2016 is already slipping through our fingers quickly. This weekend marks the Academy Award Ceremony, as well as the end of leap year February. I just barely got through screening the Big Five categories (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay), finishing last night with The Danish Girl. Whew, I think this might be the first year that I have actually pulled it off–all 17 different films if I counted right.
A few people have asked me why I dedicate so much time each year trying to watch as many films from the Big Five ballot as possible. I started this practice back in my junior year of undergraduate, inspired by my friend Aaron Smith (@), who took this season as an opportunity to bond with friends and family. He’d screen each nominated film with a different group or individual, using the time to have thoughtful conversations about cinema, while simultaneously catching up on his friends’ lives. Since I started copying Aaron, I now can’t wait for the months of December-February because of how many great memories I have made with people while going to see films. Last year, I remember seeing Birdman on a double date; I came out being the only person underwhelmed by the film but it made for a feisty and memorable conversation afterwards in Starbucks. This year, I got to see Brooklyn at a LACMA & Film Independent advance screening with a dear friend. We both laughed and cried a lot through the film, and now the film is attached indelibly in my mind with our friendship, that evening, and the many subsequent conversations we’ve had about how we were touched by that story.
But there is another reason why I painstakingly try to check each film off my list: it’s a matter of discipline in my content consumption. With today’s algorithms on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Netflix, we have become increasingly more accustomed to only seeing the content that we want to see and the content that aligns with our personal interests and ideologies. We actually have to go out-of-the-way to engage with material that challenges us or makes us feel uncomfortable. However, if you commit to follow a list generated by a third-party organization like the Academy Awards, you are more likely to encounter content that falls outside of your normal preferences–content that you may find you actually really enjoy or appreciate. That’s how, a couple of years ago, my husband and I ended up bawling our eyes out in the car after seeing the utterly incredible French film Amour (which, by the way, should have received much greater recognition).
I use this same practice with a variety of content, but with books in particular. I have belonged to several book clubs over the years, both with local friends and on Goodreads, and I’ve been steadily working through the Pulitzer, Nebula, and Hugo Award winners when I can. Both those lists and those communities have introduced me to some of my favorite authors and pieces of literature, such as American Gods by Neil Gaiman and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Plus it takes some of the mental effort out of having to choose your next film or book! Just go with whatever’s next on the list.
So next year, give it a try with the Oscars and tell me what the experience is like for you. Or if you are more into reading, you can check out this year’s Nebula nominees that were announced six days ago. I haven’t read any of them, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the choices.