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A Bill Kuchman Pop-Ed: A Life at the Movie Theater

Everyone has a goal in life. Some people dream of being an astronaut. Others want to travel the world. My goal in life right now?

I just wanna see 70 movies in theaters this year.

Yes, I agree with you that this is a pretty pathetic goal. (Don't worry — I have real goals. They just don't fit the theme of this column.) Seeing 70 movies in theaters over the course of one year is kind of insane too. Are there even 70 movies to see? I'm betting a lot of you can't even remember the last time you were in a movie theater. Titanic probably, right?

I've been going to the movies for a long time. The first movie I ever saw in theaters was White Fang, which starred a young Ethan Hawke. The movie came out in January 1991, which meant I was probably 6 years old at the time. My mom took me, and we made popcorn at home and packaged it up before we went. I don't remember much of the movie, but I'm pretty sure we went to McDonald's afterwards. I got a milkshake, which I guess is a pretty good thing to associate with your first movie. I'm always astounded when I see parents bring their young children (or even babies) to the movies, which makes me happy that my parents had the sense to not drag me to a movie when I was super young. Attention parents, your 6-month-old does not need to see Bad Grandpa.

As I grew up, I saw a movie now and then. It wasn't until high school that I started seeing movies all the time. Thanks to a few close friends who loved going to the movies as much as I did (and a few close friends who couldn't stand it but let us drag them anyways), we saw a ton of movies. Thanks to my imperfect record keeping (ticket stubs get lost sometimes, you know), I believe I saw 41 movies in a year. Twice. That was just 11 away from averaging one a week, a feat that I was pretty proud of. (I didn't play sports in high school, so I had to have something to be proud of.)

After college, I got a job as a page designer at my hometown newspaper. The job involved working until midnight, which made it pretty hard to see movies with my friends. If I got out early, I could possibly make it to the theater for a midnight screening, but those weren't always easy to find ... and my friends who worked jobs with normal hours weren't the biggest fans of going that late.

Eventually I had the epiphany — quite possibly the greatest epiphany of my life — that I could go to the movies alone. It wasn't weird. It wasn't lonely. It was liberating. I could go whenever I wanted. I could see whatever I wanted. I didn't have to explain plots to people. And when I finally got out of work later in the day, I'd meet up with my friends at the bar, and we'd be able to talk about the movies we saw separately.

Of course, there are still times I see movies with other human beings. A couple years ago, a friend of mine and I made it our mission to see all the films that were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Thanks to our identical work schedules, we kicked our quest off with The Black Swan, eventually watched James Franco snap his arm in two and finally achieved victory with a viewing of The King's Speech. This was the first time I had ever seen all the Best Pictures nominees before the Oscar ceremony, a tradition I've carried on ever since. Sadly, this friend and I drifted apart, but I can thank her for this influence on my life.

The movie theater is my sanctuary. There have been times over the past few years when I've had to get out of the house, had to go somewhere to escape the pressures of life. For me, sitting in a movie theater is a two- to three-hour pause on life. It may sound bizarre, but I can probably go through the list of films I've seen over the past few years and not only tell you which theater I saw a movie at, but also where I sat and what kind of mood I was in that day.

Then again, it's not hard for me to tell you where I sat during a movie. As long as I have my pick of seats, you'll always find me in the same place: Top row, one seat left of the projector, with a Coke Zero by my side. I gave up on sneaking snacks into theaters a long time ago. Too much work, and I started dreading the day I would have to explain the 20-ounce bulge in my pants.

During 2012, I saw 52 movies in theaters, a number that finally let me average a movie a week for the year. It came down to the wire, and it wasn't until I was home for Christmas that I convinced those same friends who used to see movies with me during my high school days that we really need to see Jack Reacher so that I could hit 52. They didn't seem that impressed by the accomplishment nor were they interested in my offer of buying commemorative T-shirts for everyone.

When 2013 began, I originally thought I would take things easy at the theater. I had notched the elusive 52-mark the year before, so what else was there left to accomplish? As the year rolled on, I developed the habit of going every weekend. Sometimes twice. And maybe there was a midnight premiere thrown in here and there. As I counted up my ticket stubs, I realized that I was averaging five movies a month, which my primitive math skills told me meant I was on pace for 60 movies. Sixty movies would be a cool number to hit, I told myself. All I had to do was keep up my five-movies-a-month pace, something that wouldn't be hard as long as I threw in a double feature here and there.

Then came June, the greatest month of my movie-going life. If children were to someday sing songs and old men were to tell legends about people seeing movies, they would speak of Bill Kuchman's June of 2013. Ten movies. Through double features, Thursday nights, long holidays and over four different movie theaters, I saw ten movies. Some of them were great, like Mud and This Is the End. Some of them I wanted to be great, like Man of Steel. And some of the were awful, like White House Down.

Thanks to June 2013, the game had been changed. I was now on pace for 70 movies, a number that would never enter the dreams of a movie-going mortal.

As I write this, I currently stand at 62 movies, leaving me eight shy of my goal. While I still have over a month to see those eight movies, I'm lucky enough to be going home for Thanksgiving, a wedding and Christmas over that time. It's going to take some creative movie-going to knock off those final films mixed in with the holidays.

After putting in so much time and effort to see this many movies in theaters, I'd hate to come up short. Sure, in the dead of January, I'll be able to catch up with anything I miss over Christmas, but those movies won't count toward this year's total. It'll be a fresh start, with my cinematic odometer reset to zero. Will I regret not hitting 70 if I wind up spending these final weeks of 2013 with family and friends instead of at theater?

Hmmm. Seventy movies would be awesome, but maybe not making that goal would be OK too.
A Bill Kuchman Pop-Ed: A Life at the Movie Theater Reviewed by Bill Kuchman on 11/21/2013 Rating: 5

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