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24 Hours of Oscars … and a grouch

Today’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

24 Hours of Oscars … and a grouch

The WISCH LIST

March 3, 2012

For 83 years, Hollywood’s stars have slapped each other’s backs and celebrated film at The Academy Awards. Last weekend, I spent almost that long sitting inside a theater doing the same.

Well, OK, not really. I didn’t slap anyone’s back.

But I did spend nearly 24 hours celebrating movies inside AMC River East 21 in downtown Chicago for the theater’s annual Best Picture Showcase. And, really, that’s about as long as any human can be expected to sit in the dark without a move to Barrow, Alaska.

Where, each winter, the sun doesn’t rise for two months.

Back in 1929, the first Academy Awards banquet was held with just 270 attendees paying $5 a ticket. Today, about 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences vote each year with secret ballots to honor individuals and groups with merit in film.

The actors and filmmakers who win famously head home from the now nationally televised ceremony with 13.5-inch-tall, 8.5-pound golden Oscar statuettes in tow for their mantles. AMC Theatres says, “The award for Best Picture is arguably the most coveted of the year.”

As a result, for the past few years on Oscars weekend at select theaters nationwide, AMC’s Best Picture Showcase has given die-hard movie buffs an opportunity to watch all of the Oscar-nominated films – in a row – so they can suitably critique the field during Sunday night’s ceremony.

That is, if they’re still awake for it.

In January, my filmophile buddy Rob, a veteran of the Best Picture Showcase, invited me to run this movie ultra-marathon with him. Always a sucker for a unique experience, I agreed and purchased a my $60 ticket at amctheatres.com, which really was quite a deal for nine movies, especially considering it also included a $10 food voucher.

The event otherwise known as “24 Hours of Oscars” turned out to be a bit of a misnomer, as it didn’t last quite 24 hours (it was more like 22). However, in between my 9:15 a.m. departure on Saturday to secure a seat for the showcase’s 11 a.m. kickoff and my return home at 9:15 a.m. Sunday, an entire calendar day did indeed pass.

After which, I promptly passed out.

Surrounded by people armed with pillows, blankets and pajamas, Rob and I started our day at the movies (literally) with “Hugo” (in 3D) at 11 a.m., followed by the “The Tree of Life” at 1:20 p.m. and “The Help” at 3:55 p.m.

After an hour-long dinner break, the event resumed at 7:20 p.m. with “The Artist” and continued on through “The Descendants” at 9:20 p.m., “Midnight in Paris” at 11:30 p.m., “War Horse” at 1:20 a.m., “Moneyball” at 4 a.m. and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” at 6:20 a.m.

With 15-minute intermissions in between each film, I ran strong through the first seven, before hitting a wall about midway through “Moneyball,” which I’d already seen. Sometime around 4:45 a.m. or so, I dozed off and then managed to also sleep through most of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” despite its noisy name.

Long before that, however, I’d already decided that “Midnight in Paris” was my favorite movie of 2012, but that “The Artist” was indeed the year’s Best Picture.

What surprised me the most about this marathon, which I would recommend in 2013 for film aficionados, was how quickly the time actually passed – well, except during Terrence Malick’s utterly nonsensical “The Tree of Life.” Meanwhile, what amused me the most was listening to the 20-something kid seated near me gripe about all the movies that should have been nominated this year.

But, hey, what are the Oscars without a grouch?