Tuesday, February 25, 2014

AMC's Best Picture Showcase Breakdown: Part I


Every year, I see all of the Best Picture nominees.  No surprise there.  What might be surprising, however, is that I would like to sit through all the nominees back-to-back, and this is because of AMC's annual Best Picture Showcase.  I go every year, and it's always such a great day of seeing movies.  I have gone every year since the Showcase started, so it's sort of become a tradition.  Back in 2006, I was working as a shift leader at a local Carmike Cinemas, and my friend Brittany and I noticed that the AMC in Pittsburgh was showing all the Best Picture nominees in one day.  Babel, The Queen, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Little Miss Sunshine was the lineup.  When we got there, there may have been 25 people in the audience.  It was very relaxed, and Brittany and I had a great time hanging out at the Waterfront all day.  Since then, it has sort of exploded into a phenomenon--at least in smaller cities like Pittsburgh anyway.  

Last Saturday, I spend the entire day with a group of friends watching 4 of the 9 films up for Oscar's biggest prize.  There was some craziness last year regarding the ticketing, so AMC at the Waterfront downgraded their Showcase to a smaller theater.  My logic is that I am going to be there all day, so I should make sure that I am comfortable.  I prefer to sit in the front row of the stadium seating so I can rest my feet on the bar--seats very much coveted by others who attend this annual event of snacking on popcorn and catching up on movies that we may have missed throughout the year.  My roommate Andrea and I were waiting outside at 5 am.  Yes, I am insane.  Yes, the cleaning crew was concerned by our presence outside the theater.

Me waking up at 3 a. m.  Liquid gold in this cup.

Yes...I was first in line...for about 3 hours...

One of the best things about the Showcase is hearing all the reactions from people who have clearly saved these films for these two weekends.  I wanted to talk about the reactions from the people in the theater as well as the chatter I heard throughout the day.  Let's go through the lineup as it came, shall we?

Philomena was a small movie that sneaked up on everyone in my showing.  Perhaps it flew under everyone's radar, because all the people I talked to at the Showcase had no idea what it was about.  They didn't see a trailer, and they were surprised by how much they loved it.  Throughout the entire day, I kept hearing, "I LOOOOOVED Philomena.  That's my vote for Best Picture."  I forgot how much I liked the movie, and I really appreciated Steve Coogan this go around.  The screenplay was funnier to me this second viewing, so I wouldn't mind if it won on Sunday night.  

The last time I heard such a rumbling response to a movie was when The Blind Side was screened, and I considered suicide.  There is a woman I see every year who has an uncle in the Academy (I believe he is in the costume designers branch), and she told me he voted for Philomena.  

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical as to how this audience was going to respond to Dallas Buyers Club.  Sure, it features some Oscar-y performances, but I thought they might be turned off by some of the gritter aspects to it.  The menage a trois that opens the movie...or the entire character of Rayon.  I don't think a lot of "average" moviegoers are used to seeing a portrayal of a transgendered person on screen.  Maybe they accept it right off the bat, because it's included in their packaging of Best Picture nominees.  When I first saw Dallas, I was disgusted by one gentleman's reaction to the word "fag" uttered repeatedly.  He laughed every time it was mentioned, and he sort of...dare I say relished in how some people treated Jared Leto's character.  I was cautious.  I was afraid that I would experience the same thing again.  

Most of the time, my senses are heightened to everyone's reactions during these presentations, and I am happy to report that the general consensus was very pro-Dallas Buyers Club.  Talk afterwards always led back to Matthew McConaughey and Leto.  As I walked around on break afterwards, I heard the host of the event (my buddy Chad), ask the audiences response to Leto's performance to pretty enthusiastic applause.  The first time I watched this movie, I think I watched the performances too closely, and this viewing allowed me to relax into it.  I wish Jennifer Garner would have been featured more in the first half of the movie, because you can see her building something towards the end.  McConaughey and Leto are so fucking good.  I love their married couple-ish chemistry.  

Here it is.  Here's the movie in the lineup I was afraid to experience with a big audience--Martin Scorsese's greed opus, The Wolf of Wall Street.  From the get-go, the audience was with it.  They were laughing, and I distinctly heard a woman behind me repeatedly mutter, "oh my GOD!" as more things drop kicked us.  

The "controversy" surrounding Wolf's release was obnoxious.  Maybe controversy is the wrong word.  Very prominent outcry or discussion?  Is that better?  How one can think that Scorsese is condoning these men's behavior is bonkers.  I was afraid of seeing this movie with this audience, because I was legitimately afraid of their reaction.  I love Wolf, and I was terrified people were going to be bogged down by it.  Right before it started, someone relatively close to me made the discovery that it was about 3 hours long.  That caused a ruckus, and I couldn't help but roll my eyes.  I was so excited to see it again, and I stand firm that it doesn't ever feel long or tiresome.  

There was a lot of movement in my theater about two thirds into it.  By the time they are on the yacht Naomi, people checked out a bit.  It played even better for me.  I felt I really paid more attention to Jordan Belfort's different relationships to all his inner circle more.  I love how bold Wolf is.  The audience...didn't feel the same way by the time it was over.  The friends I have made over the years (yes, I am not ashamed to admit that friendships form) ask each other eagerly between movies what they thought.  Almost everyone said they thought it was too long...too excessive...to repetitive.  Oh, well.  I love it, and I hope it wins something.  There is almost no point in arguing with some people.  

We had some time to relax and have dinner after The Wolf of Wall Street.  Chad, our fearless leader, indulges us with some trivia and talks up the crowd.  He is very generous, and gives us lots of movie swag for answering questions correctly.  My other pal Chad was in the throws of experiencing his first Best Picture Showcase.  He is clearly ecstatic to win a little movie buff trophy.  

The first day of the Best Picture Showcase ended with Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, my personal choice for Best Picture.  Why would they end with such an intense film?  Most of the time, AMC ends with day with a serious Best Picture contender (back in 2010, The Social Network and The King's Speech played back-to-back), so I think that is the reasoning for ending such a long day with a somber piece of filmmaking.  

I was anxious to see this again since I had only seen it once in its initial release here in Pittsburgh.  Everyone I attended the Showcase with had their reservations, because the violence had gained so much publicity.  I am an avid fan of how McQueen shot the film, and I felt like I was going on and on about how much I loved it.  The reaction was intense in the theater.  You could feel the weight on the audience, and they, for the most part, were captivated by it.  In the end, I think a lot of people were undecided.  While they admitted to being emotionally engaged throughout, I heard a lot of talk of it being a tough sit for the end.  

Last year, AMC opened with Michael Haneke's Amour, a film that hadn't even reached Pittsburgh yet.  At ten in the morning, that movie really strikes you, and perhaps AMC didn't want to do that again.  I do think, however, that the audience might not have been so resistant to it if they hadn't just had dinner and just hadn't sat through a three hour Martin Scorsese film.  I don't know.  I was a bit disappointed that everyone didn't feel as enthusiastic as I did.  

Week two comes this Saturday with the other five films.  I am ready to see them all again.  Until next time.

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