Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The Oscar folk and the people who run the Golden Globes (the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) have been kvetching up a storm lately. It turns out Meet the Fockers wasn't nominated for too many honors this year. Neither was The Passion of the Christ, or The Day After Tomorrow, or Spider-Man 2, or a dozen more of the movies that, chances are, you've actually bothered to see.
Because of this, because you are not as familiar with all of the critics' darlings and Oscar bait, TV ratings for award shows have been bad - or worse, Catwoman bad. You've got to feel for network executives and award show producers. It's a big conundrum: These shows get their heft from the assumption that the nominees are Important Movies about Important Subjects, and yet if they start nominating Van Helsing for best picture, they get, well, the MTV Movie Awards - nice ratings, zero credibility.
That said, in my best Sally Struthers whine, I ask: Won't you help? Unlike many Oscar seasons, a sizable chunk of this year's nominees are available on video, and because about a quarter of Americans don't go to the movies very much, catching nominees on video is a nice, easy way of staying culturally literate.
But I will not lie to you.
There are drawbacks: I have a friend who sets aside her entire moviegoing diet for a single annual splurge that lasts from the day Academy Award nominations are announced until the day Oscars are handed out. In that time, she sees everything she thinks she should have seen in the past year. It's ambitious, sure. The trouble is, she is putting all of her eggs in the academy's basket, and that thing has holes so big you couldn't plug 'em with Mel Gibson's ego, let alone Michael Moore - and I don't mean his ego. I mean the man himself.
With this in mind, the following is a guide to not only nominees available on video (so you can play along at home on Oscar night), but a cheat sheet to when the others are due, and what you need to know to fake your way through a conversation without having to sit though these films:
●Ray (Universal, $29.98 for the single-disc edition, $44.99 for the two-disc special edition). Major nominations: best picture, best actor, best director. What happens: Ray Charles grows up dirt poor, abuses heroin, cheats on wife. Also, changes popular music. In conversation say: "Movie biographies are great. I mean, who knew Ray Charles played piano because he felt guilty that his younger brother drowned?"
●Maria Full of Grace (Warner, $27.95). Major nominations: best actress. What happens: Colombian teenager swallows drugs, smuggles capsules to New York. In conversation say: "That scene where she swallows like 60 pellets of heroin - I can't take aspirin without a glass of water!"
●The Incredibles (Buena Vista, $29.99, available March 15). Major nominations: best animated feature. What happens: Superhero family hates the suburbs, fights crime, feelings of mediocrity. In conversation say: "Disney aside, I found it an insightful film about middle age."
●The Motorcycle Diaries (Universal, $29.98, available Tuesday). Major nominations: best adapted screenplay. What happens: A young Che Guevara goes on spring break, touches lepers, gets politics. In conversation say: "It's a little like Castro Babies, only without the jokes."
●Before Sunset (Warner, $19.98). Major nominations: best adapted screenplay. What happens: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walk, talk, walk more, possibly have a romance. In conversation say: "I just knew he would leave his wife for her. But how could Ethan Hawke leave Uma?"
●Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Universal, $19.98 for single-disc edition, $27.98 for two-disc collector's edition). Major nominations: best actress, best original screenplay. What happens: Jim Carrey erases memories of Kate Winslet, Kate erases Jim, much longing ensues. In conversation say: "It's the most romantic movie about a brainwashing I've ever seen."
●Collateral (DreamWorks, $29.99). Major nominations: best supporting actor. What happens: Tom Cruise kidnaps Jamie Foxx, spends night whacking people, wearing silver hairpiece. In conversation say: "How did Jamie Foxx receive a best supporting actor nomination when he was leading man?"
●Super Size Me (Hart Sharp, $19.98). Major nominations: best documentary feature. What happens: Man eats McDonald's for 30 days, vomits, repents. In conversation say: "Yeah, but he could have eaten salads for 30 days and skipped the dressing."
●The Aviator (Buena Vista, late spring). Major nominations: best picture, best actor, best supporting actress, best director. What happens: Howard Hughes goes loopy, revolutionizes aviation, romances starlets, washes hands. In conversation say: "So, let me get this straight: He went nuts because when he was 9 his mom told him to be cautious?"
●Closer (Sony, $28.95, available March 29). Major nominations: best supporting actor, best supporting actress. What happens: Jude Law swaps Natalie Portman for Julia Roberts, who swaps Clive Owen for Jude Law. Everyone shouts. In conversation say: "I found Julia Roberts and Clive Owen's big blow-out emotionally exhausting, brutally honest, true to my life - except everyone was better looking."
●Sideways (Fox, available early April). Major nominations: best picture, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best original screenplay. What happens: Two losers get drunk. In conversation say: "I'm not sure, but when the characters talk about wine, I could swear that they were talking about people."
●Finding Neverland (Buena Vista, $29.99, available March 22). Major nominations: best picture, best actor. What happens: J.M. Barrie meets an ailing mother of three boys, finds the inspiration to write Peter Pan. In conversation say: "Julie Christie was the inspiration for Captain Hook. I always suspected that."
●Million Dollar Baby (Warner, late spring). Major nominations: best picture, best actor, best actress, best director. What happens: Hilary Swank boxes, Clint Eastwood squints, and, uh, some grim, moving stuff I can't reveal here. In conversation say: "Can you believe that ending? You say you haven't seen it yet? Well, Hilary is boxing, see, then - OK, alright, I won't tell you."
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org