excellent list Daniel. I always love the way you value the experience of an actual theater. As it slips away, I toast you for championing it!

    It's funny, as I try to think of 2008 experiences, I already have two memorable ones from '09!... but I will recall those in 12 months.

    As for this year, I would say being three rows back from the screen, and having the movie Ex-Drummer blow my ears back.

    It was in the middle of a festival, I was tired, foggy, and needed a kick in the head. I def got that from Ex-Drummer. And, to this day, I stand undecided on the film. By typical standards, I should totally hate this movie, but I don't.

    I think, maybe, what Ex-Drummer is to me is truly a genuine guilty pleasure.

  5. Ugh, I wish my experiences in the theatre were as interesting as yours!


    I thought you went to the movies all the time? You must have had at least one awesome experience this year! Didn't you get to see Happy-Go-Lucky (aka the BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR! ... right, Jason?) at a festival long before it hit it's regular run?

  6. Definitely, Kathie. Great description of MSPIFF - it definitely made my OSS 117 experience. I wonder if I wasn't the other person with you in the theater at Chop Shop...

    Thanks, Jason, and for sharing some of your own.

    Yeah that Peter Gabriel song definitely doesn't push you out of the theater, and I'll look forward to hearing it on Oscar night. People just had a good time at WALL*E, almost as if they didn't want it to end. Similar to Slumdog, I think.

    I didn't mention it, but my friend Matt was also as speechless as all of us were after The Happening. We were just sputtering about it, unable to process what we had just witnessed. He was the bar manager at a nearby restaurant and we walked back there. Somebody asked us how the movie was and I think all we could do was shake our heads and stutter.

    Nick, I'm with Fox - come on, you HAD to have had some good times at the theater! Iron Man? WALL*E?

    Thanks, Fox. I was just telling people last night over dinner that we're going to miss the theater experience when it's gone (some more than others, I should admit). Being immersed in the movie has a huge influence on how I personally connect with it.

    Ex-Drummer...had to look that one up, and wow. I didn't even last through the trailer. What an assault on the senses - which is fine, just not the style that I personally enjoy.

  7. Most of the time I go to press screenings all by my lonesome. Sure the movies are awesome some of the time, but it gets mighty lonely.

  8. Nick: Your graciousness and humility, as well as your appreciation for your fellow bloggers' cinematic experience is legendary in these parts. For example, your October 9th review of the film HAPPY-GO-LUCKY was a perceptive piece of film criticism, a fact that was corroborated by 30 effusive comments by bloggers who have long admired and been enriched by your own special talents.

    Your own ten-best list of last week was not only a testament to your voracious appetite for quality cinema, but a marked ability to see through worthless multiplex comedies in favor of meaningful and challenging arthouse fare. I say kudos to you young man-you have quite a bright future ahead of you!

    Dan: This is a marvelous feature piece that sets the movie experience in the theatre apart from at-home DVD watching. I will be happy to add my two cents in an upcoming comment.

  9. This is a terrific walk down memory lane Daniel, even if they're your memories and not mine!

    Along the lines of what Kathie said above, there's something to be said for seeing a film with an excited audience who are the film's target. Normally, I hate little kids in movies, but I snuck into a screening of Horton Hears a Who (fearing the worst because I'm sensitive about my Seuss) and there were little critters all over the place carrying on an being...well...critters. Turned out to be a lot of fun. The movie was for them and they were TOTALLY and unreservedly into it.

    Ordinarily their antics would've killed a movie for me, but in this context they actually made me like it better than I probably would have otherwise. One of my favorite times at the theater last year even though it wasn't one of my favorite movies.

    On the other hand is the audience who is totally on a different page than the movie. In 2007, it was Bug, an admittedly imperfect film that still had its moments that were all ruined by the audience. I may have even complained about this one on this column last year. Long story short: Lots of inappropriate laughter and every time someone would leave (and there were lots of walkouts!) the auditorium door would squeak part way shut, but hang open so the noise from the crowd waiting to get into whatever crappy summer action movie was playing across the hall would come streaming in.

    The worst in 2008 was The Last Mistress. Again, laughter at inappropriate moments. There's nothing worse than when a filmmaker is going for high drama and someone finds it ridiculous and funny. Completely ruined what had been a well reviewed movie for me.

  10. Ex-Drummer...had to look that one up, and wow. I didn't even last through the trailer.

    Yeah. I shoulda thrown out a disclaimer when mentioning that movie. Even some of the images that pop up can get nasty.

    Man, I can't imagine ever not being able to see movies on the big screen. Sure, we'll always have one around for nostalgia, but if theaters as we know them know go away, and the laptop screen becomes the standard canvas for movie viewing, then it will be a sad day.

    I hold out hope, though. I really think people value the big screen. Even casual movie goers. It's like eating in a restaurant vs. take-out. People will always crave the atmosphere.

  11. Thanks, all. I have to mention an update. For no good reason, I forgot to mention two unforgettable experiences - seeing both His Girl Friday and Sunset Boulevard on the big screen. I've added them.

    Nick, are you able to drag anyone along for those? You shouldn't have to suffer through bad ones alone!

    Thanks, Sam, and I should say that probably more than anyone else who reads them, I love the "notes" that you add about your trips to the theaters with friends and family.

    Craig, I remember you describing that about Horton back in the spring. Goes to the good news Jason notes about kids getting charged up for movies. It definitely made my first Kung Fu Panda viewing a treat. Although last Saturday morning at Hotel for Dogs a kid was screaming in my right ear for the duration, ignoring his sitter's please to "look at the puppies" that actually weren't on screen nearly enough.

    And I'll save my poisonous vitriol about inappropriate laughter during dramas for another time (as well as my guilty celebration of the theater shooting in Philly). Suffice to say I have a Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk complex at the theater. Read my rules for movie-going here.

