Catching up on Oscar-nominated films: A crash course

(ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Written by Michael O’Sullivan

What do you mean you still haven’t seen “Gravity”? That chestnut came out all the way back on Oct. 4, heralding what has been a bumper crop of great fall movies.

The fruits of the cinematic harvest are apparent in this year’s best picture competition at the Academy Awards, in which Alfonso Cuarón’s visually stunning and emotionally thrilling space drama is locked, according to many Oscar prognosticators, in a tight race with “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave.” These three films have dominated awards season, with a total of 29 Oscar nominations among them, as well as best picture wins in other contests.

But the rest of the category is strong too, with almost every other best picture nominee earning a rating of 3 1 / 2 stars or better from Post critic Ann Hornaday. And this in a year in which a whopping two dozen films garnered four-star reviews here. Of the nine best picture contenders, only Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” received anything less than a rave.

That four-star movie list also includes a handful of titles that earned Oscar nominations in categories other than best picture: “All is Lost” (sound editing); “Inside Llewyn Davis” (cinematography and sound mixing); and “The Act of Killing” and “The Square” (both documentaries). All of which means that 2013, despite some dry spells, was a good year to visit the multiplex.

If you’re one of those obsessives who make a point of taking in as many Academy Award-nominated films as possible, chances are you’ve already seen several of the aforementioned movies. But over the past few years, it’s been getting harder and harder to keep up. Beginning in 2010, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reverted to its pre-1945 practice of accepting up to 10 nominees in the top prize category instead of the more familiar five.

Fortunately, all nine of the best picture candidates remain in theaters, with a handful already available on demand and on DVD. This means that between now and March 2, when the awards show airs on ABC, it’ll be pretty easy to catch up on what you’ve missed. One way to do it is in one fell swoop.

Select theaters in the AMC movie chain are offering two dedicated best picture showcases. On Saturday at noon, you can watch back-to-back screenings of “Philomena,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “12 Years a Slave.” On March 1 at noon, the lineup features “Nebraska,” “Captain Phillips,” “Her,” “American Hustle” and “Gravity.” True diehards can even slog through all nine best picture nominees in a single sitting. Beginning at 10 a.m. March 1, the chain’s Georgetown multiplex will host a marathon viewing session that begins at 10 a.m. and lets out, nearly 24 hours later, on the morning of March 2.

That leaves you plenty of time to go home, rest up, shower and change into your formal attire for that night’s big Oscar viewing party. One word of warning: By that point, the nine nominees may have coalesced into something of a sludgy blur in your brain.

So why invest the time and money? If you sat through all 43 nominated feature films — which is a lot more doable than it looks — you’ll be out hundreds of dollars and lose untold hours of your life. And that’s not counting the shorts.

Sure, watching movies can be hugely entertaining, moving and even educational, especially when the films are as good as they are this year. But there’s something about the shared excitement of the Oscars that sharpens the common experience of sitting in a dark room with strangers, not only when it comes to watching the high-profile films, but for the more obscure ones, too.

One person who knows that feeling well is Pamela Nash. Since 2012, the 46-year-old federal worker has been a regular attendee at the National Archives’ screenings of the Oscar-nominated live action shorts, a category that, admittedly, few people care about as much as best picture.

Clearly, though, some people do. Every year since 2005, the Archives has hosted free screenings of Oscar-nominated shorts in all three categories — live action, animated and documentary — along with the five documentary feature nominees. And every year they sell out. Nash, an amateur filmmaker, says she watches the live action shorts in order to hone her own craft, which she has plied for the past eight years under the auspices of the 48 Hour Film Project, an annual competition in which filmmaking teams race to complete a short film in a single weekend.

Learning how to make better movies is one reason Nash attends the Oscar shorts showcase, but it’s certainly not the only one. She also speaks, almost reverentially, of the “film community,” that fellowship of cinematic true believers whose passion about movies — whether they make them or just watch them — is most evident at this time of year. From the AFI Docs film festival to the city’s numerous other niche festivals, Washington has become a cinema-crazed community.

