My 2020 Movie Tally: The Year The Movies Died

6 Feb

Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for, the blog I get most excited about writing each year, the stories I try to tell about all of those wonderful theatrical movie experiences, the people I enjoyed spending those few hours with, sharing popcorn, whispering into their ears during previews, discussing what we watched when it’s over. Oh the joys of that theatrical, and I maintain also social experience. This is when we talk about the great year that was 2020!

Let’s not dance around it people, last year sucked. It blew. It was a year best represented by excrement. Thanks to 2020, everyone knows the term “dumpster fire” as an adjective. To call it a disappointing year would be like calling Superman IV: The Quest for Peace a disappointing sequel; yes, it was, but that is quite the understatement, as it was a giant, stinking, flaming turd of a movie that was also the final look we ever got of the late, great Christopher Reeve as Superman, and the world would have been a better place without this in existence. I won’t patronize you with the endless list of events from 2020 – from Kobe Bryant’s death to the ongoing pandemic, to the (is it over yet?) election – you’ve each had hundreds of memes, videos, song parodies and articles to do that for you more than adequately. But I will take you through this most unusual year from the eyes and perspectives of not only me, but the movies I was seeing at the time; because if blogging about myself isn’t narcissistic, then I don’t know what I need therapy for after all!

January, 2020

The year started off promisingly. I was highly motivated, as I am constantly, to match and exceed my movie tally from the previous year. In 2019 I was at 110 movies in the theater. The previous year had been 106. So in 2020 my goal was to see more than 110. And ideally my goal is always to reach my pre-marriage average of 150 a year. So let’s do the math. When I start a year seeing 13 or more, I’m “on track” to my Golden Goose 150 goal. If I see 10 or more a month, I’m “on track” to at least exceed my total of last year.

January 1st, New Year’s Day, we got the ball rolling in style, when I went with Maddy (no, not an Adi autocorrect) to see Frozen 2, the far more adult, and yes superior film. The first was a perfectly adequate Disney cartoon with catchy earworms, but the fervor around it made it disappointing by merely being decent. When I saw the original with Adi she was so disappointed by it that she refused to see this sequel until much later on streaming. But when she did, she agreed – this was a refreshingly, surprisingly, darkly adult movie. It dealt with depression in an astoundingly touching way that may have even rivaled the “Sadness” character’s emotion from Inside Out. I would never recommend watching something out of context, and devoid of the crucial build-up, but if you must, or if you’ve seen it before, this is that devastating scene. Now that I think about it, kicking off the new year with a family film about loneliness and depression may have been quite the foreshadow for what was to come.

Starting in 2016, we had gone on an annual group trip that I had coordinated for ourselves and other close friends. In 2016 there were 5 of us who toured China. 2017 took 11 of us through an unforgettable Thailand experience. In 2018, 9 of us, including an uncomfortably pregnant Adi, didn’t miss out on Spain and Portugal. In 2019 I actually had to create the trip from scratch, something I would unlikely ever attempt in the future; but it did result in an absolutely breathtaking South African trip for 18 of us who remain talking on a regular basis on our trip’s group chat.

That leads us to 2020. I had finished  with just about all of the headaches and legwork, and 11 of us were booked and ready to fly to Vietnam and Cambodia in March. We counted down the weeks.

On January 26, 2020, I was working my nursing shift at Saint John’s, and suddenly a coworker told me Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. For the rest of the day, that’s all the employees and patients were discussing. Within hours, they determined each of the other passengers including his daughter Gianna, which made this tragedy even worse. But this is supposed to be through the eyes of the movies I watched, right? My shift ended at 730pm, and at 815pm in AMC Century City, I met with Jared, Yoni and Patrick, and we enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s latest entertaining caper, The Gentlemen.

On Wednesday night, it wasn’t a movie, but I was treated to great seats at an L.A. Kings game by friends Matt & Shira; since Adi couldn’t join, our friend Mike happily took her place. It was incredibly eerie arriving at the Staples Center, which was chock-full of people paying their respects outside, and the first time any game had been played inside his former arena since the incident 3 days earlier. I will admit that during their tribute/presentation before the game to each of the victims of the crash, we were quite emotional.

What about movies? By the end of the month I had seen a grand total of 13 movies in the theater. A great start, as I was on track to see 156 movies, right?

February

This month I managed to see 2 leftover Best Picture Oscar nominees. 1917 was a gorgeously filmed World War I movie that truly required the largest screen possible for full effect. Marriage Story, was simultaneously released streaming on Netflix, and was a devastatingly well acted play of a movie.  Even though this was an intimate drama that was perfectly appropriate for a television screen, it felt like a personal accomplishment resisting watching it for free at home a few months into its release, and eventually managing to watch it the way I prefer every film – in a dark theater on the big screen. Little could I have known this was a luxury that would not be afforded to us for much longer.

