What inspires someone to sit through all nine Best Picture nominees in a 24-hour period? The same reason people climb Mt. Everest: Because AMC Theatres put it there. Wait, that's not right... Well, whatever the reason, this intrepid writer joined a large group of passionate Oscar enthusiasts at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square on the day before the Academy Awards in order to accomplish this incredible feat of human endurance.
Here is the journal of my experience…
9:20 a.m. I arrive at the AMC Empire 25 to discover that a large number of people got here a while ago. Conversations around me reveal that a lot of these folks have done the 24-hour marathon for the last several years in a row. Will this marathon make me a convert?
9:30 a.m. Joe the theater manager introduces himself to the crowd and reminds us of the year's cinematic achievements, noting that "Best of all, 'Twilight' ended." Nice one, Joe!
9:45 a.m. Joe does some Oscar trivia, and I quickly realize that people are really bad at Oscar trivia. Not everyone can be the mighty Joe Reid, but people missed some pretty easy questions ("Which three films won the most Oscars?" "Name one foreign language film that was nominated for Best Picture"). Amateur hour, McG.
9:55 a.m. Jerry - another theater employee - comes out to introduce the first film and provide a little context. We're kicking this party off with… "Amour."
12:10 p.m. "Amour" is actually funnier than I remember. I think the first time you have to acclimate yourself to the rather bleak situation in the film, but once you get used to it, you can find the humor. Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are both excellent of course, but the pigeon's performance ranks a close third. The film is definitely a downbeat way to kick things off, but really where else could they have put it? Best to get it out of the way early.
12:15 p.m. We have a very quick break before "Lincoln" starts at 12:20, so my viewing partner Monica and I break open the first of our snacks: Skittles and Mike & Ike's. She is perplexed at why the "Ike" in Mike & Ike's is crossed off, and I explain that it is a marketing thing. Joe and Jerry say a few more words, and "Lincoln" begins.
2:50 p.m. I decide that David Strathairn bears a striking resemblance to Sam the Eagle from "The Muppets." I also begin to form random connections between the Best Picture nominees. For instance, both "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Lincoln" feature protagonists who sit out what can probably be considered the climaxes of their respective films. Maya and Abe simply put the pieces into play and hope everything works out for them. It's an interesting tactic that few directors could pull off as well as Kathryn Bigelow and Steven Spielberg.
3:00 p.m. There is a longer break between films this time, so Monica and I get some popcorn and Icees before "Argo." We get the large popcorn, thinking we may actually use the refill, for once.
3:15 p.m. Jerry informs us that Ben Affleck shot "Argo" using different kinds of film for different locations to give them each a unique feel. I did not know that. Thanks, Jerry!
5:20 p.m. I noticed there's quite a bit of "that guy" actor crossover in the Best Picture nominees. Walton Goggins is in both "Django Unchained" and "Lincoln." Kyle Chandler and Christopher Stanley are both in "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty." Michael Parks is in "Argo" and "Django Unchained." There are probably more that I didn't notice as well. While I wouldn't say "Argo" is my favorite of the Best Picture nominees, I can't help but admit it's quite the crowd pleaser. Both times I've seen it, the film has received a lot of random applause. What can I say? Bravo, Ben Affleck.
5:30 p.m. Jerry introduces the longest film on the slate, "Django Unchained." The next ten hours will be some of the toughest, as we face the three longest Best Picture nominees all in a row.
8:20 p.m. I can't help but think that Jamie Foxx's hair early in Django is reminiscent of Quvenzhané Wallis' in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Another connection? Also, "Django" seems to be the most divisive of the Best Picture nominees in my experience. Monica doesn't care for its handling of violence, while other audience members express their feelings that it's too cartoony. I'll admit it can feel a little long in the back stretch, but I'm still a "Django" fan.
8:30 p.m. We get an hour-long break between "Django" and "Les Miz" so Monica and I exit the theater for dinner at Chipotle. We have lanyards to get in and out of the theater at any time, so that's pretty nifty. We also get cupcakes at Crumbs Bake Shop, one of which has a little Oscar statue cookie on top.
