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14 Hours in an AMC Movie Theater

For several years now, AMC (which coincidentally stands for American Multi-Cinema) holds an event called “Best Picture Showcase” the day before the Oscars.

As background, the Best Picture title is basically the most coveted award handed out on Oscar night (held on February 22nd), perhaps the biggest night in Hollywood.

The AMC “Best Picture Showcase” works as follows: you pay $30 to obtain entrance into a marathon viewing session of the 5 films nominated for “Best Picture.” In addition to the viewing experience itself, you get unlimited popcorn and the chance to win prizes from “Oscar Trivia.”

Knowing that Meryl Streep is the most-nominated actor/actress of all time (with a mind-boggling 15 nominations), for example, would have earned you a T-shirt or something equally nifty.

Thanks to a generous sponsorship from AMC, yours truly made it out to Methuen, MA (check Google Maps for proof that such a place exists) to partake in the glory and magnificence of the cinema experience.

Here was the schedule for the day:

“Milk”: 10:30am
“The Reader”: 1:05pm
“The Curious Case of Benjamin
Button”: 3:45pm
“Slumdog Millionaire”: 7:15pm
“Frost/Nixon”: 9:45pm

Prior to the day, I read up on the Best Picture Showcase and the movies which would consume over 14 hrs of my Saturday. One blogger described the experience as follows: “Amazing! You feel like a kid at a summer camp movie marathon. It gives you a legit reason to stay in PJ’s all day.”

With this information in mind and my expectations calibrated for a long, long day, I headed out to Methuen.

Upon entering the theater, I noticed two things. First, the crowd held a very particular suburbia aura and came armed with snacks and numerous goodies. Come to find out, many were repeat customers, and almost all were locals. I overheard one person say, “this is my third year at the Best Picture Showcase.and it’s the highlight of my year!”

Second, I quickly realized that the movies (albeit each excellent in their own right) together created an emotional roller coaster not for the weary of heart. The subject matter ranged from poverty-stricken slums in Mumbai to reconciliation in Germany.a bad combination for someone who is emotionally unstable.

So the day proceeded as follows: “Milk,” Sean Penn’s latest brilliant creation where he completely embodies the character of gay rights activist Harvey Milk. He is most certainly a man born to act (I’ve been an enormous fan ever since his “I Am Sam” performance).

“The Reader” was next, an emotionally intense film set in post WWII Germany. The story is both powerful and haunting, taking the viewer on a journey of truth and reconciliation.

Next came “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which was unfortunately 2 hours and 45 minutes. Enough said.

The visually stunning and captivating “Slumdog Millionaire” was next; this was my personal favorite and eventual winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, along with 7 other Oscars. Slumdog also earned a 94% approval rating from wwww,rottentomatoes.com (“Milk” came in 2nd with a 93% approval rating).

Bringing up the rear was “Frost/Nixon,” ironically one of the more whimsical movies of the bunch (the line-up wasn’t exactly full of comedies).

After a long and emotionally straining day, I was spent.

As an infrequent moviegoer myself, the beauty of the Best Picture Showcase is that it pre-screens the hundreds of movies released in 2008, thus potentially saving thousands of dollars in consumption and opportunity cost (I assume here that the 6,000 members of “the Academy” hold legitimacy in rating films).

The movies are all lined up and as a viewer, you just have to sit down and let yourself be swept into the characters onscreen.

The downside, however, is that I often found myself comparing the movies with one another in real-time, versus enjoying each on its own merit. I guess that might be the point of it all, but somehow it feels like the movie-going experience becomes commoditized into a 14 hour view-a-thon.

But in the end, the unlimited popcorn made it all worth it.

March 2, 2009
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