Every January, as the arrival of tax documents points us toward April 15, my wife senses another looming deadline, one that ultimately means a lot more to her. The Oscars will be on TV soon, leaving little time to see the movies in contention.
With the Academy Awards as with the Super Bowl, my wife doesn’t see much point in watching unless you have someone to root for. Which is why, before the red carpet rolls, she begins making a list of films she wants to screen at the neighborhood cineplex. Her goal: Catch at least a handful of performances so she’ll have a stake in the outcome when the trophies are handed out.
In an earlier life as a film critic, I went to the movies up to three times a week, a lifestyle that might sound enviable until you try it a couple of years. It’s a way of life that recalls the old joke about dating a nymphomaniac — possibly fun for two weeks, but subject to boredom beyond that.
The problem with continual visits to the matinee, as any casual observer of Hollywood quickly discovers, is that quantity rarely yields to quality. Truly good movies are rare, which is one reason that people look for seals of approval like the Oscars.
Academy officials sparked criticism this year because there are no black nominees in major categories, despite several performances by black actors and actresses that seemed Oscar-worthy.
If it’s true that the Oscars don’t reflect the racial realities of the country, it’s also true that Hollywood and reality have seldom kept close company.
I’m a middle-aged husband and father whose major hurdles are an expanding waistline and the exploding cost of college, and I don’t see my life reflected very much in the Hollywood culture, either.
These days, I make it to the movies about three times a year. My most recent trip happened a few weeks ago, when my 15-year-old son and I were on family business in Houston, found ourselves with a morning to kill, and decided to watch “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at a theater near the hotel.
As the previews rolled, I remembered a summer evening in 1977 when I was 13 and my older brother, who was dating the woman he’d eventually marry, asked if I’d like to accompany them to the first “Star Wars” — a memorable experience in my movie-going life.
Much has changed since that first “Star Wars” and the latest one. The frenetic battle scenes of the franchise won’t be as impressive to my son’s generation, raised on video games that serve up speed and daring as standard fare.
The staying power of “Star Wars” rests in its performances, the magic that happens when authentic characters connect. That’s what I’ll be looking for as my wife takes me to the movies this month, intent on sampling as many Oscar hopefuls as she can.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.