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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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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?
And, of course, the big one: which movie should win Best Picture? The greatest thing about the Best Picture Showcase is that—because you're seeing all the films so close together—it gives you an unbeatable opportunity to make direct comparisons among all of the nominees.
For example, note to Hollywood: Looking for a surefire way to get your movie nominated for Best Picture next year? Mutilate somebody's hand! Sure, 127 Hours got all the "Farewell to Arm" jokes, but what about True Grit or Winter's Bone—both of which showcase some pretty intense limb-chopping? Or The Fighter and Black Swan, which each have major scenes related to broken hands? Even Toy Story 3 gets in on the action (though Mr. Potato Head's arms are a bit more easily reattached).
Or consider the fact that Aron Ralston (the trapped hiker played by James Franco in 127 Hours) performed his ill-fated climb in 2003—the same year that Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network) began working on the website that became Facebook. Could these two young men of the same generation possibly be more different? And which one, in the end, do we (should we) admire more? I suspect that the answer you get may depend on the age of the person you're asking.
There was also plenty of time to consider the reasoning behind AMC's scheduling decisions for the Best Picture Showcase. As we transitioned from the nightmarish Winter's Bone to the nightmarish Black Swan, I couldn't help but wish for the simpler, more innocent times of Toy Story 3 (what a fool I was then!). And what kind of sadist decided to put The Social Network and The King's Speech—the two clear frontrunners for Best Picture—at the end of the showcase?
The first loud snores started echoing through the theatre around 2:30 am, as Leonardo DiCaprio taught Ellen Page how to perform Inception in a series of scenes that suddenly felt endless. As heads continued to drop around me, I could feel myself struggling to stave off the exhaustion (thank God for Hans Zimmer's bombastic Inception score, which is way more effective than any alarm clock I've ever owned).
With two movies to go and my willpower fading, I decided to play my last card: sugar high. At around 4:30 I ordered a large soda, finishing it and downing a free refill within an hour. I didn't actually want any soda, but I hadn't come this far to pass out during the only two movies with a shot at Best Picture.
At 8:00 am, as The King's Speech went into its second hour (and nearly 24 hours after I'd first arrived at the theatre), I resorted to chewing ice to stay awake. The King's Speech takes on a whole new urgency when you're counting the minutes to its ending. (Damn it, Bertie, just spit it out already!)
But somehow, I made it. I shook hands, traded contact information, said goodbye to the allies I'd made, and stumbled out of the theatre. I was hungry, grumpy, and exhausted.
I'm already counting down the days to next year's showcase.
And in the end, did seeing all 10 Best Picture nominees actually increase my enjoyment of the actual Oscar ceremony? I wish I could tell you. I made it about five minutes into the James Franco/Anne Hathaway opener before passing out on my couch.
1. The Social Network
2. Black Swan
4. Toy Story 3
5. True Grit
6. 127 Hours
7. The King's Speech
8. Winter's Bone
9. The Fighter
10. The Kids Are All Right
More awards season coverage from The Atlantic
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