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If you still haven't seen all the Oscar-nominated films, you're not alone. I still haven't seen a number of them, and I have less excuse than most people. After all, I live in a city in which pretty much every nominee has played. Some major contenders I haven't gotten around to -- with little reason for not -- include Atonement, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Into the Wild, all of which are still in theaters and are probably best to see on the big screen.
Apparently, at least according to Variety, a lot of people are seeing the Oscar nominees on the big screen compared to in previous (recent) years, as cumulatively the five Best Picture contenders have seen a significant bump at the box office since the nominations were announced. I would be extremely excited if I didn't believe the truth is that Juno's tremendous success has elevated the Best Picture box office average. The comedy is showing on far more screens, is much more accessible to a wide audience and has so far earned twice as much money domestically as the next highest-grossing Best Picture nominee. Variety also this week had published a story about how Juno is the one movie that may save the Oscar telecast's ratings, since it's the one movie people have actually been able to or bothered to see. One thing I will note, though, is that Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton came out on DVD this past Tuesday and yet there was still a significant number of people seeing it in theaters through the week. Additionally, I would be interested to know how many people took advantage of yesterday's AMC Theatres-hosted Best Picture marathon.
This week I finally saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which is nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor (despite Casey Affleck's appearance in nearly every scene), but unfortunately I watched it on DVD. This was probably the one nominee that I wished had received a post-nomination-announcement re-release, but alas it did not. When it was in theaters, though, it played in the one cinema in all of New York City that I refuse to go to, at least for films like this, because the projection and small screen do little justice to beautiful cinematography and expansive landscapes. However, I probably should have just weathered that experience, because it is more difficult, in my opinion, to view a two-and-three-quarter-hour movie with the comforts and distractions of a living room. As much as I loved most of The Assassination of Jesse James, I think I would have loved it and appreciated it more had I seen it on an appropriately sized screen.
But perhaps I wouldn't have had that great an experience had I seen it in a theater in the last week prior to the Oscar ceremony. I came to realize these past seven days leading up to the ceremony that this is a terrible time for serious moviegoers and film lovers to take in an Oscar-nominated picture. Maybe I had an isolated experience, but I went to see There Will Be Blood for a second time early last week and while I enjoyed the film even more than I had the first time, I could tell that many in the audience were not having as good a time. And it nearly threw off my enjoyment.
I caught sight of one person in my row who was slouched down, frowning and folding her arms, obviously bored and/or angry, throughout much of the screening. At the end, she got up and unsurprisingly expressed loudly that she had hated it (by the way, she was one of my companions -- not that it matters, she could have been anyone, though it did make our post-show discussion more interesting). At different times during the film, I looked back behind me to see how other audience members were responding (yes, I love moviegoing so much that I like to watch the people almost as much as I like watching the movies themselves). It wasn't too noticeable that any of them were necessarily having a bad time, but there was a feeling I got from the crowd as a whole. It was an uncomfortable feeling where during the first hour of the film the silence of the audience seemed more awkward, and the laughter that came during the rest of the film also seemed to stem from that same awkwardness.
I figure that in much of the country this isn't as big a problem. There Will Be Blood and the other Best Picture nominees may be new to your area and so most of the audience could be excited about finally being able to see these films. Where I saw There Will Be Blood was the same place I saw it months ago, in a city where it has been available since late December. I believe many of the people in the audience during my first viewing really wanted to see the movie and were excited while watching it, even if they conclusively disliked it. And I believe that many of the people in the audience during my second viewing were kind of dragging their feet to see the movie, ultimately deciding to bite the bullet prior to the Oscar ceremony so they wouldn't be completely in the dark during the broadcast.
Of course, in those other parts of the country where they're finally being exposed to great movies like There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, there is likely the same sort of feet-draggers. And there is likely in those parts the same sort of boredom and disappointment going on this week. I'll admit that I was disappointed with one or more parts of each of the nominated films, primarily because they were so built up, even as early in the game as I saw them. I know that feeling well of seeing something that's so favorably talked about that it can't possibly live up to its buzz. At this point in time, anybody seeing No Country for Old Men for the first time is fairly apt to say that often uttered, "Yeah, it was good, but not that good." As for anybody just seeing Juno for the first time, they may actually be utterly confused as to why it's up for Best Picture. None of this is to say either film is bad; they just may not live up to the hype for a lot of people, and may therefore be met with that uncomfortable and awkward atmosphere being felt in theaters this past week.