Everyone goes to the movie theater hoping to see greatness.
And when that greatness happens, it’s the only place to be.
At home, there are too many chores to be done, too many phones ringing, too many other channels to be watched. But in the theater, cut off from the world, you allow yourself to be fully immersed.
I like immersion as much as the next guy, but the greatness is something I’m just beginning to get familiar with. I’m 25, and my tastes are pretty far from most cineophiles. Most of my top favorites are ridiculous, sophomoric comedies, many starring Will Ferrell or produced by Judd Apatow. Out of AFI’s Top 100 movies list, I have seen four “great” movies, albeit not the ones that really help my case (“Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “Citizen Kane,” “Toy Story”).
As for this year’s Oscar-nominated movies, with just a few days to go before the ceremony next Sunday, I had only seen ... well, none of them.
With nine movies up for Best Picture this year, each with actors, directors and writers nominated for awards and most of the films running more than two hours, who has time to sit and watch a number of them?
Apparently I have that kind of time.
So I made up for lost time. In an effort to become cultured, I made a point recently to see as many Oscar-nominated movies in one day – a 12-hour marathon that left me dazed but dazzled.
While I could not find a theater that was screening all 18 hours 54 minutes of Best Film nominees (go figure), Boston’s AMC Loews cineplex was showing the most nominated films that could all be viewed in one day (a total of five, which would run 11 hours). The SouthCoast theaters had only a couple of the nine, needing room to screen the type of movies I usually find myself watching.
The films I picked fit one of two categories: first, the films that garnered the most nominations and second, that they be long so I could really torture myself in this process.
And with that, on to the theater.
Arriving bright and early on a Monday at the empty moviehouse, I made my way to the counter to buy my tickets. The exchange went something like this:
“Hi, can I get a ticket for … ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ at 10:05 … and ‘Gravity’ at 12:10 … and ‘12 Years a Slave’ at 2 … ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ at 4:50 … and … uh … ‘American Hustle’ at 8:15.”
With each additional ticket, I could feel the stares from ticket attendant and moviegoer alike, sizing me up, wondering why I would do such a thing. Acknowledging the awkwardness of the situation, I grabbed my stack of tickets and slunk off to the first film of the day, “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Page 2 of 4 - “DALLAS BUYERS CLUB”: JUST AN APPETIZER
I chose to start with “Dallas” because it seemed to be the atypical Oscar nominee: socially conscious film, big-name stars, just under two hours in length. Something to get my feet wet.
Nothing was too out of the ordinary with the movie but in all honesty, most of what I remember revolved around Matthew McConaughey’s jarring appearance. He had lost a staggering amount of weight for the role and resembled a crypt keeper, rail thin, loose skin hanging. It was shocking every time he appeared on screen. He may win an Oscar just from surviving this self-starvation.
As the credits rolled, I let out a small sigh: No more sickly McConaughey. First movie done, four to go.
“GRAVITY”: AN EPIC EXPERIENCE
I shuffled out of the theater and grabbed a pair of 3-D glasses, making my way into “Gravity.” To me, 3-D movies seem gimmicky, so I was not thrilled about having to sit through one. But with a runtime of 90 minutes, I grabbed a seat, put on the specs, and smugly thought I’d just cruise through the movie.
Boy, was I wrong.
From the first shot of Earth from space to the last scene of the film, I was sweating bullets. The long, dizzying camera cuts were unrelenting, the pulsing music was deafening and 3-D debris was floating all around me. The whole thing felt like a 90-minute tightrope walk.
The film laid the dramatic irony on thick as all the early dialogue centers on details about everyone’s plans after they finish this mission – always a red flag of impending disaster. “I know too much about your ‘two days from retirement,’” I pleaded. “There’s no way you can survive now!”
But I was hooked by “Gravity” unlike any movie I’d seen in a while. It was physically exhausting, but I was awestruck at the whole experience. As the house lights went up, I had to pry my hands off the armrests. I needed to settle down and calm my nerves, but realized the next film on my list started in five minutes.