On February 29th, a date so crappy we only allow it to exist once every 4 years, the United States recorded its first known COVID-19 death – although technically they have since determined there were a few they didn’t know about earlier.  On this same day, after Shabbat ended we went with our friends Leah & Yossi to one of the discount theaters in the valley, and paid $3.75 a ticket to watch The Turning followed by Little Women. Because why not follow up our Leap Day holy Sabbath with a horror movie followed by a delightful period piece.

Every day at work I was talking to infection control about this virus that appeared to be mostly in China and Italy, and ensuring it was not going to be a problem for our upcoming trip as planned. Our flights were canceled with China Southern Airlines, because they were restricting any stops in China, but we were quickly rebooked onto Cathay Pacific. Small crisis averted – the trip would be fine. According to all official travel advisories, outside of a few countries there was no safety concern for coronavirus as of yet, apparently. (As I say that, it is reminding me of an underrated Tom Hardy thriller called Child 44, where children are found murdered in 1950s Russia, but everyone who questions it is continuously told, “there is no murder in paradise.” But I digress….)

And we pivot back to me at the cinema? 9 movies. Not a great way to continue. 9 per month would only get me to 108 in a year, a smidge under my lower goalpost, but hey, I’m still fine, because 2 months in that’s 21 movies, on pace for 132. Slow and steady wins the race, and all that jazz.

March

I must have sensed that Something Was Rotten in the State of Denmark, because I remember feeling a bit of urgency to get to the theater as often as I could this month – yes, even more than usual. On March 1st I watched Downhill with Jared, a pretty darn disappointing dark comedy, considering it starred the brilliant comedic pedigree of Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The next day is hard to forget. Here is the timeline of how things went, and my memory is not perfect – I am referring to my emails with the travel agency and others for accuracy of timing.

March 2 – I was at work, and received a call from my father. My mother was already in remission from her Lymphoma thankfully, but her next scan came back. Although the Lymphoma was still gone, there was now an unrelated lung cancer that they happened to see. This was lucky to be found we were told, as this was all spotted on a routine scan, and she had no symptoms. But surgery was immediately determined to be the most prudent course of action, to remove the cancer and let them biopsy it after-the-fact. Within 3 hours of speaking to both my father and mother, discussing it all with Adi, and still taking care of my 5 patients, we knew we needed to cancel our vacation and remain in LA – obviously. Adi and my flights were canceled, and I made the arrangements to ensure all of the other friends would still have the trip without me – their group leader – and my mother’s surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, March 18th.

March 4 – Saw Harley Quinn with Adi. A fabulous diversion that we both needed after the previous 2 days, and a movie that deserved to be seen and appreciated by a much larger comic book crowd than it ultimately received. People will watch any Marvel movie, as their MCU has proven itself consistently, and people are hooked watching a universe of episodic continuity. DC seems to finally be figuring things out, but people are not yet invested in them due to some atrocious recent content, so this movie fell under many radars.

March 5 – Getting answers from the travel agent was becoming increasingly difficult, and she emailed me saying, “This Corona Virus issue is causing big issues here. I just wanted to update you so you weren’t left hanging.” Okay, just as long as my group will still be fine with their trip.

March 8 – Things were getting weird. Mike and Jared picked me up from the hospital after work, and we went to 3rd Street Promenade to watch Impractical Jokers: The Movie, in what would end up being a completely empty theater. We knew hand hygiene was now crucial, as well as not being near people who were coughing and sneezing, so this was great; we touched the arm rests carefully and enjoyed ourselves in the theater.

March 9 – Straight from work I went to my shul (synagogue) to catch the Megillah, because it was the start of Purim. Public Health guidance had already been given to the shuls, so people who were sick or over 65 were told to stay home. We were told to greet each other by bumping elbows instead of shaking hands. Little did I realize this would be the last time I would be in my shul or with my community to this very day.

This same day I had to have a frank discussion with all travelers of the trip that if they went, there was a constantly growing risk of being turned away at the border, or not being allowed to come home when it was over. We were seeing it happen with the case that scared people around the world, on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Everyone voted, some wanted to cancel regardless, and others dependent on a refund of the thousands of dollars for flights and tours. Vietnam and Cambodia continued to appear to be some of the safest countries on earth during the spread of this virus. I was told by some infectious disease specialists, “I’d feel safer in Vietnam or Cambodia than here right now.”

March 10 – Our tours were cancelled, so the decisions were taken out of our hands. Those countries wisely decided not to allow people to tour through their borders anymore. Though I will add that the tour company refused to give back our money, only giving a credit for future tours; and the airline has still not refunded the last of the money for the flights.

