Weekly Moviegoer - Favorite Cinematic Experiences of the Decade
by Christopher Campbell
January 3, 2010
The 2000s were a very interesting time for moviegoing. The popularity of DVDs (and ultimately Blu-Ray) soared and the quality of TVs and home theater equipment increased significantly, causing attendance at cinemas to decline tremendously. At the same time, usually in response, we saw a number of interesting, if not all respected, advances and new trends in theaters and film exhibition come about in the past decade.
To look back on the last ten years of moviegoing, I've compiled a big list of my ten favorite experiences, both general and specific. While these are all fairly subjective and personal reflections, I've tried to use each as a way to look at some greater idea -- an advance, practice or trend -- that you all may relate to.
Please, share your own favorite experiences, personal or general, in the comments section below. And don't worry if your memory doesn't go back much further than 2009. As you can see, mine didn't -- though that's also partly because the last year was a relatively exciting year for moviegoing. Let's hope it gets even better in the 2010's.
Going to the Movies for Free (2002 – 2005)
I got my first job in a movie theater when I was in high school, in the early 1990s, and I've worked in different theaters and different positions on and off from that time (hopefully one day I'll end up owning one). The best part of this employment has always been the free movies. But not just for myself. I've gotten a lot of joy out of being able to get my friends in, too. As a theater manager in the first half of the ‘00s, I let a lot of people in for free, some mere acquaintances, typically with the request that these people at least patronize my concession stand. It was a way to stick it to Hollywood (and George Lucas in particular) for demanding increases in their percentage of box office gross (thereby causing cinemas to increase their concession prices to stay in business). By the way, it's not too hard to get in free to the movies. If you don't work at a theater or have a friend employed by one, get to know the management at your local cinema. If you own or work at a restaurant, offer free food in exchange for movie passes. Same goes for other businesses with trading possibilities -- video stores, coffee shops, etc. At the very least, you might try theater hopping to save a buck.
My First Film Festival (October 2003)
Compared to most movie bloggers, I've not attended a whole lot of film festivals (Alex goes to more per year than I've gone to in total), which I believe has made them even more special and appreciated by me. Attending the New Orleans Film Festival was the first time I took a vacation basically just to watch movies. The fact that the NOFF is a low-key event compared to others, it was a great place to begin my experience with film festivals. Eventually I'd end up at places like Sundance watching six films a day, from dawn to way past dusk -- which I also loved. But NOFF's few screenings per night schedule fortunately allowed me the opportunity to take in the sights, as well. And outside NYC, New Orleans is probably the one American city that movie (and music) lovers should see before they die.
Premiere of Tour (December 2004)
I kicked off the decade with my band on our first and ultimately last ever tour. Along for the ride were some friends making a documentary about the experience, and the resulting film, Tour, premiered nearly five years later. It was both exciting and embarrassing (partly since I'd lost 60lbs since the film's events) being part of the center of attention as the doc played at NYC's Cinema Classics, a venue that could be rented out for special screenings such as this. Although that event is as subjective as it gets, the whole thing reminds me that thanks to the existence and relative quality and cheapness of DVDs, more independent films were being pressed and also screened this past decade than ever before (probably). And anyone or anyplace with a DVD projector could host these kinds of personal and public film screenings. Some of my other favorite moviegoing experiences in recent years have been at outdoor and rooftop screenings, courtesy of NYC's Rooftop Films, which likely wouldn't be doing what they're doing without the accessibility of DVD and portable projection systems.
Appreciation for the Children (October 2005)
Seeing Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit on a Saturday afternoon in an auditorium packed with little children seemed like a bad idea at first. But then during the movie I started hearing the delighted reactions from the children, and I gained an appreciation for seeing kid's movies with kids. A few years later I would go to a special for-kids showing of Buster Keaton's The General, which was also a big deal for me to experience, as it allowed me to see so many cinephiles in the making -- cinephiles who hopefully will continue to enjoy Keaton and other classics as they grow older. In contrast, I don't ever recommend attending any kind of baby night screenings, with or without a child of your own, as it can severely alter your experience with an otherwise great film.
My First Digital 3D Movie: Monster House (July 2006)
It wasn't the first, and it obviously wasn't the last (to the disappointment of some), but Monster House was the first game changer, the digital 3D film that showed the potential for the technology and format to be more than a trend or gimmick. Decent story, decent directing and employment of the 3D primarily for depth of focus rather than pop-out spectacle, it was the memory of this experience that kept up my enthusiasm for digital 3D for the past three and a half years. Subsequent 3D releases, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Avatar have made me feel more like a kid again, but this film made me feel glad to be alive at this time and place, when I could witness the kind of advance of cinema not really witnessed since the 1950s -- and likely the most significant since 1927.