9:20 p.m. We arrive back in our seats shortly before "Les Miz," and Joe is once again doing trivia. The format's changed from a group of people standing in line answering questions to polling the entire audience. I correctly answer that "Driving Miss Daisy" was the last film to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination, and I receive an "Argo" hat as a reward. Go figure.
9:30 p.m. "Les Mis" is about to start. I look at my Junior Mints and I wonder aloud: "Are there senior mints?"
12:10 a.m. We cross the halfway point with "Les Misérables" and fatigue has officially begun to set in. I ponder if the more "misérable" the character, the more intense the British accent. Gavroche seems to have the thickest Cockney accent going on, and he is the worst. While I don't think "Les Miz" will win the Best Picture prize (nor does it necessarily deserve to), I still think it would probably be more enjoyable to pop in at home on a weekend than "Amour." I guess if I want to be entertained, I'd rather my dying people be singing.
12:30 a.m. Cleverly enough, "Zero Dark Thirty" is set to start at 00:30.
3:10 a.m. Suddenly, it's after 3 a.m., that bizarre period of the day that's not really night or morning. While I'm a "Zero Dark Thirty" fan, this was a tough sit. Jessica Chastain is usually riveting, but I'm finding it hard to keep my eyes open now and then. Monica passes out during the film for a good twenty minutes, in spite of the fact that the volume in the theater is insanely loud. I attempt to load myself up with more sugar, but it's not super effective. Luckily, the bin Laden takedown manages to keep me up and, before I know it, the movie's over with "Life of Pi" set to begin in less than twenty minutes.
3:15 a.m. Jerry returns to announce that he has seen "Life of Pi" 12 times because he has had to check the print for various guilds and events. The man is a warrior.
5:30 a.m. It's during "Life of Pi" that I have my first film-induced loss of reality. Somewhere near three quarters of the way through the film, Pi starts hallucinating as I begin to fall out of consciousness. I lose track of whether I'm dreaming, Pi's dreaming or if Pi is dreaming what I am dreaming. Soon, Pi is shouting to God in a thunderstorm, and I too wonder if God is in the theater punishing us for some unknown reason. I become overwhelmed with emotion, and feel the urge to shake my fist at the ceiling. But then I snap back to reality and Pi is back on screen where he belongs.
5:35 a.m. Joe announces that Jerry fell asleep, so he has no introduction for "Silver Linings Playbook."
5:37 a.m. I miss Jerry.
7:40 a.m. – "Silver Linings Playbook" holds my attention surprisingly well for 6 in the morning. Maybe it's the excellent performances by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the smart, funny script, or the half of a 5-Hour Energy I chugged before the film, but it keeps me awake. I think I liked "Silver Linings" a little bit more on my second viewing, though I was stunned by the lack of the Lumineers' "Ho Hey" which has been featured in so many commercials for the film that I assumed it must have been in there at some point.
7:45 a.m. The theater provides free coffee and donuts for all of us, since we've made it so far I guess. It's a very thoughtful gesture. Thanks AMC!
7:50 a.m. We did not use the large popcorn refill.
8:00 a.m. Jerry's back to introduce the final film, "Beasts of the Southern Wild." He admits to having run out of material at this point, but I'm just happy to see that he's still alive.
9:40 a.m. I know I watched "Beasts of the Southern Wild," since I remember sitting there, but my brain definitely checked out for lengthy stretches of the film. I enjoyed "Beasts" a lot the first time I saw it last summer, but watching it after eight other films really does it no favors. And yet, in spite of this, I found myself relating to little Hushpuppy. In the same way that she faced down those giant Aurochs, me and my fellow audience members faced down nine separate films of varying lengths and quality all for the sake of saying we did it. Some people were seeing films for the first time; but others like me were just there for the experience. To those braver than I who have made this an annual tradition, I give you props. One 24-hour marathon feels like enough for me, though you can never say never I suppose. Yet as we stumbled out of the theater into the blinding sunlight on 42nd Street like extras from "The Walking Dead," I felt a kinship with these folk. We may never all meet again, but we shared something special that we will always remember.
We are the Beasts of the AMC Empire 25. And we are very tired.
P.S. Thanks to Joe, Jerry and the rest of the staff of the AMC Empire 25. You guys rock.