The King's Speech took home the major prizes from last night's Academy Awards ceremony. But one man engaged in an even more impressive feat earlier in the weekend: He watched every single nominated movie, one after another, without falling asleep. Here's what he learned.
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I've always wondered what it's like to be an Oscar voter. When the DVD screeners start arriving in the mail, do you even bother to watch all the movies before voting? Do you ration them out—one a day, one a week—until you've seen them all? Or do you (as I always imagined I would) watch them in a breathless rush: all the movies in a row, as quickly as possible, so that you have the context to decide the true best picture?
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This Saturday, I got to live my dream. I attended AMC's Best Picture Showcase: a screening of all 10 movies nominated for Best Picture, packed into a single day. AMC has been hosting the Best Picture Showcase for the past five years, but the Academy's decision to expand the category from five to 10 nominees left AMC in a tight spot. Five is one thing, but would people really come to see all 10 Best Picture nominees in a row?
In the end, AMC hedged their bets, offering screenings that split up the nominees over two consecutive weekends, but also setting up special screenings in 13 U.S. cities to show all 10 films in the 24 hours immediately before the Oscars. When I saw that one of the 24-hour marathon screenings was taking place only 20 minutes away from my apartment, I knew that as a film writer (and an admitted Oscars nut) I had no choice but to attend. I would try to forget all my preconceived notions about each of the movies and experience them all for the first time, before deciding which I thought was truly the best film of the year.
And I would not fall asleep.
When I made it through the sizable line outside the theatre, the ticket-taker handed me a lanyard, giving me our schedule for the next 24 hours:
10:00 AM: Toy Story 3 (103 minutes)
12:00 PM: 127 Hours (95 minutes)
2:00 PM: The Kids Are All Right (106 minutes)
4:15 PM: True Grit (110 minutes)
7:15 PM: The Fighter (116 minutes)
9:45 PM: Winter's Bone (100 minutes)
11:45 PM: Black Swan (109 minutes)
2:00 AM: Inception (148 minutes)
4:45 AM: The Social Network (121 minutes)
7:05 AM: The King's Speech (119 minutes)
This is, incidentally, 18 hours and 47 minutes (or 1,127 minutes) of movies, with an average of about 20 minutes in between each for (essential) concessions runs and (even more essential) bathroom runs. As I entered the theatre, brandishing my lanyard like a VIP pass, I felt like a top athlete in the world's laziest Olympic event. I was sure I was up to the challenge.
That didn't last long. It became clear almost immediately that I was wildly underprepared when compared to the many attendees I privately dubbed the "lifers"—people who have attended the Best Picture showcase for all of the past five years. I saw thermoses of coffee. I saw curved neck pillows. I saw many, many Snuggies.
I was clearly in over my head.
The lifers also had very specific advice on concessions choices. As I started to order a Coke, a nearby pajama-clad movie buff stopped me: "If you really want to make it, don't have any sugar. You'll crash hard. Get some real food in you." I dutifully ordered the movie theatre equivalent of "real food": pretzel bites.
The mood in the theatre was giddy and energetic—more like a middle school sleepover than a film screening. The sense of camaraderie was immediate: we are the people who love movies enough to do this, and we're all in it together. As I sniffled through the legendarily tear-jerking Toy Story 3 ending, a sympathetic lifer handed me a Kleenex. As I feverishly wrote during one of the brief breaks between movies, the guy in the seat next to me offered to get me something to eat from a nearby sandwich shop.
Of course, there was also plenty of good-natured rivalry: In a room full of film nerds, who's the film nerdiest? AMC stoked the fire with regular trivia rounds. Prizes ranged from a Tron Frisbee to a Burlesque boa, but the real prize was proving your knowledge of arcane movie minutiae: which three Westerns have won Best Picture? (Answer: Unforgiven, Dances With Wolves, and Cimmaron.) Which Best Picture-nominated films featured the hosts of this year's Oscars, James Franco and Anne Hathaway? (Answer: 127 Hours and Brokeback Mountain). Inevitably, each break between movies led to heated debates: Will an animated movie ever win Best Picture? Is The Fighter the best boxing movie since Rocky? Is Inception even trippier than Black Swan?