January 6, 2010

Good Times in 2009

Sometimes the experience at the theater can be even more memorable than the movie you see. Here are some of my notable movie-going memories from 2009, continued in the same boring format as the last two years ('o8, '07): 

Che (The Uptown): I often brag that I never get sick, and that's still partially true since I didn't feel sick at Che, I felt dead. Some kind of trippy head/chest flu got into my system and germinated during the course of this movie, which if you haven't seen it, is about 12 days long. I desperately wanted to leave during the intermission between Part 1 and 2, but my fiancee was enjoying it, and besides, I'd paid $18 a head for this opportunity. I struggled through the second half and saw Guevera himself eventually become as ill as me - that was some consolation.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Theatres at Mall of America): Yes, I was one of the many surprising millions who saw this in the theater, but no, I did not pay for it. It was out of obligation, to review for the paper, and my fiancee has yet to forgive me for bringing her along. In a fortunate twist of fate, a planned interview with Kevin James was canceled at the last minute, saving me from eating crow weeks later since I'm sure I would have asked him, "What are your plans after this movie bombs at the box office?". Watch for the sequel in 2011. 

The Wrestler (The Uptown): I trudged to the Uptown alone after work on a bitterly cold January night, not really having any idea what to expect from this movie. An awe-inspiring performance by Mickey Rourke and one of the best endings of the year left me greatly impressed and, weeks later, shocked when a Best Picture nomination wasn't announced. 

Notorious (Union Station - Washington, D.C.): In the nation's capital during Inauguration Weekend, I went with a group of friends to what was rumored to be one of the louder (as in people talking) theaters in the D.C. area. Didn't really happen, but I wouldn't have minded anyway as I was absorbed in the music and the surprisingly comfortable leather seats.


Coraline - 3D (AMC Rosedale): I don't know why I agreed to see this in 3D considering my skepticism of the technology, but this was actually the best 3D experience I think I've ever had (I haven't yet seen Avatar in 3D). The story was pretty engrossing to boot, and unfortunately I think my prediction was true that it would be mostly forgotten in what shaped up to be a banner year for animated movies. 

Friday the 13th (AMC Southdale): On assignment again for the Star Tribune, I persuaded my reluctant fiancee to come along to a movie we both know she would never otherwise see. I gave it a terrible review, despite the giddy reactions from people around us in the theater, including one girl who gushed, "That was the best movie!" on our way out. I felt like an ├╝ber movie snob in that place. 

Oscar Animated Shorts (The Lagoon): I fell in love with the theatrical experience of the animated short nominees a couple of years ago, and the 2009 show was a real treat. Probably the most moving theater experiences I had of the year was sniffling along with the rest of the audience during the closing credits of the eventual winner, La Maison En Petites Cubes. It was a masterpiece.

Watchmen (IMAX - Minnesota Zoo): Already skeptical about this movie when the year began, I found myself attending for free on opening night at a packed IMAX screening. I was impressed by the opening credits but by the first fight scene, when I realized my bleeding ears were on their way to being permanently damaged by the insanely high volume, I was already in a bad place. What felt like 8 more hours in my seat didn't help matters, either.

Sugar (The Parkway): The closing night of the Beyond Borders Film Festival brought a movie I'd been waiting to see since Sundance in 2008. It did not disappoint, though it didn't seem Ryan Boden and Anna Fleck were very eager to talk to moderator Peter Schilling in the Q & A session following the film. In any event it was nice to hear them shed some light on the production, and I was saddened that nobody saw it when it came out a month later. 

Dial M for Murder - 3D (The Parkway): Yes, I saw this Hitchcock classic for the first time in old-school, paper glasses-3D as part of the Parkway's 3D film festival. I scurried down after work on the last day it was showing and loved every minute of it. Really hoping the Parkway has the resources to that festival again this year.

Three Monkeys / Jerichow (MSPIFF - St. Anthony Main): These two films run together in my memory a little bit because they're both so absorbing and were both seen by full audiences at the Minneapolis - St. Paul International Film Festival. Everything the film festival experience should be. 

Hunger (Walker Art Center): Skipping the opening night of the film festival on an absolutely glorious April evening, we trekked over the to Walker to witness unabated pain and suffering for about two hours. I'll never forget seeing Michael Fassbender's skeletal remains in my face on a massive screen, and the legendary long take conversation (17 minutes?) was incredibly mesmerizing.

Moon (MSPIFF - St. Anthony Main): Soon after the credits rolled, down the aisle bounded a guy in a yellow spacesuit - the same worn by Sam Rockwell in the film. It was director Duncan Jones, who looked about 14 years old and had the energy of a preschooler. Breaking any Q & A etiquette I'm aware of, someone shouted out, "How old are you?!". He didn't answer.

The Song of Sparrows (MSPIFF - St. Anthony Main): Another sold out screening, I attended this one alone and found myself fortunately sitting middle of the aisle, middle of the theater, which was the perfect place to hear an entire audience of people gasp aloud at a key moment toward the end of the film. Great experience, and easily one of the best films I saw in 2009. Again, though, it was tragically ignored when it opened at the Uptown a month later.

