“Welcome!” Maria Runnels said when I plopped down beside her in a theater at AMC Parkway Pointe on Saturday morning. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Runnels and I had never met before. But over the next nine-and-a-half hours, we would morph into a hybrid version of close friends/fellow occupants of the same popcorn-infested foxhole as the other hardy participants in the annual “AMC Best Picture Showcase.”
Whoda thunk it?
Not me, certainly. For the past several years, I’d dithered over whether I had the right stuff to watch as many as five movies in a row without the ushers having to carry me out in a straitjacket. What if the theater was too cold or the seats too hard, I fretted? Would I end up hating a really good movie just because it came last in a very long day? Meanwhile, AMC had a rule against bringing in outside food. How much popcorn and Twizzlers could one person subsist on before they simply exploded or developed scurvy?
This year was a little different, though. For starters, I’d only have to sit through four movies in one day. And in an armchair recliner at the recently renovated Cobb Parkway multiplex, to boot. But it was the visions of AJC bean counters having to approve Twizzlers on an expense form that finally sealed it. I broke down and bought a ticket for the first day only of this two-day event.
AMC Theatres introduced the “BPS” a decade ago, back when the premier Oscars category still only had five nominees — no more, no less. The BPS always took place on one Saturday, just before the Academy Awards. But in 2009 the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences started fiddling with the category, with the result that now, anywhere from five to 10 films can be nominated. This year, eight made the cut.
When the numbers increased, AMC decided to split the BPS across two Saturdays, with four different nominated films being shown on Feb. 14 and Feb. 21 this year (check amctheatres.com for ticket availability at the three Atlanta area participating theaters). That only should’ve made it harder for people to commit to the BPS, which then would’ve died a quick and merciful death, right?
“There are people who’ve turned the BPS into an annual tradition,” said Ryan Noonan, AMC’s director of public relations. “They might not see or interact with each other during the rest of the year, but they come back to the BPS and they know each other.”
Oh, great, like the cool kids table in high school. That was my initial fear when I arrived at the theater Saturday with “Newbie” written all over me and an emergency ham sandwich hidden deep inside my purse just in case. But those concerns were quickly dispersed when I met Runnels, a gregarious CPA/strategic planner from West Cobb. She also was a BPS first-timer, but she selflessly helped me work the controls on my recliner before the first movie, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” began at 10 a.m.
Two seats over, Kwajelyn Jackson and Valerie Camille Jones had returned for their eighth and sixth showcases respectively. During the 20-minute break before the second movie, “Whiplash,” began at noon, they shared funny stories and valuable wisdom acquired during those earlier, non-recliner years: Bring pillows and blankets. Drink water for hydration, but know the movie schedule so you can plan your bathroom breaks. Stick it out no matter what, no matter how much you just can’t believe that movie got nominated.
“If it’s in the middle and I don’t like it, I probably will stay and be angry,” said East Atlanta resident Jackson, who went through that with “The Wolf of Wall Street” last year. “But then something else will come along and really surprise you.”
Even more practical advice came from John Thomas, 26, in the break following film No. 3, “Birdman.” The Kennesaw State student had previously survived three showcases, a six-film “Harry Potter” marathon and a 13-hour “Lord of the Rings Extended Trilogy” screening.
“Stand up and walk around between films,” Thomas advised. “It also helps if you really like movies.”
But what if you’d already been at this for some seven hours by the time the day’s final movie, “Selma,” began at 4:55 p.m.? I’d purposely waited to see it here, but now feared its impact would be lost on me as a result of all the other movies that were already inside my head.
Instead, the reverse happened. “Selma” landed an unmistakable emotional wallop in the hushed theater. Afterwards, when about a half-dozen BPS-ers lingered to discuss why it was vastly superior to the more-nominated “Birdman,” I realized it had actually helped me to see so many nominated films side-by-side. With other people who were doing the same thing.
I also was jealous. Unlike nearly all of my fellow foxhole occupants, I wasn’t coming back next Saturday. I had to content myself with extracting a vow from Runnels to stay in touch and to maybe return for next year’s BPS, same theater, same seats even.
New emergency sandwich, though. Just in case.