Oscars 2014: A film odyssey

It’s a wrap: my month of trying to cram in all 42 Oscar-nominated feature films and 15 shorts before the awards ceremony.

For the third straight year, I humbly concede defeat. My tally stands at a paltry 31 features and 15 shorts.

I ended quite appropriately at around 4 p.m. on Oscars day with “The Book Thief” (up for Music-soundtrack).

And isn’t that what movies are? Little book thieves? The fear, anyway, is that watching too many movies might turn our heads to mush and make us forget about reading. Although more often than not, the movies are based on books that, typically, if you’ve read them, are FAR superior to the movies.

Har-har-har. I laugh when people compare these two vastly different art forms. “It didn’t do justice to the book.” IT CAN NEVER BE THE BOOK. It’s the movie!!

1384359757000-BOOK-THIEF-MOV-JY-1658-59704130Still, ending with this Nazi-era tear-jerker, in which we watch Hitler youths’ faces redden reflected against a bonfire of crisping, curling books — “intellectual dirt,” they called it — was more than fitting. Far from a perfect adaptation of what I’m told is a magnificent read, it certainly didn’t suck.

photos-seats1Besides, it brought me back to the Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse, a venue I had boycotted for more than 15 years because it lacked clearly designated parking and was prime hunting grounds for enterprising, likely unlicensed tow truck companies. The week we bought our 1998 VCR-loaded, Nintendo-ready flashy green-gold Dodge Caravan LX, we went to see a movie there and it was towed lickety-split and held hostage for $150. We blamed the theater at the time because we figured someone must be getting a kickback.

78c44eed-e13e-4139-bafc-6339dd853239Well, our car and the theater survived, and today I was reminded what a cool place it is. Movies are just $6.50 (cash only, be forewarned), and it’s not just beer and pizza on the menu —  I had a pretty decent spinach-walnut salad with raspberry vinaigrette, and their drink menu is entertaining in itself, featuring specialties like the Pulp Fiction (grape vodka, creme de cassis, Sprite and Blue Curacao), Pirates of the Caribbean (Malibu rum, pineapple and orange juices, Grenadine and cherry) and the Big Lebowski “The Dude Abides” (vodka, Kahlua and cream).

As has been typical on this month of crisscrossing the metro area, I made a couple of quick friends, other movie mavens who see the season as a sort of March Movie Madness (technically, February Madness). It’s not about the endgame, it’s about the odyssey.

My record stands at seeing 74% of all the movies nominated in every category, because you can’t predict winners with any authority if you haven’t see all the contenders. And the distributors, the weather, the theaters, plus life in general put plenty of obstacles in my way, which added to the drama. (Ask my husband about the morning I was rushing to see a 10:20 a.m. matinee before work, spilled coffee on my GPS, then discovered GPSes don’t like that and won’t work, so I went the wrong way and missed the showtime, including the 15 minutes of previews and had to abort the mission.)

That was “Frozen,” the animated feature I am sure will win tonight. I can’t fully say, because I didn’t see “Ernest & Celestine”— scratch that, couldn’t — because it isn’t yet available in the States. A dirty, dirty trick played by the Academy, handicapping all of us Oscar marathoners.

There were a few other titles like that, such as the foreign film nominee “The Missing Picture” (Cambodia), which doesn’t come out until March 19.

What other pictures am I missing? I’ll give you the Big Picture. Some of these 11 flicks I spent the month chasing, but somehow never managed to be in the right place at the right time. Others I simply didn’t care enough about to rearrange my world for. The latter category includes this first one (horrors!):

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Unfortunately, by not seeing this behemoth, it rules out THREE categories for me to safely judge: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects. I wanna say “All Is Lost” for Sound Editing, “Lone Survivor” for Sound Mixing and “Gravity” for Visual Effects, but I cannot, not in good conscience.

Star Trek: Into Darkness & Iron Man 3. These two titles I wouldn’t have minded at all seeing, but because they weren’t easily available and I wasn’t gonna see “The Hobbit,” anyway, I didn’t bother. That leaves me only having seen two of the Visual Effects contenders: “Gravity” and “The Lone Ranger.” But no matter, “Gravity” will win.

Before Midnight. This omission makes me saddest of all, because the writing categories are among my favorites. It is available on Blu-ray, but I refuse, refuse, refuse to hoard any more movies. Technology will make them all refuse (clever!). Something I learned this year: Any sequel up for a screenplay award is automatically entered into the Adapted category, even though it’s as original as sliced bread. The Academy considers it based on the movie(s) that came before it.

