One Theater, 10 Films, 24 Hours: I Embrace the Oscars Challenge

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This is a terrible idea. Watching 10 consecutive movies over 24 hours straight. A terrible idea. The longest most people have sat in front of a movie screen is for a double feature — three to six hours max. Few devoted fanboys might have attempted one of the various trilogies: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future. But 10 movies in a row? Why would anyone attempt such a mind-numbing, butt-numbing stunt?

I have no good answer to that question, but I'm gonna do it anyway.

On the day before the Oscars, AMC Theaters will screen all 10 Best Picture nominees in a row at 15 movie houses across America. In an attempt to gauge the limits of human-cinematic consumption, I will be attending the marathon at AMC's Times Square location, a gargantuan 25-screen movie mill (I'll be tweeting the experience; follow me at @gilbertcruz). My self-imposed rules are the following: 1) I have to watch all 10 films, even though I have already seen half of them, 2) I cannot leave the premises — at all (the multiplex will be my own personal Bio-Dome for the full 24 hours), 3) I can only eat and drink the food and beverages sold at the theater, and 4) failure is not an option.

Exhaustion and pain are definitely options, though. They're pretty much certainties. The most films I've ever seen in a day is four — a pointless feat inspired by the 2002 documentary Cinemania, about New York City cinephiles who spend all of their waking hours watching as many movies as possible. By the end of that marathon (a measly nine hours), my head throbbed with a powerful headache that an entire bottle of Advil couldn't fix. It took a walk across Manhattan to unnumb the lower half of my body. I felt a new sympathy for film critics forced to watch four to five movies every day at festivals like Sundance and Toronto. (The sympathy quickly faded.)

Twenty-four hours, in short, is a new level of masochism, even for me. Here's how the schedule looks:

10 a.m.: Toy Story 3; 12 p.m.: 127 Hours; 2 p.m.: The Kids Are All Right; 4:15 p.m.: True Grit; 7:15 p.m.: The Fighter; 9:45 p.m.: Winter's Bone; 11:45 a.m.: Black Swan; 2 a.m.: Inception; 4:45 a.m.: The Social Network; 7:05 a.m.: The King's Speech.

So how does one prepare for a daylong movie marathon? Friends have suggested I pack floss (for all those popcorn kernels), deodorant, those disposable fingertip toothbrushes, Tums and/or Pepto-Bismol, Advil for headaches, Tylenol for the inevitable body aches, hand wipes, Kleenex, some eyedrops and an extra shirt or two. Also, it was suggested I not take my wallet, in case I fall asleep and someone decides to rob me.

But what do the experts say? My main concerns are staying awake and figuring out how not to destroy my stomach with movie-theater food for lunch, dinner and snacks (and, ugh, breakfast). I rang up Marion Nestle, nutritionist and New York University professor, to ask her opinion about the healthiest food to be found at the snack counter. "The nutritional value of movie-theater food is an oxymoron," Nestle says. "I'm always amazed at how horrible the food is, and how big the containers are. You might not feel like eating much the next day." Still, she is able to make some practical suggestions, advising that I stay away from too much soda or sugary candies (the insulin spike and resulting crash will just make me tired), and that I try to find anything that might even vaguely contain nuts or fruits or vegetables. I'm not optimistic about the latter.

As far as not falling asleep, Brian Dixon, senior scientist at USANA Health Sciences, a Utah-based nutritional-marketing company, suggests the obvious: caffeine, and lots of it. But given that I already guzzle four cups of coffee a day, that doesn't seem all too useful. "If you're really worried about staying awake the entire time, one thing you might want to pick up is a mood lamp," says Dixon, referring to the various lights usually used to combat seasonal affective disorder. "When all those lights in the movie theater go down, your body starts to produce melatonin, which is the sleep hormone. Especially in the wee hours, that's when you're going to have the biggest challenge in keeping your eyes open. These mood lights might trick your body into thinking its daylight. If you can't get one of those lights, just try to find the brightest light you can find and stare at it."

Science aside, I suspect this will be a challenge of willpower above all else. There will probably be much slapping of the face post–2 a.m. (Who was the joker who scheduled Aaron Sorkin's endless talkfest The Social Network for 5 a.m.?) And regardless of how good The King's Speech may be, it will likely seem like tedious crap at 7 in the morning. I'm curious how many other people will trudge through all 10 films. Will minicommunities of filmgoers form? Will we break into clans, with Black Swan aesthetes turning up their noses at the True Grit proletariat? Will everyone just hate each other by the end? Will I be able to keep my same seat the entire time? Will I fall asleep and get robbed? Stay tuned! Maybe I'll even see some of you there.