Idon’t know why I do this to myself every year. When February rolls around it’s always the same mad scramble. The daily visits to Hastings, overpaying for popcorn at the local cinema, and even trekking to Little Rock in search of second-run matinees. There are long nights and way too many credit reels. Yes, once a year I try to pack 12 months’ worth of movie-going into a few short weeks, racing to get up-to-speed on Hollywood before the Oscars.
In a classic episode of “Seinfeld,” Elaine has given a fake phone number to a would-be suitor, just to get rid of him. But to her dismay, she realizes the paper she wrote the number on was her punch card for Atomic Subs. Only one punch away from a free sandwich, she goes through an elaborate scheme to get the card back. Jerry mocks her absurd effort, but she explains that she’s eaten 23 lousy subs to get that free one, and she’s not throwing it all away.
Jerry then slyly asks, “Is there a Captain’s hat involved in this?” Elaine looks down and mumbles, “Maybe.”
The Academy Awards are my Atomic Sub. I don’t like half the movies I make myself watch. They seem to get stranger and bloodier and more preachy every year. But every nominated film I see gets me one punch closer to having seen them all. And what does that get me? A better understanding of American cinema? A finger on the pulse of last year’s best films? No, what I really want is a shot at understanding all the in-jokes during the Oscars.
So when Jonah Hill showed up at the Golden Globes in January wearing a bear costume, I was clueless. But last week I sat through all two hours of Leo DiCaprio crawling half-dead in the snow after being mauled twice by a grizzly. It was one bleak and horrifying scene after another. I didn’t sleep well for two days. But now I totally get Jonah’s gag.
Too shallow, you say? Surely you realize that very few people see movies or read books or watch TV series just for the event itself anymore. It’s all about understanding the late-night show references and Internet memes later. Why else would I have been mired up to my knees in Tom Hardy films all month? Because Stephen Colbert might do a bit on them.
Last Saturday, I put myself through the winding maze of downtown Little Rock to see two films in one night at the Riverdale 10. In retrospect, it may not have been good for morale to watch “Spotlight” and “The Big Short” both at the same time. One deals with the Boston priest abuse scandal, while the other exposes the fraudulent banking practices that collapsed the housing market in ’08. It was a rather dispiriting midnight ride home to Searcy afterwards.
The low point of last week, though, may have been my four-day “Mad Max” marathon. Friends told me I didn’t need to see the original three Mel Gibson films from the 1980s in order to understand “Fury Road.” But I am an academic. We have to try to understand things in context in case we have to explain it later. It’s why people pass us by in the hallway without making eye-contact. Anyway, after binge-watching the “Road Warrior,” I feel like I’ve been to a week-long monster truck rally in the mud. Complete with a flame-throwing guitar. Seriously.
But it hasn’t been all scandal and bears and post-apocalyptic gloom. There was, after all, “Shaun the Sheep,” the stop-motion animated film that follows a family of wooly animals who escape the farm for a vacation. On the lamb, so to speak, they had a grand time. Anyway, I also liked “Bridge of Spies” and “The Martian,” now that I know that if I’m ever stranded forever on Mars, I can grow potatoes and Skype with my friends.
So when the Oscars ceremony airs Feb. 28, I’m sure I’ll be ready for all the jokes. That is, if I can finish all 18 Rocky movies in time to catch “Creed.”