Oscar Homework

Preparing for the Academy Awards using too much technology

Hey folks, it’s Oscar season! Time to force yourself to view all those highly regarded but dull-sounding movies you initially ignored but now feel compelled to watch in order to bring an extra little frisson of excitement to an awards show that only gave Rise of the Planet of the Apes one lousy nomination, and not even for best picture!

I kid, I kid. Planet of the Apes snub aside, I’m actually looking forward to the Oscars this Sunday. Welllllll... a little bit anyway. Mostly I’m excited about Billy Crystal coming back as host. It’s a bit weird to see that the best animated feature category lacks a nominee from Pixar when that category was basically invented in order to shower those guys with statuettes, but I guess that’s what they get for making Cars 2. I see that The Muppets has a shot at taking best song this year — the only other nominee is Rio, and neither of the films are nominated for anything else. Hmmm... oh! And Bridesmaids is up for best screenplay, so that’s kinda interesting. Right?

Oh, who am I kidding? This is a tough lineup to get excited about. There are nine best picture nominees, and reading them out loud just makes people’s eyes glaze over. It wasn’t always like this. Two years ago we had 10 best picture nominees, and the list was completely insane. Not only did the prize go to a genuinely cool movie (The Hurt Locker), but it was up against such random awesomeness as Up, District 9, A Serious Man, An Education, Precious, Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds and, er, Avatar. That is crazy. We’ll probably never see so many disparate films competing against one another again. It’s like some insane billionaire bought a zoo, put numbers on the backs of all the animals, and raced them.

I’ve got a story about that particular Oscar night, or rather about the hurried movie-watching that led up to it. It was March of 2010, and my friends and I were keen to study up on the best picture nominees, like you do. So some of us decided to check out Precious (2009), or to use its proper title; Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. You’ve heard of Precious; it’s the one about the AIDS-infected teenage girl who’s pregnant with her second child after being raped by her father. That isn’t a spoiler — that’s how the story begins. Her life gets worse from there. It’s a good movie... I guess... but it’s not the sort of thing you watch twice.

Anyway, my story isn’t about that, it’s about the ridiculous method we used to watch the film. I was at my friend Dan’s apartment, waiting for our friend Daisy to show up with a copy of the movie. When she did, the copy of Precious turned out to be not a DVD, but rather a file on her laptop computer. (I’m determined to only think the best of my friends, so I’ll assume that the file was acquired in a completely legal and above-board manner.) We struggled to play the thing on Dan’s TV-connected media PC, but the three of us lacked the technical know-how to make it work. We could have crowded around Daisy’s laptop for the entire 110-minute run time, but that seemed like a poor solution when there was a giant TV right there in the room going to waste.

The solution we came up with was bizarre. Daisy transferred the movie from her laptop to an empty four-gig thumb drive I happened to have on my person for some reason. (Mine was the only suitably sized thumb drive available, so it’s lucky I brought it.) Dan plugged the drive into his Xbox 360, and we watched the film on that.

That’s how weird home video has become. It took all three of us, with our three different gadgets, to play that movie. We were like the witches from Macbeth, casting a spell by each uttering one-third of an incantation. To an Xbox.


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