For the last two weeks, my favorite local movie theater, the Music Box, has provided Chicago with what they have dubbed the 70mm Film Festival. As the last remaining theater in town that can play movies at 70mm (compared to the usual 35mm or digital), they brought in a wide variety of films to screen in this gorgeous format. One of these films was the biggest item on my so-called “movie bucket list” — 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was there for its very first screening (which was absolutely incredible), and it gave me the idea to compose this list of my top five theatrical experiences.
Now, one thing you will notice right away is that most of these have taken place in just the last few years. That’s because I never really went to the theater much when I was younger — it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago in 2008 that I truly fell in love with film. With so many theaters in town, all of which are easily accessible, I found myself going more and more. The fact that these are all recent does not make them any less memorable for me.
First, a few honorable mentions:
Antichrist [November 2009]
My first visit to the Music Box. I instantly fell in love with this theater. My girlfriend and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with Antichrist — let’s just say it was an experience I will never forget, for multiple reasons.
RoboCop [July 2012]
This was noteworthy for two reasons. 1) I met up with several movie bloggers for drinks and a movie, all of whom were good people. 2) It was freakin’ RoboCop on the big screen!
Miami Connection [October 2012]
The hype machine surrounding this revived 80s action flick was out of control, so I had to see it for myself. It turns out that the movie was an absolute riot, and I can’t wait to see it again. What made the screening even better was that I got to share it with my niece and her husband — we still reference the brilliance that is Dragon Sound to this day.
And now, the top five:
5) Drive [September 2011]
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Drive, and I couldn’t wait to see it. My girlfriend and I rode our bikes to a theater in Lincoln Park on a gorgeous summer night. I had a feeling I was going to like the film, but I was surprised at how much it blew me away. I ended up ranking it as my favorite film of 2011. I left the theater feeling like a total badass — how could you not? — and the first thing I told my girlfriend was that I needed a pair of biking gloves. I felt invincible on that bike ride home.
4) Beasts of the Southern Wild [June 2012] — advanced screening with a Q&A with Benh Zeitlin, Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis afterward
I had to wait an hour in line before this screening, and to make matters worse, a huge chunk of the theater was blocked off for contest winners. The only available seating was in the first few rows, and I was tempted to just say “fuck it” and walk out before the show. But I stuck with it, and I’m so glad I did. I got sucked into the world of the Bathtub, and I quickly forgot about how close I was sitting. I loved the film, and the Q&A with the cast and director afterward made me appreciate it even more. I was especially impressed with Dwight Henry, who came across as such a genuinely humble man.
3) The Room [2010-present] — multiple screenings, some with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero in attendance
I can thank my good friends Steve and Ali for turning me onto the madness that is The Room, and now I frequently return the favor to anyone who comes to visit. There’s nothing like showing someone The Room for the first time, especially in a jam-packed theater. I have been to two different screenings in which director/writer/”star” Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero did a Q&A — once even getting dragged on stage to shake their hands — and they are endlessly entertaining. If you haven’t experienced The Room yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. Words cannot do it justice. Just make sure to bring a bunch of plastic spoons.
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey [February 2013] — part of the 70mm Film Festival
This was the absolute #1 choice on my “movie bucket list”, and I am eternally grateful that I was able to experience 2001 the way it was meant to be seen (in 70mm, no less!). As much as I loved the film on DVD, seeing it on the big screen just blows it away. I got goosebumps as soon as the first notes to “Also sprach Zarathustra” began playing, and I remained glued to the screen from that point on. I get asked a lot what my favorite film is, and well, it could very well be 2001: A Space Odyssey. A flawless film.
1) The Master [August 2012] — advanced surprise 70mm screening with Paul Thomas Anderson and nearly every major Chicago film critic in attendance
I stumbled upon this screening by pure chance — I just happened to sign onto Facebook at just the right time. Tickets sold out in a matter of minutes, but not before I was able to snag one. The Master had only been screened twice before this showing — both in Los Angeles — so this was a pretty big deal. I arrived later than anticipated only to find a line of people wrapped all the way down the street and around a corner. Somehow I was lucky enough to still get a good seat, but I was worried for a while.
The film was fantastic, my favorite of 2012, but the experience of being one of the first few hundred people in the entire world to see it made it feel unreal. There was so much excitement and nervousness in the room, and none of us could have predicted what was in store for us. And, to top it all off, Paul Thomas Anderson hung out in the lobby afterward to converse with anyone who wanted to talk. Events like this remind me just how much I love Chicago.
So there you have it — my top five theatrical experiences! What are your favorite theatrical experiences? Got a good story to tell?