I’ve been waiting years to write those very words. After countless long nights and many trapped-in snow days, it is done. I spent hours and hours with Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert, Vivien Leigh, and more. I visited almost all of the wars in history, I took part in Manifest Destiny, I bowed to royalty in ancient China. This is the end of my Epic Film Quest, Jim Morrison, and now I can claim to have seen every single Best Picture in the history of the Academy Awards. 88 films. 208.5 hours. 9 full days’ worth of content.
Watching the best of the best (and worst of the best) can be extremely rewarding, as I’ve outlined in the various posts here, but it can also be a struggle and a half. I think it’s sort of human nature: when you have to do something, like say watch a nearly 4-hour movie about a guy named Lawrence’s experience in the Arabian peninsula during World War I, you tend to watch it with different glasses on. It can be hard to connect when you’re forcing yourself to do it, like mandatory fun. Most of the time, though, I enjoyed the culture I inhaled over the course of this marathon. But it’s like fording the river in The Oregon Trail. You take a chance and commit like the badass you are, but sometimes you end up drowning in a raging African river while Meryl Streep mocks you. Can’t win ’em all.
Just as it’s incredibly gratifying to view these films in the context of the past—to learn from them, soak up the culture, feel what it’s like to exist in that time period—Lawrence of Arabia, the last movie on my quest, socked me with quite the opposite. In one scene, American war correspondent Jackson Bentley tells Prince Faisal, “We Americans were once a Colonial people and we naturally feel sympathetic to any people anywhere who are struggling for their freedom.” I felt all sorts of defeat from that line, knowing that our nation has taken a complete 180-degree turn, and is now actively working against everything that makes the US of A “great.” I wish I currently had that confidence, that passion in my country. The sweeping enthrallment that Bentley has with our country is admirable, but that line sucker-punched me as I compared it to our currently chaotic political landscape.
If you think watching every Best Picture winner is something you might want to
torture yourself with do…I’d give you the following advice:
1. Join a library with a bomb-ass DVD collection. Our streaming world is fantastic, as is the availability of thousands of titles at our disposal, but I can guarantee you when you get to the thick of it, you’re going to need to source some physical product elsewhere. Without two libraries on hand, I would’ve either spent a lot of money buying/renting or I would’ve given up. So find a sexy librarian and cozy up with him/her in the stacks. (That sounds scandalous!)
2. Spread out your viewings, but not too far apart. This quest took me way longer than it should have. Why? Because You’re the Worst keeps melting my face and my heart, because Survivor and Big Brother happen every single year, because I had to re-watch Dollhouse and lead panel discussions (with my cats) about how it’s truly a predecessor of Westworld. And because I’m just a person.
I watch a lot of things, probably more than most, so interspersing black and white films from the 30’s grew to be a challenge. It’s like knowing you should eat your vegetables, but really, you just want to snort some candy after a trip to your favorite wings joint. Take some time to enjoy your favorite guilty pleasures, stay current with what’s fresh on TV and in the theater, but stay committed, too.
3. Watch the longest movies first—like Lawrence of Arabia, Gone With the Wind, Schindler’s List, etc. I left some movies for the very end that were over three and four hours long. This was stupid. (I’m a really stupid dummy.) Tackle these behemoths in the beginning when you’re super gung-ho and have the patience for them. If you leave them for last, you’ll be a sad panda, and you’ll really be wearing yourself thin trying to eat ’em up.
4. Find a buddy who wants to get down on (some of) the action. Forcing my friends and lady to watch some of these with me gave viewings a refreshed feel—or at least encouraged me to power through. I did a lot of cooking and drinking throughout some of them (shouts to Zoe), so find a friend who gives half of a fuck and invite them along for a few stops on the ride. (Seriously. Just half of a fuck needed! Entice them with alcohol to double your pleasure and double your fun!)
5. I wanted to make this a 5-point list, but I don’t really have a 5th tip.
And so it ends, like everything, everywhere. What now? Time to hit up some classics that weren’t winners of the grand prize. Films like Sunset Boulevard, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cleopatra, Caligula, North by Northwest, Singin’ in the Rain, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and every other movie Bette Davis has ever done. Without the feeling like I “have to” watch them, I feel motivated to continue watching classics, but with a little more freedom, a little more skip to my step, a little more wiggle room. I’ll always love classic Hollywood tales. I love what each decade brought to cinema, the 50’s, 60’s, and beyond. Watching how production techniques changed, how dialogue adapted and how dramatic flair heightened as time went on made me appreciate the art of cinema even that much more. I’m in awe of all the energy, time and effort that went into creating these masterpieces, and it was incredibly rewarding to watch these films, and later, to contrast and compare.
Being a true film fan is never-ending; my watch list will never, ever diminish, no matter how much couch time I put in. But in between new episodes of Brooklyn-Nine-Nine and witty Coulson-isms from Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, I’ll be sure to spend more time with Gene Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock and the Hepburns. Not before a decent break though. I need a few fresh jaunts in the here and now. I need to finish Black Mirror and maybe check out John Wick. I also need to watch that damn Alia Shawkat show everyone’s all riled up about.
But I’ll be back. I can’t quit you, Oscar noms. We’ll always have Paris. This isn’t a goodbye to the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond. It’s just a see you later.