Oscars 2022: The Thrill of Discovery

Big announcement for anyone who cares. As of 11:30 p.m. ET on March 19, 2022, I’ve finished viewing 98% of all the movies nominated in the top 23 categories for this year’s Academy Awards. That’s 37 of the 38 full-length features and all 15 shorts.

The only reason I can’t achieve 100% is because the documentary feature “Writing With Fire” refuses to be available in theaters or via any streaming service until March 28, the day after the ABC telecast. It also happens to be the critics’ favorite title in that category, with 100% of positive reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes polling — the only film in this year’s lineup to achieve such perfection. It figures that the “perfect film” would handicap my own potentially perfect score. Still, who can scoff at 98%? So, so, so close. The closest I’ve ever come in over a decade of striving.

Thus I’m kinda writing with fire myself to say: What a journey it’s been. Sure, it used to be more thrilling back in the ancient pre-streaming days, having to carefully plan my itinerary up against the deadline, mapping out those off-the-beaten-track theaters, catching late-night offbeat screenings, even double and triple features on my days off, doing it all in just over a month. But if the covid pandemic has done anything it’s made my movie diet easier to consume on my own timetable. Now, with a week to go before the Oscars telecast, I’m unsure what to do with myself. Maybe just rewatch a few to make proper picks in the categories I’m unsure about.

Oh, right. The D.C. Environmental Film Fest is in full swing and all virtual this year, so I could binge there. Or I could read my stack of unread must-read books. I could also campaign and beg the producers of “Writing With Fire” to release it early, please, please, pleeeeeeeeeze. Or I could join the chorus of complaints about ABC editing out some of the most important, suspenseful categories from its live telecast: best original score, film editing, production design, makeup and hairstyling, sound, documentary short subject, live action short film, and animated short film. The creators behind these films, not the A-listers, are the folks who need the recognition to further their careers. These titles represent the gems that the mainstream audience never bothers to see.

As Emmy-winning film composer Scott Bomar recently told The Washington Post: “You’re going to diminish these eight categories and air a Twitter vote instead?” (He was reacting to the stooooopid #OscarsFanFavorite and #OscarsCheerMoment categories whose winners, selected online, will be announced during the ceremony.) “This whole thing is making the academy less relevant instead of more relevant, which is what they’re going for,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more that the point of awards shows — if there’s a point — isn’t the fashion or the speeches but the “thrill of discovery” — getting those sneak peeks of the relevant art that flew under the radar, whetting audience appetites to consume them. Like “Writing With Fire,” about ballsy female journalists in India, something right up my alley but that apparently was available only to select film clubs.

I don’t go to the movies much during the year, preferring instead to wait for awards season, when the endless offerings have been culled by critics. Although the Oscars have lost much of their luster and integrity, it’s still my blueprint for exploration. At least, that is, until I achieve 100% one year; maybe then I can be done with my Oscar marathoning.

Because I’ve never been big on action flicks, the category I ended with was Visual Effects. That one’s usually a slog because I tend to fall asleep during mega-battle scenes. But the two features I saw tonight, I must say, proved delightful surprises. “Free Guy,” starring Ryan Reynolds (my first-ever Ryan Reynolds movie), touched and tickled me. And “Shang Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” featured some bad-ass lady martial artists, such as Michelle Yeoh, who at age 59 still has it going on and, not to mention — if you’ve seen as many movies as I’ve seen in theaters this month you’d know — has a new multiverse flick coming out, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” (The multiverse is definitely having its moment. Would that make the multiverse part of the meta-verse?)

“Shang Chi” proved the perfect movie to wrap on because it offered a li’l sumpin’ sumpin’ that few movies bother with anymore: a couple of Easter egg segments tucked midway through and at the end of the credits. I always insist on sitting all the way through until the end just in case. How wonderful to be rewarded with my last feature of the season, and a Mark Ruffalo/Hulk cameo to boot! It may have been a shameless promotion from Marvel, but marvelous nonetheless.

Cramming on movies is my personal brand of March Madness. Now all that’s left is the filling out of my ballot/bracket. And for the first time ever, I have a whole week to do it.