March 12 – I was coordinating the latest guidance from the CDC and my trusted colleagues in Infection Control, and knew certain precautions to take wherever I went, including movie theaters. I went to the Landmark theater and enjoyed the delightful Emma, hands washed carefully, napkins on my armrests, doors opened using my elbows.

March 13 – I wrote my first article about this Coronavirus. People were asking me questions, and I wanted to help people do what they could, but safely. Under the guidance from people with expertise in the field, it attempted to explain what was happening, what you should do, and how you should act depending on your age group. Much of what I said still rings true today, but some parts are so full of “if I knew then what I know now” material that it makes me want to punch myself in the face, exemplified by this statement that was following official guidance as of March 13th, “Do not walk around wearing masks unless you are sick and for some reason have to be out of the house.” If you’re curious to read the extremely dated, of course you should wear masks, absolutely not-to-follow guidance article, here it is.)

On this same day we went for a great double feature at the Landmark theater. We made our decision of what movie to see based on which movie/theater/showtime would have nobody sitting near us. We started by watching the beautifully crafted French film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And then Annie & Ben met us for the second movie, The Invisible Man, which was an extremely well done, entertaining thriller. But I distinctly remember not being able to focus on much of the movie. Every movement in the theater made me nervous, even though nobody but these friends were within 10 feet of me. I had even asked them to ensure they were not sick before meeting us. And they left a seat between us as an extra safety precaution. But all of this still felt…off.

March 13 – I was working at the hospital, and one of the head surgeons told me that we were likely going to cancel all non-emergency surgeries for the foreseeable future. I told her about my mother’s planned surgery in Cedars and she warned me this was likely about to occur everywhere. So I preempted this and sent an email to my mother’s surgeon, who I had never met, asking him to call me if there were any changes.

March 14 – The final movie we would catch inside a theater, until….well, I’ll let you know when it finally happens again. And it didn’t even finish on a high note. That last movie was The Call of the Wild with Adi and Jared, and he was asleep for parts of the movie. I would have enjoyed it quite a bit if they had not decided to use an awful, CG animated dog instead of a real one. And side note: at home months later we watched Togo, a beautiful dog-sled movie, starring real dogs and Willem Dafoe. It blew my mind that it is the more authentic story of what was depicted in the 1995 animated film Balto, and I truly recommend it.

March 15 – The CDC advised that no large gatherings occur. They defined large as 50 or more people. That night at midnight Los Angeles closed all of its movie theaters. There would be no more trying to find theaters that were empty, and using my elbows to open doors. Things had changed.

March 16 – I was at work that Monday morning, and received a call from my mother’s surgeon. He apologized, but her surgery was canceled. There was no safe way for hospitals to give care after surgery. They did not want to send anyone to a nursing facility, and nobody would be brought back for follow-up visits. So all non-emergency surgeries were canceled, including my mother’s lung cancer removal! I informed the surgeon I work as an RN on a Medical/Surgical unit, and was always planning to help her. He asked, “You could take her home and continue the post-op care yourself when she’s released?” “Absolutely,” I answered.

Thank God I emailed him a few days prior. Thank God he actually called me. Thank God I was between patients and thus able to answer my phone. And thank God he thought outside the box, and realized that the safety reasons the surgeries were canceled could be countered by my being her home nurse. The surgery was put back on the schedule. On March 18th it happened, the cancerous part of the lung was removed, the biopsy showed it was in fact a life-saving procedure, and I’m relieved and thrilled to write that my mother to this very day is completely cancer-free!

By March 26th our country led the world with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19, and what would almost sound quaint today, a whopping 1,000 deaths. On March 27th I published one of my most important accomplishments: an invaluable interview with Lakshmy Menon, an epidemiologist who became a true friend to me and continues to be a resource on a regular basis. Sure, the guidance on masking has changed, and much more is known and thus evolved since this early point, but most of this still holds up brilliantly today, as you can see for yourself here if you wish. I wish to point out that many are understandably upset about the changing in guidance, and while politics may at times have played an ugly factor, for the most part guidance has been based on a “we only know what we know, when we know it” idea, and so thus as more time has passed, we simply have more accurate guidance.

And shall we revisit my movie tally? In just the first half of the month I had managed to see another 9 movies. This was incredible. I was still technically on pace to see 124 movies that year. But naturally, the that was not meant to be, nor was it even important anymore.

The Rest of the Year

On April 9th I published this story, and seeing people walking around with gloves during this pandemic to this very day Drives. Me. Nuts. I attempted to get the city to intervene and help give consistent guidance on gloves to the markets, but gave up when I saw I could not break through the bureaucracy of it all. I slowed down my frequent articles, and started to focus more on keeping my family safe at home.

