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.

Someone should make an app for Oscar marathoners

The Washington Post does a pretty good job rounding up locations for me -- despite the fact its redesigned print movie grid is utterly unreadable.

The Washington Post does a pretty good job rounding up locations for me — despite the fact its redesigned print movie grid is utterly unreadable.

I’ll bet there are a lot of us out there: movie die-hards who cram to see all of the Oscar-nominated films in the six weeks between January announcements and the gala February date — the same time period when nominees are getting fitted for gowns and tuxes and writing and rehearsing and rewriting their ad-libbed reactions to their awards.

Does anyone else appreciate how hard it is to plan out the times and routes to various theaters, often in other states, working around one’s work and social obligations?!?!?!? Not to mention incorporating On Demand and other avenues of scoring. Fandango and MovieFone are of no use when all you have is an iPhone 3, one tiny screen on which to map both showtimes and compass points, and you’re in a strange city (Chicago, for me), and half the phone numbers listed for theaters are disconnected or centralized at Regal headquarters, and you aren’t sure which theaters are worth their salt in concessions.

I spent a few hours last week in Chicago literally chasing movies — first figuring out which theaters were showing multiple titles that I still needed to see, so I could squeeze in a double feature on my one night free, then figuring out if it was close enough in rush-hour traffic, then trying to determine parking and how far I needed to walk. I missed several start times literally by 10 minutes, trudging through snow, and had to start again from square one, Googling and mapping. By the time I made it to a legit theater for a legit movie, I had time for only “Skyfall,” scratch the double feature.

We’d pay good money for such an app.

My old-school app that I keep folded up in my purse.

My old-school app that I keep folded up in my purse. Requires a peripheral called a “pen.”

Today, my plan is to see “The Master” and “The Impossible” — thus completing the “Top 6” categories that most movie fans aim for. Of course, I aim for more — 37 feature-film nominees, in every category, excluding “Ted,” which I refuse to see. Tomorrow it’s “Anna Karenina.” I’ve heard that one’s just as bad as “Ted.” Perhaps there’s time also for foreign film nominee “A Royal Affair,” playing at the same theater.

Would be heaven if I could just type these titles into an app and see ALL my options in the D.C. metro area. I also want to plug in my work schedule, commuting times and other commitments to block out the entire next week, fitting them in like puzzle pieces to ensure I can make it from one theater to the next in time for previews, and also know which theaters are changing up their shows next Friday, and to what. Like an old-fashioned newspaper grid. Plus a score card showing what I’ve seen and what’s left to see. Plus reminders on what awards the movies are up for before the titles begin. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

App-arently.

My status, with checkmarks on what I’ve seen, as of this moment: 16, not even halfway, but I got a really really late start. How is your score card / dance card filling up?

  1. Amour
  2. Argo
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  4. Django Unchained
  5. Les Misérables
  6. Life of Pi
  7. Lincoln
  8. Silver Linings Playbook
  9. Zero Dark Thirty
  10. The Master
  11. Flight
  12. The Impossible
  13. The Sessions
  14. Brave
  15. Frankenweenie
  16. ParaNorman
  17. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  18. Wreck-It Ralph
  19. Anna Karenina
  20. Skyfall
  21. Mirror Mirror
  22. 5 Broken Cameras
  23. The Gatekeepers
  24. How to Survive a Plague
  25. The Invisible War
  26. Searching for Sugar Man
  27. Hitchcock
  28. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  29. Chasing Ice
  30. Ted
  31. Kon-Tiki (Norway)
  32. No (Chile)
  33. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
  34. War Witch (Canada)
  35. Marvel’s The Avengers
  36. Prometheus
  37. Snow White and the Huntsman
  38. Moonrise Kingdom

And I am “done” (fit to judge) these categories:

Best Picture

Directing

Film Editing

Sound Editing

Sound Mixing (same thing? c’mon.)

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Seeing three more movies mentioned will give me seven more categories by tomorrow.

Actor in a Leading Role

Actor in a Supporting Role

Actress in a Leading Role

Actress in a Supporting Role

Cinematography

Costume Design

Music (Original Score)

Still not good enough, not until I get Writing (Original Screenplay). My kingdom for a “Moonrise Kingdom” showing!!!