Film Classes and Discussions (2006 - 2008)
I went back to film school this past decade and regained my love for discussing movies with professors, classmates, etc. If you love cinema, you can gain a lot by taking a film class at a local college, and many institutions have continuing classes available if you don't want to fully enroll in a film program. But classes aren't the only place to discuss movies. You can join or start a film club or attend special screenings or programs at museums and theaters that involve Q&As with filmmakers or scholars or that simply have room and time for group discussion following a viewing. Talking about a movie afterwards can significantly improve a movie experience, even if the movie isn't that great. This is mostly true for documentaries, which is why some of my favorite film experiences in recent years have been part of the Stranger Than Fiction series conducted seasonally at NYC's IFC Center.
Seeing Part of The Dark Knight in Real IMAX (December 2007)
Watching I Am Legend in IMAX was okay, but the best part of that moviegoing experience was seeing the opening sequence of The Dark Knight prior to the feature, as if it were a short film rather than a marketing stunt. I took it for granted at the time, but after seeing the whole film in normal projection and later attempting to see it again in IMAX, only to end up duped by one of those increasingly spreading fake-IMAX locations, has made me appreciate what I experienced way back then. The only other features I've seen in IMAX since the format was appropriated by Hollywood blockbusters were Beowulf in IMAX 3D -- which was terrible -- and Avatar in IMAX 3D -- which was amazing.
Spoiled by The Alamo Drafthouse (March 2008)
I'd heard so many great things about Austin's Alamo Drafthouse cinemas before entering one during SXSW 2008, but they're even better than I expected. My first experience was seeing Semi-Pro (I couldn't wait for the SXSW screenings to start) at the Alamo South Lamar, which was hardly a special event compared to some of the stuff I regularly see on the Ritz calendar (man, I wish I could have attended the New Year's Eve screening of The Apartment). But still, the food and beer was cheaper and better tasting than I could have dreamed, and the general atmosphere of the theater is how every movie house's should be. I've been to at least one other similar drafthouse-type cinema in California (now sadly out of business), and I would like to hope this is the future of film exhibition. And if it's not, I'll just have to one day move down to Texas.
Introduction to Motion Seats with Terminator Salvation (June 2009)
I know, it's completely a gimmick and will never be universally accepted or employed in cinemas the way digital 3D might, but it was still exciting and interesting to see another attempt by exhibitors to make moviegoing fun again -- and something totally unlike any experience offered by home entertainment. Since that first time, I've returned to Arizona and watched Sherlock Holmes with the D-Box technology. The adaptation was terribly unfit for the motion seats, which barely did much of anything throughout the overall disappointing film. My mother even fell asleep, that's how static and unfun it was. I've decided that if D-Box ever comes to my town, I'll never find myself taking advantage of it, but as long as it's a rare attraction in a place I visit once or twice a year, I'll remain a slight supporter.
My Mom Stays Awake For All of Inglourious Basterds (August 2009)
Not only was Inglourious Basterds the first movie I saw with my mother all decade (amazingly, it wasn't the last – see above), it was also the first movie I didn't see her fall asleep during since the 1980s. Given that my parents deserve credit for turning me into a cinephile by taking me to the movies so much as a kid, it's sometimes sad that I don't get to see as many movies with them now that I'm an adult. I similarly saw only one movie in the theater with my dad this decade (Hancock) and I can only hope it's not the same in the next ten years. Given that they live far away, though, it's possible. Of course, the 2010s are likely when I'll end up having kids of my own, and I'm pretty excited about continuing my moviegoing experiences with a whole new generation.
Bonus: Seeing Avatar (December 2009)
It's still too early to tell exactly how amazing and important seeing Avatar in IMAX 3D was. Is it the equivalent of seeing Star Wars in 1977 (which I apparently did, at only a few months old)? Is it truly a game changer, affecting the way films are made and exhibited in 2010 and beyond? I don't know yet, which is why I've made it a bonus item on this list. I know I was blown away by it, felt like a kid again, blah blah blah, but I need some time to understand just how significant the experience was. How about you?
Alamo Drafthouse / George Lucas photo courtesy of Ironic Tonic on Flickr.