Would you risk your life to see a movie?
What if you were on a mission to see all the Oscar-nominated films for the year? What if you had to drive through a blizzard to get to one of the three theaters in the country screening a movie that got a nomination for best original song?
That’s the situation Marty Helle, a lawyer from Rochester, found himself in a few years ago. So he did what anyone who’s mad for movies would do: He drove through a snowstorm to a mall in Ames, Iowa, to catch “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
“It was bad. I shouldn’t have been on the road,” Helle said. But after waiting for the plows to come through, he pressed on, getting to the theater in time to catch a late screening of the movie, which featured the song “Ordinary Love,” the movie’s only Oscar nomination.
At the 2014 Academy Awards, “Ordinary Love” ended up losing to “Let It Go,” the megahit from “Frozen.” But Helle still felt the satisfaction of seeing all the movies with an original song worthy of a nomination and, more important, checking off another category in his Oscar chase.
“It’s a stupid exercise,” Helle said. “It’s a stupid hobby. The kind of person who does this is very rules- and completist-oriented.”
And yet trying to see every movie that might win an Oscar, no matter how obscure, is indeed a hobby — though not an easy one.
At this year’s Academy Awards, there are a total of 121 separate nominations, in categories ranging from best actor to best sound mixing. Because many movies pull in multiple nominations, you’d have to see only 52 films to catch all the plots and performances, music and makeup, songs and special effects considered the best that film had to offer in 2018.
The average American, however, saw only about four films last year in a movie theater, according to data from Box Office Mojo. Most of us are lucky if we saw all eight of the movies that are up for best picture this year.
But some Minnesotans, out of a pure passion for film, will see hundreds of movies each year. They’ve been to all of the theaters in the area. They’re regulars at film festivals. They blog about their experiences, maintain spreadsheets and detailed logs of what they’ve seen, keep ticket stub collections.
From animated short to arty foreign language film to special effects blockbuster, if it was considered worthy of an Oscar nod, there’s a good chance they’ve seen it.
Four films a day
Take Eagan resident Joe Botten. He saw 309 movies last year, 128 in theaters and 184 at home. Botten often gets passes to preview screenings because he writes reviews on his blog, “The MN Movie Man.” (It’s a labor of love. He doesn’t get paid to blog.)
When the Oscar nominations are announced in late January, Botten embarks on his See ’Em All Challenge, making an Excel spreadsheet of the nominated movies, researching where the movies are playing and spending the next four weeks checking films off his list.
He once spent a whole day at a theater watching all three sets of the Oscar-nominated shorts — animated, live action and documentary — plus two additional feature films.
Two years ago, he was just one film away from watching everything that received a nomination before the awards ceremony. But he failed to catch “My Life as a Zucchini,” a Swiss/French film, until the day after it lost the Oscar to “Zootopia” as best animated feature film.
“I wanted to make a clean sweep of it,” Botten said. “I tried for weeks to find that movie. It was the one that kept evading me.”
This year he’s confident that he’ll see everything.
Genene McNabb might be able to make the same claim.
“A lot of years we’ve seen them all,” she said of the Oscar-nominated films. McNabb and her husband, Reid Gagle, see four to seven movies a week in theaters. During the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, they’ll see up to four films a day. The retired St. Paul couple say they’ve probably been to every single movie theater in the Twin Cities area.
Like many other cinephiles, they are purists for the big screen.
“We don’t tend to watch regular television” except for the Oscars ceremony and election returns, McNabb said. “When I see it at home, it makes the experience smaller.”
Moving for the pictures
Dean Bronson, who saw close to 300 movies last year, moved from Burnsville to Minneapolis so he wouldn’t have to drive so far to get to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.
Last month, he and a friend drove to Duluth just to see a well-regarded Korean movie that wasn’t showing in the Twin Cities.
Eden Prairie resident Jared Huizenga, who writes the “Man Versus Movie” blog, said he once saw 365 movies in a single year.
Daniel Taradash, who saw about 150 to 200 movies last year, said he’s probably gone to the movies at least once a week — starting when he was about 8 or 9 years old.
“It’s more of a lifestyle for me,” said Taradash, a Champlin resident.
Like other über movie fans, he doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t interested in sitting in a big dark room full of strangers.
“I know some people who never go to the movies,” he said. “Wow.”
Botten has the same reaction. “Someone told me the last movie they saw in the theater was ‘Titanic.’ I almost fell out of my chair.”
But even Taradash admits he won’t see all of this year’s Oscar nominations.
He’s quit going to the screenings for documentary shorts, which focus on societal ills or heart-wrenching plights. (This year’s batch is about racist gangs, refugees in sinking rafts and a Nazi rally.)
“They’re all depressing,” Taradash said. “Try sitting through five or six of these movies for three hours in an afternoon.”
Here’s another caveat if you’re tempted to try to see all the Oscar-nominated films: The 40 or 50 movies that receive a nomination each year won’t be the 40 or 50 best movies of the year. Some of them may be downright dogs, except for one limited technical aspect.
The best and the worst
After 10 years of chasing Oscar movies, Helle gave it up because he needed to spend more time with his family.
“I just didn’t have time to see 40 movies,” he said.
But while he was on the hunt, he made himself see “Click,” a 2006 Adam Sandler movie that got only a 33 percent rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.
It was a lousy movie, Helle said, “but it had really great makeup.” That’s how it became the only Adam Sandler movie to get an Oscar nomination.
On the other hand, Helle said, he discovered a lot of great films that he wouldn’t have sought out if it hadn’t been for his Oscar chase.
“The Great Beauty” made less than $3 million at the box office in the United States, but the 2014 Oscar winner for best foreign language film is “one of the best movies I’d ever seen,” he said.
He said “The Act of Killing,” a 2014 documentary nominee, is “not just one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, it was one of the best pieces of art I’ve ever seen.”
He added, “I never would’ve seen it, never would’ve heard of it, without the chase.”