I have seen every major Oscar-winning movie going back to 1947. By “major” Oscar winner I mean every movie that has won at least one of the following: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor or Supporting Actress.
If you watch movies at all you will have seen many of them too. If you’re over 40 there’s a strong chance that you’ve seen some or all of the following, all of them winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture: “Annie Hall” (1977), “The Deer Hunter” (1978), “Kramer Versus Kramer” (1979), “Chariots of Fire” (1981), Gandhi (1982).
I typed all of those titles and years without having to check them. (I left out “Ordinary People” from 1980 because it feels a bit more obscure than the others.) In 1981, long before we had the internet, I wanted to know which films had won the major Oscars. I found the list in a book about film in my local library. The book was in the Reference section. I couldn’t borrow it so I visited the library many times, read and re-read the list, took notes, and eventually it was committed to memory.
In recent years I have joked that before the internet existed people like me WERE the internet. I was responsible for knowing all the major Oscar winners, UK #1 hit singles between 1970 and 1985 and the films of Robert Bresson, Marlon Brando and Alfred Hitchcock in chronological order. Other people were responsible for memorizing things like FA Cup winners or capital cities.
I used to watch a lot of movies. I worked for a Film Festival. I attended other Film Festivals. I would watch 50 or more movies over the course of 10 days in Cannes. At one point in the 1980s UK cinema attendances slumped to under 60 million tickets sold in a year. That meant that on average every UK resident went to the cinema once a year, and at that rate I was squeezing 50 years’ worth of cinema attendance into a single ten-day stretch. It was binge-watching and I stopped over 20 years ago.
But every few years I have a catch-up and make sure that I am up to date with the big Oscar winners again. I did it in 2003, catching up with movies like “Titanic” (1997), “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) and “Chicago” (2002), but left a few gaps. I did it again in 2009 for the years after 2003, and at the end of 2011, newly subscribed to a “movies by post” service (I’ll give you three guesses which one) I set myself a more ambitious task: to track down and watch all the winners that I hadn’t seen yet from my lifetime (I was born in the 1960s). I got there in the summer of 2013 and have carried on.
I have now seen every major Oscar winner going back to 1947. As far as I know many of the movies I have seen in the last four years have not been broadcast on UK terrestrial TV in the last 35 years. If they had, I would have watched them, or recorded them to watch later. “A Thousand Clowns” (Martin Balsam, Best Supporting Actor, 1965), “The Subject was Roses” (Jack Albertson, Best Supporting Actor, 1968), “Butterflies are Free” (Eileen Heckart, Best Supporting Actress, 1973), these are no longer just items on a list, they are films that I have seen in the last three years. (Has anyone else seen these movies in the last three years? How many people remember Eileen Heckart?) The first of these was a Region 2 Import from Spain. The latter two were Region 1 Imports from the US. In order to watch them I had to set the DVD drive on an old computer to Region 1. All three DVDs are sitting on a shelf in my son’s bedroom. I would rather have rented the movies and not have to think about finding a place for them but they were not available on any “movies by post” service.
I like to complete things. Most people, in my experience, don’t. People have given me me a hard time over the years, for being able to list every Marlon Brando movie in chronological order for example, as though having so much factual information in my head prevented me from appreciating the movies themselves. I don’t see it that way. I love the movies of Marlon Brando, and I’ve seen every one of them.