Friday, January 23, 2009

The Oscar Nominees

There was a time in my life when I could watch the Academy Awards with the knowledge that I had seen every nominee for Best Picture, and I had very definite ideas about which one should win.

That was long ago, when I was a teenager. For a variety of reasons — I had more disposable income, I had more free time, the quality of the movies seemed better — I was able to do that.

Yesterday, the nominees for the 2008 Oscars were announced. Certainly, I've heard of the titles of films like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Doubt," "Frost/Nixon" and "Milk." And I remember seeing David Frost's interview with Richard Nixon when it was televised in the late 1970s.

But the only movie I've seen at the theater in recent months is "Gran Torino" — which I highly recommend to everyone, by the way.

So I don't really feel qualified to make any personal judgments about which film should win. This year, like most recent years, I probably won't watch the Oscars on TV — or much of it, anyway.

But it gives me the opportunity to remind my readers of an annual event that will be coming up on Turner Classic Movies in February and continuing through the first three days of March. It's called "31 Days of Oscar." During these 31 days, TCM shows only films that have been nominated for Oscars, usually subdividing them into appropriate groups, like "Best Actor" nominees or "Best Supporting Actress" nominees — or "Best Picture" nominees. Actual winners have been separated from the others and shown during prime time.

When TCM began this month-long filmfest, the Oscars were still being presented in March, so TCM held it exclusively in March. Then the Oscars moved to February, and TCM had to adapt. February usually only has 28 days (although it has 29 in Leap Years) so TCM couldn't use the same name unless it ran over into the next month.

By starting the festival in February, TCM finds itself competing with the Super Bowl, which has been held the first Sunday in February in recent years. As a result, the film festival this year will begin on Super Bowl Sunday.

But there are some excellent films scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday. One of my personal favorites, "The Sunshine Boys" starring Walter Matthau and George Burns, will be airing at 8 a.m. (Eastern) that day. And another personal favorite, "Network" — which is famous for Peter Finch's "I'm as mad as hell ..." rant — will be shown at 12:15 a.m. (Eastern) that evening.

TCM also seems to have changed the daily themes this year to ones that have a more scholastic sound to them.

For example, the theme on Super Bowl Sunday is "Contemporary Issues in Mass Media." The next day's theme is "Personal Financial Management." The next day, it will be "Urban Housing." The day after that, the theme will be "Early 20th Century American Songwriters," which, naturally, focuses on biographies of songwriters like Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

The day after that, the theme is "Reproductive Biology," and it features some films that were considered a bit risqué at the time they were released — like "Carnal Knowledge" and "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice."

Other themes during the festival will be "Nuclear Physics," "Reach and Influence of Nazi Germany" (which, in my opinion, ought to include "Judgment at Nuremberg"), "Urban Ethnic Cultures," "Principles of Animal Behavior," "Fashion Photography," and "Intro to Choreography."

I think some of the more intriguing themes are "Race, Gender and Ethnicity," which is the theme for Valentine's Day, "The Pacific Campaign in WW2" (which, inexplicably, includes the showing of "Gone With the Wind") and "Neuro Disorders & Diseases of the Brain," which will include the airings of "Awakenings" and "My Left Foot."

But, really, if you enjoy good movies, you'll find something good to watch every day during the "31 Days of Oscar." I recommend it to family and friends every year.