Goodbye Solo (Walker Art Center): I made sure to get tickets well in advance of this sold-out premiere screening, which was followed by about an hour-long discussion with director Ramin Bahrani. He graciously met with audience members afterwards (including me, briefly), even though he'd been at the Walker since about noon that day. Nice guy. 

Terminator Salvation (AMC Rosedale): One of my biggest disappointments of the year. I left a birthday party somewhat abruptly to meet Matt for a weekend matinee showing of an instantly forgettable, almost offensively bad movie. A painful experience that I'm ashamed to have paid money for. 

Public Enemies (Fiesta Casino - Henderson, NV): Hot summer day, cool movie theater. We packed bagged lunches and, due to the endless trailers, had already finished them by the first bank heist. I've never been made physically ill because of hand-held camera work, but I don't think I was ever more annoyed by it. I've seen student films that looked better; it looked more fake instead of more realistic.

The Hurt Locker (The Uptown): The first half of a double-header (followed by the ridiculous Bruno), I remember sweating somewhat profusely from gripping the armrests in constant suspense. And the theater was silent, thankfully, which is oh-so-rare with audiences at the Uptown.

The Navigator (The Trylon): Buster Keaton, on the big screen, with live in-theater accompaniment by Dreamland Faces. Really, really terrific opening for the Trylon microcinema.

Julie and Julia (AMC Rosedale): I hadn't been to a theater this full of women since Mamma Mia! last year, not coincidentally also starring Meryl Streep. This was a free preview and the movie far exceeded my low expectations. Biggest surprise of the year for me. 

Ponyo (AMC Rosedale): An early evening show in what must be the smallest theater at Rosedale (#12, I think?). It was an intimate setting, and my fiancee's first experience with a Hayao Miyazaki film. Definitely good times, and no annoying kids in the theater!

Afghan Star (Kendall Square Cinema - Cambridge, MA): On our way back to Boston from a wedding in New Hampshire, we spent some time around my old stomping grounds in Cambridge, including the dear Landmark Kendall Cinema. It looked a little more fancy since the last time I'd been there seven years ago, but it was just as empty as before. I don't know how that place stays open, but it's a treasure for independent film in the city. 

Capitalism: A Love Story (The Lagoon): The most memorable experience I had with a filmmaker in 2009. Details here.

Etienne! (Flyway FF - Pepin, WI): As I mentioned in my review, this was an out-of-left-field movie about a dwarf hamster that I just had to see (I had dwarf hamsters growing up). Not having been to the Flyway Film Festival before, I didn't realize the venues were so small. And small, in the case of the kid's films, was the corner of an elementary school gymnasium. There were about 20 metal folding chairs set out for parents and a big mat laid out for kids to lounge on. Predictably, for this movie the only person lounging on the mat was a parent - while her kids ran around the gym, throwing balls and occasionally screaming. 

Where the Wild Things Are (AMC Rosedale): Plans to see a live show on a Friday night were dashed when we showed up and I realized it had taken place the week before. We decided to go to Where the Wild Things Are instead, but I was dreading how packed the theater would be on opening night. Well it was jammed alright, but for Paranormal Activity, our screening of Wild Things was barely half full. Anyway, the most memorable thing from that night was running into Kathie at the theater and joining her in openly mocking the trailer for The Blind Side. I still haven't seen it, but everyone who has tries to convince me it's not as ridiculous as it looks.

This Is It (AMC Southdale): I don't know how this would look on a small screen, but in the theater this was as close to the concert experience as you can get. We ate it up, staying with other buzzing audience members until the film ran out and the lights came up.

Purple Rain (Macalester College): Thinking back on This Is It just reminded me of this great experience seeing Purple Rain as part of Macalester's "Minnesota on Film" series hosted by Colin Covert last fall. Lots of fun seeing this on the big screen and hearing a lot of local insight in the discussion following it. 

Precious (The Lagoon): I'd been hearing so much buzz about this movie that I just had to see it on opening night (which I never do if I can help it). Of course the theater was overrun with people, and the mass of bodies, along with horrific footage on screen, made for a really sweaty, uncomfortable viewing experience.

Good Hair (Block E): Sadly, my memory of this movie is tied to what happened earlier that evening: my sister's car was broken into in an attempt to steal her stereo. She still met us at the movie and it was only afterwards that we saw the damage. I don't think I've ever seen a dashboard area that completely devastated. And they didn't even get the stereo! Idiots.

2012 (AMC Southdale): I don't know why we ended up at this movie. I think I regretted the decision even before it started. When it did start, the sound was completely off, sometimes cutting out or repeating like some kind of remix version. A good number of people got up and left until a theater employee finally came in and gave everyone reamaining free passes. I still wanted my money back, and not because the sound was bad.