    Fox, I want to share your optimism, but I'm a realist by nature and I don't want to be blindsided when, in 10 years, all of a sudden movies are being released on Netflix/On Demand exclusively (which those who have already given up on theaters will celebrate). I WISH people valued the theater experience, but increasingly I'm afraid they just take it for granted.

    I don't know where I get off declaring the death of theater. I'm doing no such thing. I'm just enjoying them while I can. Incidentally, here's a different post I wrote last year that explored this issue in greater depth.

  12. A wonderous and captivating film diary that showcases your unique social gifts, closeness with family, love of nostalgia nd appreciation for those "little" things that make regular moviegoing such an incomparable experience. Oddly, what stuck with me here the most was the Minnesota snow as a normal backdrop and the integration of your love of cinema with your dating. This is indeed "the best of times." and I salute your singular passion and your happy demeanor!

    Among your recollections I thought you discussion with the director and the Q and A session was terrific, as was your special experiences of seeing SHINE THE LIGHT and WALL-E.

    I lament your coffee experience at starbuck's during THE BAND VISIT (that coffee is just too bitter!) but I bet that cup of soup at the Turtle bread Co. when you saw the Hawks classic HIS GIRL FRIDAY was to die for!

    This recollection was as much a commentary on your home turf as it was about the movies, and i say you are living in God's country!

    Thanks for really making my day by saying that you love my post-review "comments!"

    My own special remembrances this year"

    Receiving a ticket from apolice officer for crossing two lanes to snare a parking space in a packed Manhattan during a September screening of Dreyer's DAY OF WRATH at the IFC on Eighth Avenue. The film made paying the ticket acceptable! Yeah sure!

    Watching THE VISITOR for the first time in the now defunct Ridgefield Park Rialto movie palace and enduring a 'flickering projector' which made us dizzy walking out.

    Watching TWILIGHT with my family in a local multiplex theatre filled with screaming teenagers, who reacted with thundering noise every time the heartrob appeared. But I loved it!

    My own experience with WALL-E was one of deep reverence and wonderment, and I felt an inner-glow while leaving the theatre with my equally dazzled wife and kids. It is my choice as Best Film of 2008.

    Seeing 16 films in 18 days criss-crossing Manhattan and northern New Jersey with my dear friend and site colleague Allan Fish in late December, a blitz that had a story a day so to speak!

    Taking pictures with and speaking to the two directors of TROUBLE THE WATER at the IFC, and with Lance Hamer, the director of the independent gem, BALLAST, at the Film Forum.

    Seeing SULLIVANS TRAVELS at the Film Forum with the aforementioned Mr. Fish and with kaleem Hasan--a viewing that cemented our high opinion of this Hollywood masterwork.

    On three separate dates, I attended the New York Film Festival, seeing CHANGELING, THE CLASS and Von Sternberg's THE CLASS. The silent classic yielded an unforgettable experience with live musical accompaniment.

    Seeing Ophuls' LOLA MONTES in a restored print at the Film Forum, a viewing that confirmed yet again that this is one of teh gtreatest of movie masterpieces.

    Attending three features at the Film Forum of African master Ouseme Sembene, especially the masterwork, CAMP DE THIAROYE.

    And here's to even more unforgettable moments in 2009..........

  13. Well I know I was at the same American Teen screening as you, and possibly Tropic Thunder. Though my Tropic Thunder experience was terrible and I don't remember seeing Colin so I might have seen it earlier then you.

  14. Sorry Dan. I meant to say Von Sternberg's THE LAST COMMAND (above) and I did not love TWILIGHT, only the screaming girls. LOL!

  15. A beautiful collection of your thoughts on the films you saw in 2008, Daniel.

  16. Sam, Sam, Sam...you had me literally laughing out loud at your recollections. Thanks so much for sharing, and I encourage you to make a quick post of those yourself if only to see who adds to it. Somehow, impossibly, you were able to add more vibrancy to the end-of-review notes than you'd already written. The experience with Allan must have been truly memorable, and at such a key time of the film year to boot.

    Thanks for your kind comments about my recollections and my place of residence - that means a lot coming from a New Yorker who is able to see virtually any new movie at any given time!

    Thanks, Alexander - I know you had some memorable trips around the Bay Area on your cinematic journeys. Feel free to elaborate on any of them if the mood strikes.

    And Matt, that TT screening was I think the week before its Wednesday opening (why did every movie released in August open on a Wednesday - i.e., The Rocker?). Did you see any other memorables at MSPIFF?

  17. Want to beg for comments any louder Daniel?

  18. I like to think of it as "encouraging" or "inspiring" more so than "begging", Walt. But I appreciate your charity in having donated to this lowly panhandler. Bless you.

    But in all seriousness, maybe you have something there with the volume.


  19. Hey Walter--try doing what Peter Finch did in NETWORK to vent out your anger with the world---"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!"

  20. Yeah I saw TT almost 2 months early. The whole experience was such a mess that I have vowed never to return to the AMC Rosedale.

    Security was dumping out bags and purses and rifling through them, no cell phones allowed AT ALL, I watched a concessions worker dump an entire large Sprite into the ice bin and then fill the cup back up with ice from the same bin, the small popcorn I got was half full and thanks to a lovely misplaced queue at the end of the film the projector shut off with more then 5 minutes left and since the Allied rep was outside in the hall talking with her friends the theatre was dark for about 10 minutes when Anna and I decided to just leave and never return.

    The only other film I was able to make it too at MSPIFF was Choke which was pretty fun. Totally oversold and a mess and we got stuck in the front row which is practically underneath the screen, and yet we still both enjoyed the film.

    I like St Anthony Main as the site for the festival but I really wish Al and everyone would improve their coordination every year instead of getting worse and worse.


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