Hopefully I could just ease into it.
“12 YEARS A SLAVE”: THE UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH
Finding my way to a seat just as the film started, it took me a while to adjust from zero gravity to life on a 19th-century Southern plantation, but was it ever a rude awakening. While “Gravity” rattled me physically, this raw, dirty, brutal and unapologetic story drained me emotionally for 133 minutes.
It was tough to watch, especially seeing four of the most gifted and charismatic actors around playing the slave owners: Benedict Cumberbatch, Taran Killan (“Saturday Night Live”), Paul Giamatti, Michael Fassbender.
“No!!” I thought, “Not Paul Giamatti! He must know what he’s doing is bad!” Yet it was to no avail: As each entered a scene, things just got worse for lead character Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), forcing you further down that heartbreaking rabbit hole.
Page 3 of 4 - After surviving a disaster in space and the horrors of AIDS and slavery, I was starting to lose it. Three movies down with two of the day’s longest to go, fear and exhaustion started to creep in. I started to wonder if I would be OK after this whole ordeal. Could I survive on a diet of popcorn and soda for another few hours? “What am I putting myself through?” I thought (or maybe I said that aloud; my mind was slowly turning to mush).
Gathering up all I could muster, I got up from my seat, took 30 steps and plopped myself in the next theater for the marathon’s longest film.
“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”: TESTING MY LIMITS
“Wolf’s” three hours of utter insanity nearly broke me. Its cartoonish characters and “I-can’t-believe-they-can-show-that” debauchery was unrelenting and numbing. It just kept going, and going, and going … .
DiCaprio’s “breaking the fourth wall” narration throughout the film was hard for me to handle. I came close to answering his rhetorical questions out loud a few times. I was losing it.
And then, McConaughey returned.
I was oddly excited to see him, like an old friend checking in, seeing if I was OK. But I realized, “it’s a movie, he isn’t here for me,” and I proceeded to watch Jonah Hill and DiCaprio show me just how to run your life into the ground the “fun” way.
“AMERICAN HUSTLE”: NOT A WAY TO END THE DAY
I have no idea how I found my way into my seat for “Hustle,” as “Wolf” left me in a daze, but before I knew it, the lights had gone down and I was watching a potbellied Christian Bale working his combover as he argued with an English-accented Amy Adams. I believe Bradley Cooper was playing a Chia-Pet. It took all the strength I could muster to stay in my seat and not throw up my hands in defeat at what I was witnessing.
Maybe it was the fatigue, “Hustle” was nearly impossible to follow. I could not get past the ’70s clothing, crazy hairstyles and period soundtrack to even begin to follow the plot. I will say that “Hustle” had the best cameos, namely Louis C.K.’s part as Cooper’s boss at the police precinct. C.K. is no dramatic actor, and is pretty much playing himself as a police desk jockey, but his matter-of-fact delivery is great. There needs to be some sort of award for “Best Comedic Relief in a Drama,” because just as I would be falling into a movie coma, C.K.’s entrance always brought me back to life.
At the end, I was a little shocked that Bale, Adams, Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence would have all gotten nominations. And then the credits started to roll, I was just shocked, period. It was over: 11 hours, five movies, all in the books. Fin.
Page 4 of 4 - EPILOGUE
I peeled myself out of my seat, briskly walking towards the exit (“Freedom!”), trying to make sense of what exactly I accomplished. I was exhausted, shaken up, dazed, rattled. I felt that “Gravity” was the best and “Wolf” the worst, but how much of that was due to my frame of mind? For that matter, how much does each individual’s state of mind determine how any movie is perceived?
I didn’t have the answer to that at the end of the day, just a burning desire to taste fresh air and food not warmed under a heat lamp.
But I had experienced something in each of these films, physical, emotional, something I would not have experienced if I streamed the films on a smaller screen or just gone for my normal breezy flicks.
I left feeling accomplished and exhausted, having immersed myself in the best films of 2013. They were worth the price of admission.
John Gwynn writes for the New Bedford Standard-Times.