When you’ve dedicated the majority of your life to watching films, you’re bound to walk away with some lasting memories. This list represents the most memorable movie watching experiences I’ve ever had, and to be honest, a list like this is, for me, completely boundless. There is simply no limit to the amount of fond memories I have from watching movies, but these 10 are the ones that stick out the most.
Some of these experiences are moments that happened privately, others are remembered because of the significance a film I love had over someone else. The films are presented in the chronological order in which I watched them. And please, do feel free to share some of your memorable movie watching experiences in the comments!
Date of Experience: 1988-present
When a film I loved as a kid comes up in discussion, I am very quick to label it as my favorite film from childhood. Well, to get record straight, E.T. IS my favorite film from childhood. No question. I’d have to fact check this with my parents, but I’m pretty sure I burned through three different VHS copies of this movie – that’s how many times I watched it. (The VHS was green… remember.)
Now, one of the chief reasons watching E.T. was so memorable is because it used to scare the living shit out of me. I was terrified of this film. I’d hide and cower under blankets through its duration, but the second it was done, I wanted to start it again.
For the rest of the films that follow, I’m highlighting one viewing in particular that stood out. But my love and fond memories for E.T. are and will remain infinite.
Date of Experience: May 1996
Pulp Fiction changed movies for me. I was 10 when I first saw it, and up until that time, I had no idea movies could be (or dared to be) told out of order. On top of the non-linear narrative, I had never heard people talk this way. The ratatattat dialogue, the hysterically foul language – it was revelatory to my movie watching habits. (I also didn’t know, before watching this film, that two men could have sex. That made for an interesting post movie discussion with my mom.)
Pulp Fiction is my second favorite film of all time for many reasons. The most significant being that it altered my perception of what a movie could be.
Date of Experience: January 2003
When I was 17 years old, one of my closest friends was killed in a car accident. On Christmas evening, the car he was riding in hit a patch of ice before slamming into a telephone pole. He laid in a coma for several days before passing away on New Years Day, 2003.
The news of my friend’s death was devastating. I’m not going to dive into the full extent of the pain in this post (you can read more about it here, if you’d like), but, in short, I did not know how to properly function as a person in the days (weeks, months) after his death. That is until I sat in a movie theater and watched the brutal, horrifying, triumphant story of an abused young man coming to terms with who he is. When I watched Antwone Fisher for the first time, I sat in complete awe of the real man’s bravery and strength. The film forced to me reflect and grieve. It showed me that, no matter how bad you have it, there is a chance to regain.
Date of Experience: February 2006
My roommate through all of college (and a few years after) was a 5’1” Ethiopian named Bereda (you pronounce it like the gun – badass, right?). Bereda was a man amongst men – a wild sonofabitch with a heart full of gold who loved the hell out of movies.
He came to America in his teens and was immediately taken with the heightened romanticism of American romantic comedies. He loved them. All of them. Needless to say, soon after we met, I was very eager to open his eyes to the glories of heavy cinema. We watched, and we watched often. Some he liked, others he didn’t. But what was important was that he was willing to sit through anything, no matter what it was about.
Now, Bereda liked to talk. A lot. He had a very thick African accent that was immediately described as “cute” by any female he came into contact with. Cute? Maybe. But during a movie? Ungodly annoying. This dude asked more questions than a trial lawyer. He wanted to know every little thing about a movie as it was happening. After a year or so of this, I told him no more. I could not continue to watch flicks with him if he was going to talk the entire goddamn time. He dutifully agreed, and all was good.
But I’ll never forget the look on his face when Nazi’s threw a wheelchair bound man off a four-story balcony in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. I studied Bereda’s confused, sadden face, and I did something I hate doing: I paused the movie.
“What?” I asked him.
He stared at the screen for a while, then looked and me.
“Why?" he said. "I don’t understand why."
It’s one of the most profound questions anyone has ever asked me. How do you explain the Holocaust to a man who never studied it?
“The day you can answer that question is the day you have the rest of us beat,” I told him.
The Pianist is two and half hours long, but that night, Bereda and I spent six hours watching it. He questioned, I paused, we discussed.
I’m just now realizing that I described Bereda in the past tense. We lost touch a few years ago, and I think that’s my subconscious telling me I need to reconnect with him. I’m sure we’d have a lot of movie talking to do.
Date of Experience: May 2007
I sold TVs at a department store throughout college as a means of keeping change in my pocket. It was a shit job, but I worked with some cool people. Chief among them was a gentle, kind, misunderstood Iranian named Ebrahim. Ebrahim was a cool dude. Despite our vastly different cultural upbringings, we had a hell of a lot in common, namely our shared love for film.
I own a lot of movies. Like… a lot. When Ebrahim got wind of this, he asked me if he could borrow some. So I lent him a few I thought he’d like, and the next day, he brought them back and wanted more. So we developed a system: I gave him 10 movies to watch, and when he returned those, I’d give him 10 more. Nearly every day at work was met with a movie swap, while ceaselessly discussing what he had watched the night before.
One Saturday, Ebrahim and I were working the morning shift and he walked up to me slowly as I prepped for the day. He stood behind me and when I turned around, he said (in his very thick Iranian accent): “My friend, last night I watched Babel, and it was the best movie of my life.”