It’s a community, Nash believes, that is united in its love for creative cinematic storytelling — a distinctly American art form born in Hollywood but now part of global culture. According to Nash, there’s no better place than here — and no better time than the Oscars — to celebrate our cinematic heritage.

“Who else in the country gets to watch Oscar-nominated films in the same building with the Declaration of Independence?” she says. “You have to do it at least once.”

Which films can you see?

There are folks out there who haven’t seen a single Academy Award-nominated film and who have no intention of trying. But for someone who’s coming late to the game and wants to jump in, is it too late to even start?

The answer: no — not if you have nothing but time and money is no object. Over the next several days, even the worst cinematic procrastinator could binge-watch almost every film that’s up for a prize, including “The Lone Ranger” and “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” (both of which, somewhat astonishingly, are up for technical honors).

Between packaged theatrical showcases and films that already have found their way to on-demand cable, it’s entirely possible to take in all but three of the 43 Oscar-nominated features, as well as every single short. Landmark’s E Street Cinema and the Cinema Arts Theatre are showcasing this year’s animated and live action shorts, and the Avalon will begin screening them Feb. 28. You can catch the documentary short subjects over at the West End Cinema.

Unfortunately, neither “Ernest & Celestine,” a French animated feature about the unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse, nor “The Missing Picture,” a best foreign language nominee by Cambodian director Rithy Panh, has arrived in Washington area theaters or on demand. And “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which had been playing here since Christmas, recently left theaters. (Technically, it’s just the U2 song “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela” that has been nominated. And you can quickly and easily listen to that online.)

As for the rest, you’ll have to get cracking. Start with “American Hustle,” “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave,” which between them have 29 nominations. If you’ve been staying on top of things, your job is a lot easier. Two Oscar-nominated films just hit theaters this week: “The Wind Rises,” an animated feature by Japanese great Hayao Miyazaki, and the Palestinian-made drama “Omar.”

Where to find the movies

AMC Best Picture Showcase

The nine best picture nominees will be presented in two installments: Saturday and March 1 at noon, at Hoffman Center (Alexandria), Potomac Mills (Woodbridge) and Rio Cinemas (Gaithersburg). Tickets to Saturday’s showcase, which includes “Philomena,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “12 Years a Slave,” are $30. Tickets to the March 1 showcase, which includes “Nebraska,” “Captain Phillips,” “Her,” “American Hustle” and “Gravity,” are $40. Discounted two-day passes are available for $60.

The nine-movie marathon takes place at AMC’s Georgetown theater on March 1 beginning at 10 a.m. Tickets are $60. All passes are available at www.amctheatres.com or at theater box offices.

According to AMC’s Ryan Noonan, all showcases include regular bathroom and food breaks between screenings. No outside food is permitted, and tickets to screenings that are part of the showcase will not be sold separately.

10th Annual Showcase of Academy Award-Nominated Documentaries and Short Subjects

The National Archives’ schedule includes “20 Feet From Stardom” (Wednesday at 7 p.m.); “The Act of Killing” (Thursday at 7 p.m.); “The Square” (Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.); “Dirty Wars” (March 1 at 7 p.m.); and “Cutie and the Boxer” (March 2 at
4 p.m.). The live action shorts showcase screens March 1 at noon; animated shorts March 1 at 3:30 p.m.; and documentary shorts March 2 at 11 a.m.

Tickets are free and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning an hour before showtimes, at the Archives’ special events entrance on Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Ninth streets NW.

For more information, visit www.archives.gov.

Tips for newbies:

From Pamela Nash, an amateur filmmaker who regularly attends the Archives’ showcase.

Arrive two hours before showtime to ensure you get a ticket. The screenings inevitably sell out.

Dress warmly. You’ll be waiting outdoors, and as Nash cautions, “it’s always colder than you think.”

If you’re meeting friends, do not rendezvous at Starbucks at Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue NW. “There will be 100 people waiting in line at that shop,” Nash says.

If you arrive late as part of a group, you will not be allowed to wait in line with your friends. Go to the end of the line, and trust that you will be reunited with your party when you get inside the theater.

 
Read what others are saying