As your everyday American human, I like movies. In fact I like ‘em a lot. When I came to Drake I was worried that I wouldn’t get to see as many movies as I did in St. Louis. Moving away from my regular theaters and Blockbuster store (no, I’m not gonna get over it) was in fact kind of traumatic. Luckily, Des Moines has proved a good place to keep up my theatrical hobby. From trips to the ever-cool Fleur, to our own Free Movie Friday nights on campus, the cinema abounds.
But there’s one place that has the greatest claim on my heart: The Varsity Theatre. Literally right across the street from campus, The Varsity is an old-fashioned movie house in the best way possible. Tickets are affordable and concessions are downright criminally cheap compared to the megaplexes. You can get a popcorn, drink, and candy all for $5. It’s ridiculous. Ridiculously great. They show one movie at a time and it’s always a good one. Ranging from critical darlings to foreign favorites to the best of the indie world, the movies at the Varsity run for a couple weeks, and you should catch them all if you can.
The best part is just how it feels to watch a movie at the Varsity. With a family run atmosphere and the comfort of living in small town America, trips to the Varsity are like entering into some sort of Disney community of charm, friendliness, and camaraderie. I’ve had a lot of good memories there so far, and hope for many more. In celebration of this great place and Drake neighborhood hallmark, I countdown some of my favorite moments at the Varsity Theatre.
1. A Separation
I saw this incredible Iranian film with a group of friends, one of whom I’m pretty sure didn’t know it was Iranian. I mean, he figured it out about halfway in. Anyway it’s a beautiful and complicated film and just one example of the opportunities the Varsity provides. When A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film later that year, we could all casually mention to our other friends that we saw it months ago and really loved it.
2. Liberal Arts
In a very different vein, this indie comedy was the creation of Josh “Ted Mosby” Radnor and it was pretty great. I went to see it with my good friend and first year roommate and we laughed obnoxiously together the entire way through. But since I knew the other people in the theatre, it was okay. With a focus on jackets with elbow pads, pseudo-intellectual musings on the humanities, and the force of impeding adulthood beyond education, Liberal Arts had a lot going for it. I just wish it was a little more relatable…
3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
It was raining. I was feeling a little down and in desperate need of a study break. Luckily, the impeccable Jimmy Stewart was there for me. On a whim, I decided to head to the Varsity and see one of my favorite classics on the big screen. And Jimmy’s naïve moral strength in the face of the political machine was just what I needed to rally my spirits.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis
I actually just saw this one last night with my friend…and all of Des Moines. As a testament to how many people wanted to experience the Cohen Bro’s latest at the Varsity, the theatre was packed for its opening night, even during an ice storm. If you like great music, producers named T-Bone, and appearances by His Highness Justin Timberlake, this is the movie for you. But it was also really sad and nerve-wracking with typical trademarks of Cohen-level suspense.
I don’t want to say that this French drama about an aging couple is the saddest movie I’ve ever seen, but I cried all the way through it and for roughly 2 days afterwards. I later talked to a friend who also happened to be in the theatre that day and he compared the experience to the heartache of 20 Adele albums. So, yeah, it was heavy stuff. My friends and I went through some serious tissues. But when we all emerged into the Varsity lobby, red-eyed and sniffling, there was this sense that everyone in the room had this shared cultural and emotional experience. And isn’t that exactly what going to the movies is supposed to be about?
For more on the Varsity, check out their website.