Before the Oscar nominations were announced in January, I had seen the following films that would go on to be contenders:
Since then, I’ve watched these nominees:
That leaves me three movies short, and the Oscars are this Sunday.
If I can work out the timing tomorrow, I will drive two hours to spend a day in Cleveland watching foreign film nominees The Insult and A Fantastic Woman. The final nominee in that category, Loveless, is unfortunately out of my reach. The Oscars may not mean anything in the grand scope of things, but this is completely unacceptable.
Everyone knows that an Oscar nomination can increase the revenue of a film by a significant percentage. Studios know this, distributors know this, theater owners know this, promoters know this. It bears out in numbers every single year, and not just for the Best Picture contenders. So why aren’t more people making an effort to get those movies out to the public?
In 2004, I traveled with a dear friend to L.A., just to be in the general vicinity of the awards when they were held on February 29 — a likely once in a lifetime occurrence itself — the same year, in fact just days after, my own 29th birthday. We used our very limited resources and connections to attend every film event we could in the time we were there, which included a symposium with all that year’s directors of the foreign film nominees, an Academy-sponsored event. (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is located on Wilshire and holds many exhibitions and events throughout the year that are open to the public, either for free or for a very low cost. I HIGHLY recommend them to any film lover who’s ever in the Los Angeles area.) One of the directors on panel said quite plainly that the Oscars could make or break their film; a win would mean a guaranteed distribution deal, while losing would mean almost no one would ever see it. But that was 2004. Now there are dozens of ways to see films, and a lot more avenues for filmmakers to get their movies seen, and yet somebody, somewhere is still dropping the ball.
I live in the 15th largest city in America, but not within 400 miles of a venue playing one of the proclaimed best movies of the year. Two others are over 100 miles away. One of those will be playing here soon, but not until after the Oscars. I’ll probably still try to see it, but if it’s not the winner in its category, the urgency to see it will plummet. Dramatically. Not just for me, but for millions of people across the country and around the world.
I’m not the only one who tries to see all the nominated movies each year, not by a long shot. I’m not even the one who came up with the term Oscar Death Race, but rather heard it from someone else over a decade ago in reference to a third person who was doing it. I know of lots of people in New York and L.A., and some in D.C. or Chicago, who make the effort every year, and to be honest it’s a lot easier for them because of the accessibility of the films, but The Wall Street Journal just profiled someone from Ohio who’s been going at it for ten or more years. He travels far and wide to see the movies on his list, spending a huge amount of time and money to do so. I myself was going to use airline points to fly to the coast and see a couple of the elusive ones but I couldn’t make the timing work. But those resources aren’t available to everyone, and movie buffs (or “extremists,” as the article calls us, but don’t get me started on all its ridiculous assertions) don’t just live in New York and L.A. Imagine the number of people who would come out if the films were playing in their backyards.
I’m not saying every podunk town across America should use one of its precious available screens on a transgender love story from Chile (I mean, they should, but that’s not what I’m saying), but certainly the top 25 cities in the country could. Or even the top 25 plus the largest city in each state that doesn’t have one in the top 25. That’s only 59 screens. Think of how many more people would be reached, with minimal effort and promotion. Or reach millions more than that by making the films available to rent or buy on iTunes/Amazon/Google or VOD at least a week before the awards. They’re already screening in certain cities, they’re already making discs or setting up streaming sites for voters to watch the films. Why not let everyone? I swear, I feel like I’m standing at a giant box office screaming, “PLEASE LET ME PAY YOU TO SEE THIS MOVIE,” and nobody’s listening.
Before the winners are announced, every nominee has a cachet of potential energy, and people who like to see them all want to do it before that potential is either realized or fizzles out. They want to make their own calls, they want to win their Oscar pools, they want to argue over the the “wrong” one winning, they want to cheer for their favorite. Once the awards take place, though, all that energy goes away. The winners are enshrined in history and guaranteed to make millions more dollars in revenue for their filmmakers, in this and future ventures. The losers fade away and hope for another shot, but their movies don’t deserve that. They deserve to be seen. And they should be available across the country, so the largest possible number of people can see them. For the love of all that is holy, don’t make me miss my goal again next year.
*When I first posted this, I erroneously credited the Oscar “extremist” profile to the Washington Post. It is obviously the Wall Street Journal. I was very tired this morning.