NEW YORK – There’s a fever spreading across the land. It’s Oscar fever, with a reasonably short incubation period but symptoms that turn otherwise rational film buffs into bingeing maniacs. In a good way!
Between Jan. 15, when Academy Award nominations were announced, and Feb. 22 – the movie industry’s big night – sufferers flock to theaters, beg screening DVDs from voting Screen Actors Guild members and trek to marathons to see as many contenders as possible in one stretch.
Actor-filmmaker Asher Grodman in Los Angeles gets it. He’s the 27-year-old son of film fans and counts himself among the Oscar-obsessed, squeezing in all he can as soon as nominations are announced to watch and learn but also because of the pull of tradition.
“I’m about halfway through the best picture nominees right now,” he said. “My parents, they took me to see ‘Schindler’s List' and ‘Traffic' when I was, like, 11, when I was a little too young. That probably should not have happened, but you go and see these films in theaters and your parents are moved by them and it sort of does something to you.”
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AMC theaters is oh-so onboard. For the ninth year, the country’s No. 2 chain on Feb. 21 – the day before Oscars night – will host 24-hour marathons for best-picture contenders in six busy movie markets around the country: Los Angeles; Kansas City, Kansas; Dallas; Chicago; New York; and the District of Columbia.
This year, there’s a twist. The company is partnering with the crowdfunding site Tilt to help people elsewhere whip up enough interest in their areas for one of the in-theater marathons by reserving tickets ahead of time and spreading the word. If 100 people sign up, AMC will oblige, company spokesman Ryan Noonan said.
What’s up with the mentality? Is it mass hysteria?
“They’re fanatical. I think there’s a genuine excitement and enthusiasm that occurs when the nominations come out,” said Noonan, at AMC headquarters in Leawood, Kansas. “This gives them the opportunity to not only go see all these movies at once but to be surrounded by people who are there for the same reason.”
Technically, the 24-hour events that cost $55 to $65 – and held the day before awards night – are more like 20-hour events due to the lengths of all eight best-picture contenders this year, along with necessary rest breaks.
“We get a lot of repeat attendees, people who know they’re going to block the day out and show up at the theater at 10 a.m. with some blankets and some pillows. They spend 35 minutes between movies talking about what they loved and what could have been better,” Noonan said.
Not everyone is cut out for the life of a movie marathoner.
“You see people dozing off or sneaking away for a couple of hours before the finish,” he said.
Robin Gustafsson, who manages the dining room of a New York City restaurant, is the Oscar party hostess with the mostess. She puts together a pool for the big bash she has hosted each year for more than a decade, complete with a red carpet leading from her apartment front door to her living room.
Her mom serves as picture-snapping paparazzi and the fever manifests this way:
“Once the nominees come out I want to see as many as possible. Although I host the party I really want to win the pool,” she laughed. “I'll see everything. I’m an avid reader, too, so I'll read the book if there is one.”
She’s saving “Still Alice” for Super Bowl Sunday, knowing her husband will be in front of the TV and wouldn’t be interested in it, and because “I’m pretty sure Julianne Moore is going to win.”
For the kiddie movies, Gustafsson borrows the 10-year-old son of a friend for company.
Lisa Craig, 47, who works in communications at the University of Akron in Ohio, is more meticulous when it comes to Oscar math.
“On the morning of announcements, I print out a complete list and immediately check off the movies I’ve already seen. Then I search the Internet to see if it’s possible to even see the ones I haven’t. Once I know how many nominated movies I can see, I calculate how many I would have to see each week before the ceremony,” she said.
This year, she needed to average at least three movies per week starting Jan. 15.
“I’ve kept pace so far,” Craig said. “The tough part is going to see a movie I truly have no interest in, but with the nominations I feel I must!”
Her challenges this time around: “Foxcatcher” and “American Sniper.”
Part of her fever is peer pressure, she said. “I’m a pop culture, entertainment fanatic so I want to keep up with conversations with my father or brother or a former colleague or a college professor or a PR pundit I follow on Twitter. I want to be able to express my opinions intelligently.”