The Great Gatsby. No great loss, I’m told. Except by not seeing it, I can’t vouch for the two categories it is nominated for: Costume Design and Production Design.

The Invisible Woman. I’m not a fan of period pieces, and because “Gatsby” was handicapping me, I decided not to spring for the rare chances I had to see this. I hate the Costume Design category, anyway. I have no clue. But I’m rooting for “American Hustle.”

Ernest & Celestine. Already covered, but I kept calling it “Ernestine & Celeste” in my mind. That’s what you get, zero name recognition!

The Wind Rises. This came out only last week. Shame on you, Oscar! Not only was I handicapped, it was handicapped.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. I wanted to see this, nominated for the U2 song. But WHERE was it? Couldn’t they have brought it back when Mandela died? Somebody missed their opportunity.

The Great Beauty. Up for foreign film, it looked like the Italian version of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” But I’m pulling for “Omar,” that haunting Palestinian film of betrayal and freedom-fighting youth set in the West Bank. If it wins, people can stop with the Jewish-Hollywood jokes, OK? Hollywood will have proved itself totally inclusive. (UPDATE: It didn’t win. On with the jokes.)

The Missing Picture. The missing commentary.

There you have it. My missing pictures. Everything else mentioned tonight I saw. I still have to pick/write about four more categories, but I’m starting to think I’ll blow my deadline. You’ll trust me if it’s not on record, right?

So enjoy the show tonight … and even though I’m not Catholic, I think I’m giving up films for Lent.

Oscar marathoners: We are not alone

IMG_1986One bonus of bingeing on Oscar-nominated titles each February is the discovery of arthouses and plush venues while crisscrossing the metro area like a madwoman. The other perk? Stumbling upon fellow crazies.

I don’t mean the guy who followed me out of the theater after the “Philomena” late show insisting on discussing religion and waiting to hold the door that exited to the deserted parking lot (I darted out a different way, Mom). I mean those kindred spirits also trying to knock down as many movies as they can in a single month.

At West End Cinema in D.C. yesterday, I met Jonathan; the mother-daughter team of Cathy/Cathi/Cathie/Kathy/Kathie/Kathi/Kathey (didn’t get the spelling) and Lauren (safe guess); and a woman who left before I could get her name (no, it wasn’t like that). We composed the entire audience for the showing of Documentary Shorts B.

I was unkempt, unwashed and unprepared for any socializing as it was the fifth movie of my week atop my day job. As we sat there in semi-darkness, I first heard the sniggering when I unfolded my old-school mobile app — a stapled, crumpled checklist of every movie nominated for any Oscar, with all manner of scrawling and check marks in the margins. It was a laugh of recognition and understanding, like those at the comedy club when the joke is on you.

The mother shared the secret of her same list, and then the five of us opened up to compare notes before and after the screening, swapping insights, histories, families, dreams. That’s what movies do — they are a coagulation of inspiration and reflection.

Impressively, the mother-daughter team hailed from Olney, Md., and Baltimore, respectively. Why come so far for one rare screening? “You can’t legitimately say which one is gonna win if you haven’t seen them all,” Lauren declared. She spoke for us all.

Jonathan was missing only a handful of titles — he didn’t have the list in front of him, so he wasn’t sure. We complained to sympathetic ears about the dirty trick Oscar pulls by nominating movies not released in the States yet, such as animated feature “Ernest & Celestine,” a British import, which none of us could see before the envelopes are opened; it comes out later this month. If it doesn’t win, we probably won’t bother.

And what’s with foreign films, indies and shorts being 2010-2012 productions but still qualifying for the 2014 awards ceremony? The distribution date is like a sell-by stamp on a canned good. Very iffy.

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The lobby at West End Cinema, two blocks north of the Foggy Bottom Metro stop.

It was a rollicking good time with newfound friends, whom I hope to run into again next year at West End Cinema — a gem of a salon, which, incidentally, is hosting a special screening tomorrow, March 2, of a certain live event that shall not be named in a party atmosphere — if anyone is looking to commune with other cinema buffs.

Our little band of brethren chatted afterward — but it was only a little past 6 p.m., so on my way back to the suburbs to catch a 9:15 feature at Cinema Arts in Fairfax, Va., I wondered what else I could squeeze in. My phone had died and I could no longer check movie times. On the Metro, I spied a guy hidden behind the WaPo “Weekend” section with the movie grid nearly visible and plopped down beside him. As I leaned in for a better look, he scooched over. Oh.