We brought in Adi’s grandfather so he wouldn’t be alone in his elderly living facility, and he managed to mostly enjoy the last months of his life downstairs with my in-laws, in our multi-generational family duplex. They looked after him tirelessly, and he spent his time watching old Westerns and replays of his beloved Dodgers games, who he grumbled kept letting him down. I helped increasingly as more medical aspects became sadly needed. When he died in August, I was honored to write this prominently featured article about him, and it became a tribute for all of us who he left behind. Just over 2 months later, I watched the World Series with my father-in-law Mark, and during Game 6, when they won it all, there was a photograph of him sitting beside us.

We may have missed out on our annual big vacation, but we did start a pandemic tradition of going to fun, safe farms every 3 months, and giving ourselves some calm retreats for peace of mind. One was even spent on an alpaca farm!

Back to the Movies

We did manage to get to drive-in theaters on two different occasions last year. We caught Trolls: World Tour with Annie in her own car next to us the first time, and a double feature of Irresistible and The High Note with Char in a car on our right, and Kristina and Josh in a car on our left. Who says you can’t still find a way to see movies with friends? And following safety protocols!

So, what was my final theatrical movie tally in this shortened 2 and a half months of a year? 34. Did I watch any at home on my television which were technically also released in theaters in other cities/states/countries where they remained open? Sure. But that’s simply not how I tally my count.

And I’ve already discussed many of these movies, but as I do every year, let’s see who of my friends watched the most with me?

  1. Adi – 21 movies. Previous year 82. She was with me for 62% of the movies I watched, whereas the previous year she had seen 75% with me. Apparently in the first few months of this year she just simply loved me 13% less than usual. #InThisHouseWeBelieveMathIsReal
  2. Harwin – 8 movies. Previous year 7. Okay, that is impressive. Anytime someone can get more home runs with fewer at bats you know they’re doing something right. Or they’re on steroids. Now that I think about it, Harwin is looking a bit more muscular than usual, hmm… And as I write this, in just a few short hours, he and my wife will be hiking somewhere my back can’t handle at the moment. Harwin is great at attending to the outdoorsy needs of Adi as well as he attends to the indoor needs of Boaz. Good man. No judgment on the steroids my friend.
  3. Avish – 5 movies. Previous year 10. This is not a downgrade; Avish was on track to see 20 or more with me in fact. We very much miss Auntie Avi being in our home, sitting on the couch with us, and playing with Natalia. One day soon. Though she does often read books to her on the phone even now, to her great credit.
  4. Annie – 5 movies. Previous year 7. I’m so incredibly glad we got to spend time together these first few months, because in the summer, Annie & Ben moved to Georgia, and although we still talk, I miss working with her and hanging out in person. The ERs of Atlanta became a safer place thanks to her.
  5. Patrick – 4 movies. Previous year 5. Thankfully Patrick still lives here, and we’ve managed to hike and even swim at safe distances from each other. But we both certainly miss going to the movies, no question. (But let’s be honest Patrick, your awesomely loud laugh is probably enough to take the usual droplet effect of the virus and aerosolize it!)
  6. Jared – 4 movies. Previous year 4. Poor Jared. He sees one less movie than the entire previous year, and it happens to include the one he slept through, which was also the last one either of us would see indefinitely ever after. Boo.

Honorable mentions to Leah, Kristina, Josh and Char who each saw 2 with me in that short time.

While many of us may feel like we’re still stuck in the suck that was 2020, the truth is, we aren’t. Vaccines are being given at a rate of about 1.3 million people a day in this country, and that number will only increase as more of them will be safely approved and distributed. We aren’t in the clear yet, but the end is coming. Within a few months of herd immunity we will safely enjoy the embrace of our friends within their homes. We will wear masks only when we have symptoms, for the protection of others around us. And we will damn well watch movies in an indoor cinema, with people elbowing for shared armrest space (is that a thing anymore outside of airline seats)?!

For a great Q&A I managed to do about the vaccines, please read this. Each county has its own system and websites, but for anyone in Los Angeles County, you can sign up for your vaccines if/when eligible here and here. If you have any medical or vaccine questions, please talk to your doctor and trust public health resources – they may not know everything, but they certainly are better informed than you and I and whatever our internet searches will dig up.

And we should finish this off by singing together, Let’s All Go To The Movies!

4 Responses to “My 2020 Movie Tally: The Year The Movies Died”

  1. Spencer February 12, 2021 at 10:07 am #

    Love the Blog Boaz! Great work, keep it going.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eve May 19, 2021 at 4:06 pm #

    finally reading this. wow. not only an entertaining and informative post but also just a really nice showcase to how historical narratives can be framed in so many different ways. like, this had better be in history textbooks in 30 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • boazconstrictor May 19, 2021 at 5:50 pm #

      That’s a really special perspective you shared, which doesn’t surprise me a bit since it’s you!

      Like

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