What developed was an hour-long conversation (in which many man tears were shed) about the human condition as depicted in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s masterpiece. It was the oddest thing – two guys from different parts of the world, having an absurdly intense and emotional conversation about a film. For as long as I am able to recall memories, I will never forget that conversation.
The Seventh Seal
Date of Experience: June 21, 2008
Confession: my first Bergman should’ve been Wild Strawberries in the spring of 2006. But I elected to blow off my film history class that day to, hell, I don’t know, sleep, buy beer, go to a party, woo a girl – it was college. Two years later, I purchased The Seventh Seal on DVD with the hopes that it would be as iconic as I had heard. I started the film around 8 p.m. the night of June 21, and finished it in the early hours of June 22. You see, when it was done the first time, I started it again. Then again.
Ingmar Bergman is my favorite filmmaker. His stamp on the cinematic medium has had as much of an impact over my life as any other person, place or thing (and I’m not exaggerating here).
Simply put, The Seventh Seal, not unlike Pulp Fiction, changed movies for me. It was my first Bergman, and my life has never been the same.
Date of Experience: January 23, 2009
My favorite part about attending a film festival is the complete lack of knowledge you have about the movies you’re going to see. You may recognize the name of a person who’s in it, and you may be intrigued by the tiny photo in the welcome guide, but for the most part, you don’t know shit about what you’re getting yourself into.
That was Sundance for me. Blindly attending dozens of films in a short period of time. Heaven, in other words. Sometimes this ignorance-is-bliss mentality produced dogshit results, but other times, as was the case for Lee Daniels’ Precious, it provided opportunities that floored me.
About 20 minutes into Precious, Mo’Nique’s character stands at the bottom of a set of stairs and berates her daughter standing above. Her tirade culminates with Mo’Nique telling Precious that she should have “aborted your dumb ass.” From that scene on, I was completely transfixed (and mortified) by what I was watching. I don’t think I’ve ever cried only 20 minutes into a movie before, but damn if the tears weren’t flowing.
Now, I went to Sundance alone, and because every screening was packed to capacity, I was forced to sit next to people I didn’t know, which was completely fine with me. During this scene in Precious, the middle-aged woman sitting next to me grabbed my hand and didn’t let go for the rest of the movie. When it was done, she apologized to me, to which I replied, “No, really, I understand.”
Date of Experience: February 2010
In hindsight, Steve McQueen’s Hunger had one of the most botched releases of any film I can recall (in America, anyway). It came out in New York and L.A. for a week or two in late 2009 then vanished. No wide release was hinted at, no DVD date was set. It was gone.
One night the following February, I got back to my apartment after a particularly festive night of drinking (okay, yeah, I was drunk – like… drunk) and I sat down in front of the TV looking for something to pass the time.
I flipped through my cable providers’ infinite database of movies OnDemand, and there it was. Randomly, hidden, legally, for free. I clicked play and that was that. For 96 minutes, I was completely transported to that wondrous place where nothing else matters except the film before you. I was shocked, aghast, horrified – you name it. But I was also inspired in a way I hadn’t been in years. Watching Hunger is watching one hell of a unique vision being executed, and I felt blessed to have discovered it.
When the film was done, I fell asleep (err, passed out). And the minute I woke up (now with a slightly more aware state of mind), I watched the film again. I was sure that, watching it sober, I wouldn’t find it as impactful.
How wrong could I be?
Date of Experience: December 2, 2011
Dedicated readers of this blog know how infatuated I was (am) with Steve McQueen’s Shame. I called it the best film of 2011 and, a few years from now, will certainly place it among the top films of this decade. One of the reasons I love the film as much as I do is because it speaks to me.
I’ve discussed this before, but here it is again. I wrote the final draft of the script for my short film, Earrings in November of 2011. It was ready to be filmed. Period. When I saw Shame, I was dumbfounded, literally jaw-dropped by how certain aspects of the film perfectly mirrored what I was hoping to achieve with my movie. The content wasn’t similar, but the overall tone was identical. It was cold, remorseless and unforgiving.
And the downfall. Jesus Christ, that downfall. The first time I saw Michael Fassbender’s Brandon unravel on screen, I whispered (aloud or in my head, I’m not certain), that, “Oh, wow. Someone else gets it.”
I hope this makes more sense come Saturday, but the impact Shame has had over my life in the short time since I first watched it is, well, significant to say the least.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Date of Experience: February 2012
It’s kind of funny, but the same method I used with Bereda – that of understanding what films he liked, then showing him movies I thought he’d enjoy equally (if not more) – can be applied to every girl I’ve ever dated.
We meet, I court, and, sooner rather than later, I’m opening their world to films as best I can. I start with ones I think they’d like based solely off their tastes, and then I open the floodgates. 2001 often comes several months into the relationship (if it comes at all) and has always been met with negative results. Hey, fair enough. While it remains one of my favorite films of all time, it definitely isn’t for everyone.
A few months ago, after issuing a half hour’s worth of disclaimers about how different and unique and puzzling 2001 is, I put the movie on for my lady friend, who sat in complete awe from frame one. When she spoke, it was an occasional word of astonishment. A single word here or there about what the movie was actually doing. To be honest, I watched her face more then I watched the movie. Seeing her profound, continual expression of creative hope reaffirmed why I love the movie as much as I do. When it was finished, she told me she had a new favorite film. There are no finer words than that.
And now to you, I’d love to hear some of your most memorable movie watching experiences. Have at it!