Avatar - 2D (UltraScreen - Marcus Oakdale): Another movie I'd been hotly anticipating all year. I had gone back and forth all week about whether to see it in 2D or 3D, and eventually my fear of 3D distractions got the best of me. I still was wowed in 2D, and we couldn't have had better seats - dead center. The only bad thing was that if you're in the middle of the aisle at the UltraScreen it's a loooong walk out if you need to go to the bathroom. 

Sherlock Holmes (Green Valley Ranch - Henderson, NV): With my fiancee and her dad, I was somewhat reluctant to see what I figured would be Sherlock Holmes meets Fight Club meets Snatch. The boxing was minimal however, and the movie on the whole was a fairly pleasant surprise. We saw some trailers for upcoming 2010 movies, though, and wow, it does not look good. Or maybe I'm just thinking that because of the woman behind us who said, "I don't think I'm seeing that one!" after every trailer.

The Princess and the Frog (Sunset Station - Henderson, NV): Spontaneous decision to see the late show on a weeknight with my fiancee and her niece. My excitement for this movie had dwindled from its highest point mid-year, but after the first 10 minutes I had fallen for it. I loved the hand-drawn animation, I loved the songs, and I actually found myself laughing aloud with the kids in the theater. I wouldn't call it a Disney classic, but it has all the trappings of the old favorites and I hope that parents don't overlook it in favor of the next 3D Dreamworks/Pixar/CGI sequel. Everything is a franchise these days, but I still appreciate one-off original stories.

While trips to the theater unfortunately proved more disappointing than delightful for me in 2009, I still love the experience and the wealth of independent and multiplex theaters around me. What were your favorite memories or theater audience horror stories from last year?


  1. I'm glad you mentioned your enjoyment of Avatar - 2D because I saw both - first in 2D, then in 3D. But the 3D darkens the frames and mutes the colors so much that it ruined my original impression of the movie and I had to see it again in 2D. Ah, much better! 2D gives you the proper lighting, the true colors, and the sharpness of all the images on the screen - and this sharpness makes images stand out dramatically (almost like 3-D!). You haven't missed a thing!

  2. This is such a great idea for a "year in reflection" type of a post, I don't think I've seen one like it before. Here are some of my thoughts on the films mentioned:

    - Paul Blart was absolutely dreadful, but considering it was a Friday night and I was somewhat over-tired, that one fell in the "so bad, it's good" category for me.

    - While I loved The Wrestler every bit as much as you did, I never really saw the hope for a Best Pic nomination, so I wasn't that devastated when it wasn't on the list. My devastation came when Penn walked away with the Oscar.

    - Sorry you didn't enjoy Watchmen because it was one of the best IMAX experiences I've ever had. Certainly flawed, but I thought there were some stand-out performances and I thought the opening fight sequence was breathtaking.

    - Recently saw Sugar (couldn't see it in theaters), and enjoyed it very much. I saw Half Nelson short after and saw a lot of the comparisons. I love the way Boden and Fleck attack their difficult subject matters without trying to preach to the choir. They just tell it like it is.

    - I had a similar experience with Precious. I saw it the first weekend it opened up near me and it was completely sold out. Very uncomfortable and even noisy during the film. I heard phones throughout the movie. Fortunately, I was able to see it again the weekend after (on a Friday night with a lighter crowd) and I enjoyed it even more.

    Once again, great post Daniel. Would you mind if I do a similar post? I will certainly give you recognition for the idea in my article. One more thing: Is Minneapolis a good place to see smaller movies early? Films like Moon, Sugar, Che, Hunger, and Ponyo never really opened up anywhere near me, except for maybe the hour drive into Chicago. I made that drive twice in 2009 to Antichrist and Up in the Air.

  3. One of my favorite Getafilm features.

    Thanks for sharing a whole year's worth of movie memories, good and bad!

    I'm tempted to catch Avatar in 2D myself. It's a slow weekend so maybe I'll get around to it.

  4. Hokahey - well that's the kind of feedback I could have used the week that I saw Avatar. Now I'm really confused as to if I should go 3D. Actually I'm sure I will anyway because there won't be another chance after it's gone.

    Danny - Thanks, and by all means please do a similar post. If you look back on the versions of this post over the last two years you can see it's getting a little out of hand in terms of length and detail, but I still like to have it as a record to look back on.

    I agree with you about Penn and I can't believe phones were going off during Precious. Aren't we like a decade into cell phone etiquette by now?

    Funny that you ask about Minneapolis as a film market because I'm always comparing it to a bigger place (even Chicago). The grass is always greener, I suppose, and there will always be films that don't make it here (35 Shots of Rum last year). But truthfully what makes the Twin Cities film scene great is that we have three Landmark theaters, a healthy handful of fully independent theaters, and a seemingly endless film festival schedule. It's hard to keep up at times, so I really should never complain.

    Craig - Thanks, and I enjoyed your version of it (the forecast recast) last week as well. Also, about Avatar - it could be interesting...what if you have the opposite experience like Hokahey and fall for it this time around? ;-P

  5. I'm not sure if there's a plate big enough to fit the crow.

  6. You're kidding!!! Wow. Look forward to hearing about.


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