If a tree falls in the forest …

If no one buys a ticket to a late-night screening of “Argo,” does the show still go on?

emptytheaterThat was my question to the handful of workers outnumbering us crazy patrons at Fairfax Corner multiplex this dead Monday night. The legal occupancy of Theater No. 7 is 521. Tonight’s occupancy: 1.

That’s me.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t keeping anyone from quitting early. The manager assured me: It would play to an empty house, even if I wasn’t here.

Phew. Good thing I’m here.

I’ve rented the theater for two hours, for only $11.50. What a freakin’ deal.

Party on.

And this, after I just sat through a two-hour-forty-six-minute “Django Unchained.”

I’m totally off the hook — off my plush high-backed rocker.

38 Oscar movie contenders: How many have you seen?

thCAMKMLLDPeople ask: Will you attempt to see all of the Oscar-nominated movies before the awards-show deadline this year? And will you again be chronicling it?

I will, and maybe. I began this year in the same spot, having seen only two Oscar-nominated films when the nominations were announced two weeks ago. Progress has been slow: I’ve now seen 11.

I’m feeling less pressure, because here’s the thing about 2013’s pool of contenders.

There are fewer movies in the race. Last year, you’ll recall if you read me, there were 46 nominated movies across all categories and 15 shorts to spy in my annual rite to see everything before Red (Magic) Carpet Day. This year, because of excessive hogging of noms by two flicks in particular (you know who you are, “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook”), there are only 38 unique features to get through.

Here is the full list, in order of the Academy’s own hierarchy by category, from Best Picture through Writing (Original Screenplay), eliminating repeats. And a note to the Academy: Unsure why you list the writing awards last. They should come first — they do come first in the process — or at least immediately after the top six categories that most people focus on. Check marks indicate the ones I’ve seen so far:

  1. Amour
  2. Argo
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild 
  4. Django Unchained
  5. Les Misérables 
  6. Life of Pi
  7. Lincoln 
  8. Silver Linings Playbook
  9. Zero Dark Thirty 
  10. The Master
  11. Flight 
  12. The Impossible
  13. The Sessions 
  14. Brave 
  15. Frankenweenie 
  16. ParaNorman 
  17. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  18. Wreck-It Ralph
  19. Anna Karenina
  20. Skyfall
  21. Mirror Mirror
  22. 5 Broken Cameras
  23. The Gatekeepers
  24. How to Survive a Plague
  25. The Invisible War
  26. Searching for Sugar Man
  27. Hitchcock
  28. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  29. Chasing Ice
  30. Ted
  31. Kon-Tiki (Norway)
  32. No (Chile)
  33. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
  34. War Witch (Canada)
  35. Marvel’s The Avengers
  36. Prometheus
  37. Snow White and the Huntsman 
  38. Moonrise Kingdom

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I refuse to see “Ted.”

And, for those who care, here are this year’s shorts, across three categories, always 15 glimmering treats:

  1. Inocente
  2. Kings Point
  3. Mondays at Racine
  4. Open Heart
  5. Redemption
  6. Adam and Dog
  7. Fresh Guacamole
  8. Head Over Heels
  9. Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
  10. Paperman
  11. Asad
  12. Buzkashi Boys
  13. Curfew
  14. Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
  15. Henry

The other odd thing this year:

Movie titles are shorter. A fascinating trend. Could it be a consequence of Twitter — filmmakers, wanting to better promote their products on all platforms, have decided to limit their characters (sic)? It seems that a good third — 34% — of this year’s nominated features are one-word titles. Last year, only 28% of the titles were one word. And this year’s words are shorter — heck, “Life of Pi” may as well be one word for all it evokes in eight characters. And if you eliminate subtitles and articles like “The” (even in French, “Les”), the one-word percentage for 2013 goes even higher: 50%, vs. 39% in 2012

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Related articles:

• Life gets in the way of movies (mommytongue.com)

• Moonlighting at the movies (mommytongue.com)