The Scene Goes On and On and On . . .

Manager Toan Tran staffs a table at AMC Rio Cinemas 18 in Gaithersburg, one of several movie houses that showed the five Best Picture nominees Saturday.
Manager Toan Tran staffs a table at AMC Rio Cinemas 18 in Gaithersburg, one of several movie houses that showed the five Best Picture nominees Saturday. (Photos By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 25, 2007

And the award for Most Painful Best Picture Screening goes to: AMC Theatres. Yes, you tried to make us comfortable with your squishy chairs, unlimited soda and popcorn and fun Oscar-trivia quizzes between films. But 12 straight hours of movies is enough to make even the most devoted film fan pop a sprocket.

At about 80 cinemas across the country yesterday, people paid $30 each to watch all five Best Picture nominees in advance of tonight's Academy Awards ceremony: in order, "Babel," "The Queen," "The Departed," "Letters From Iwo Jima" and "Little Miss Sunshine."

The AMC Best Picture Showcase, it turns out, is an event not to be enjoyed but endured.

The chain's theaters in Alexandria, Gaithersburg, Tysons Corner and Woodbridge participated, and the screenings ran from 11 a.m. till about 11:30 p.m. (The theater scheduled 15 minutes between screenings and a half-hour dinner break, and patrons wore souvenir passes that allowed them to come and go freely.)

Of the 80 or so people who attended the event at Rio Cinemas 18 in Gaithersburg, many of them had similar reasons for being drawn to the Oscar-thon:

"I'm a little bit of a movie freak," said Gabriella Serrado, 24, of Gaithersburg.

"I'm a film major at Towson University," said Kaya Savas, 19, of Bethesda.

"I'm a film geek," said R.J. Nickels, 34, of Silver Spring.

Nickels wouldn't even use the restroom during the films for fear of missing something -- a commitment made more difficult considering he planned to "drink as much soda as my bladder allows." He cut himself off after two bags of popcorn.

Nickels invited a couple of friends to come with him, but they declined. "I could think of nobody else that would do this," he said.

So what's it like to endure a morning-to-near-midnight Oscar cram session? Let's roll tape:

11 a.m. "Babel" starts. Nothing like a little Brad Pitt and Gael Garcia Bernal to perk up a morning.

12:15 p.m. Lunchtime. Turns out you can bring your own food into any AMC movie theater, any time, "as long as it doesn't disturb the other guests," says Sun Dee Larson, an AMC spokesperson. This is huge news. All that paranoia for nothing! No more purses bulging with contraband candy or fearing the teenager at the ticket stand! I eat my sandwich with a newfound confidence.

1:35 p.m. Trivia contest. Out of the five questions, I know the answer to only one, and some woman in the back raises her hand first and gets a free "Babel" poster. Hmph.

3:22 p.m. Audio goes on the fritz during "The Queen," and Helen Mirren sounds like the electro-chirpy "Star Wars" robot R2-D2. Squirm in my seat and look to see if anyone is getting up to tell a manager. Everyone else is doing the same thing.

3:26 p.m. Sound fixed. "A good walk and fresh air sorts everything out," says the Queen. Movement and fresh air. Lucky.

3:30 p.m. Stretch break. Denise Clark is standing up to get the circulation going in her legs. "It's like being on a long flight," she says. Laurie Augustino, here with her husband and daughter, turns to Clark and commiserates: "I think it's hardest on the knees."

3:50 p.m. Feels jarring to go from "The Queen" to "The Departed." Gunplay and naughty words make me want to go back to Buckingham Palace, even if it is repressed. Sun Dee Larson, the AMC spokesperson, says the company chose the order of the films based on the "genre, run time, potential demand and scheduled breaks." My guess: They gave us the most complicated, "Babel," in the beginning when we were fresh. They saved the most lighthearted, "Little Miss Sunshine," for the end when we'll be begging for mercy.

5:37 p.m. Cooler empty except for a PowerBar.

6:15 p.m. "The Departed" is over; time for a dinner break. Eating greasy chicken tenders out of a paper cup. Have to be here for five more hours.

6:56 p.m. Back to the lair for another round of trivia. Who is the youngest actor to win Best Supporting Actor? Someone actually guesses Macaulay Culkin. Scoffs all around. The answer is Timothy Hutton for 1980's "Ordinary People."

7:45 p.m. Sorry, Mr. Eastwood -- nodded off during "Letters From Iwo Jima." It's not you, it's me.

9:45 p.m. Last movie, "Little Miss Sunshine." Even cute-as-pie Abigail Breslin can't keep me from checking my watch every 20 minutes.

11:30 p.m. Car. Home. Sleep.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company