So what the heck. I had time. At both Courthouse and Ballston, I hopped off the train and walked to the respective box offices to check whether there was anything I could see I hadn’t seen.

It wasn’t likely.

Doing the Oscar ‘Hustle’

american-hustle

Players in “American Hustle” are all dressed up and ready to collect their Oscars.

For the past two Academy Awards seasons, I have blogged about my attempt to see all of the nominated titles. “All” means not just those flicks up for Best Picture, but every film nominated for anything — from documentary shorts to makeup & hairstyling to sound editing and sound mixing (same thing).

I’ve never succeeded.

Because of my limited time, funds and hope, after two seasons of defeat, I had decided not to even try this year. Then, hello! I analyzed the list.

If it were possible to see all the films nominated for any Oscar in any category in any year, looks like this could be the year.

Look at it this way: Eliminate from the count the 15 shorts (there are always 15 shorts) and the 5 documentary features and 5 animated features and 5 foreign films. They’re all static categories whose films generally do not cross over into other categories (animated feature Up in 2009 and 2010’s Toy Story 3, or foreign offerings A Separation in 2011 and 2012’s Amour, are exceptions). With those slots gone, in 2012, there were 31 other unique films nominated. Last year, 24.

This year, there are only 28. Oh. Wait. That’s more than last year. Why does it feel as if there are fewer? Is it because the titles are getting so short?

I wrote about this last year, how titles are increasingly clipped, possibly because of Twitter and the need to get the word out in a condensed way. But compare one-word Philomena to one-word Her. Kinda hard to do a search for Her.

Joaquin Phoenix searches for meaning in "Her."

Joaquin Phoenix searches for meaning in Spike Jonze’s “Her.”

No matter. The nine Best Picture nominees still have a ridiculous monopoly across other categories, and I’ll find some way to back that up with statistics. (Maybe this guy cites the statistics I need.)

However you slice it, the way the Academy focuses on just a handful of films for praise, given the depth of the year’s pool, seems unfair. Lame. Maybe Academy members were also short on time and funds this time around and didn’t see enough movies. Maybe filmmakers were short on funds and ideas and didn’t make enough movies.

The only folks not lazy seem to be Jennifer Lawrence and Leo. Oh, and the marketers / promoters for the nine Best Picture nominees. Someone is being played, and it’s not just the victims of the con artists in American Hustle.

Well, count along with me, and help me decide whether to go for it. As usual, I’ve seen only two Best Picture nominees outta the starting gate (“Gravity” and “American Hustle”) and one other, from the best actress category (“Blue Jasmine”).

Here are all of the nominees, according to the official category hierarchy with no repeats:

  1. American Hustle
  2. Captain Phillips
  3. Dallas Buyers Club
  4. Gravity
  5. Her
  6. Nebraska
  7. Philomena
  8. 12 Years a Slave
  9. The Wolf of Wall Street
  10. Blue Jasmine
  11. August: Osage County (I saw the play; does that count?)
  12. The Croods
  13. Despicable Me 2
  14. Ernest & Celestine
  15. Frozen
  16. The Wind Rises
  17. The Grandmaster
  18. Inside Llewyn Davis
  19. Prisoners
  20. The Great Gatsby (read the book …)
  21. The Invisible Woman
  22. The Act of Killing
  23. Cutie and the Boxer
  24. Dirty Wars
  25. The Square
  26. 20 Feet from Stardom
  27. The Broken Circle Breakdown
  28. The Great Beauty
  29. The Hunt
  30. The Missing Picture
  31. Omar
  32. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
  33. The Lone Ranger
  34. The Book Thief
  35. Saving Mr. Banks (rhymes with “Hanks”)
  36. Alone Yet Not Alone (Update: This song has since been disqualified due to shady soliciting of votes. Good for me!)
  37. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  38. All Is Lost
  39. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  40. Lone Survivor (anything like ‘The Lone Ranger’?)
  41. Iron Man 3
  42. Star Trek Into Darkness
  43. Before Midnight

I repeat: All is lost?

And the 15 shorts — always 15:

  1. CaveDigger
  2. Facing Fear
  3. Karama Has No Walls
  4. The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
  5. Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
  6. Feral
  7. Get a Horse!
  8. Mr. Hublot
  9. Possessions
  10. Room on the Broom
  11. Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
  12. Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
  13. Helium
  14. Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
  15. The Voorman Problem

How are you doing? Who’s with me?