The weeks and months leading up to the Academy Awards are a busy time for Streator resident John Riss.
For the past two years, Riss has attempted to see every Academy Award-nominated film prior to the awards show, which this year is at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, on ABC.
His passion has him most times visiting a theater multiple times a day, up to a max of five, and sometimes as far as way as Chicago and Evanston to see movies that don’t receive a wide release.
“I don’t know, there’s just something about it,” Riss said of his challenge. “Some people watch ‘Real Housewives’ every day and some people watch their sports. I imagine the time I put into this,” Riss says as he stops and laughs to himself. “And I’m talking to you like it’s a job. But I imagine the time I put into this is comparable to any normal sports viewer,” he added.
In 2019 he watched more than 90 movies in theaters. The activity is made easier with the travel involved in his job as a woodworker, which often has him visiting the suburbs to attend galleries and shows.
It’s still not particularly easy, or cheap, such as one trip to Chicago.
“It was a big effort to get there … I went to two movies that day at two different theaters. So I parked at one, I took a Lyft to the Music Box (Theatre), then took a Lyft back to the theater to get my vehicle,” Riss said with a laugh. “It wasn’t a cheap experience but that was a movie I would have never seen (if Riss wasn’t going out of his way to watch them all).”
As for why Riss has made this his personal goal, he’s less certain. But it’s certainly been something that’s been a part of his life since a young age.
He recalls his family often renting up to six or eight VHS movies from Second Cinema Video in junior high, oftentimes renting the same movies over again.
“Who knows why we didn’t just buy them,” Riss said with a laugh. “But maybe it was the thrill of going to rent one. Maybe that’s why I go to the theater all the time, the ritual.”
Through the process he’ll watch a few movies he knows probably won’t speak to him personally, such as “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but for every one of those there’s potentially one or two more he wouldn’t have seen that brings him a greater understanding of the experiences of others through watching the entire selection, including documentaries and foreign films.
Riss said sometimes the joy of experiencing new things and accomplishing the challenge of seeing them all in a short time frame contradict each other.
“It’s two sides of a coin, because I want to see them all and the challenge to do it is fun, but then is it really a good idea to be checking the run times to see how long I have to do this? It’s a piece of art, you know?” Riss asks.
“It can fight itself but if it’s a good movie it doesn’t matter. If it can capture you, even if it’s a strange foreign film or documentary, if it’s engaging then it loses that ‘Oh, I’ve got to watch this,’ but is instead worth the time,” he added.
Interestingly, once it’s time for the Oscars to actually air, Riss doesn’t mind if he misses the show and doesn’t care too much who wins or for the Red Carpet preview interviews.
“I’m done (by that point). I’ve got mine,” he said with a laugh.
“I would focus more on who gets nominated than who wins,” Riss said. “If the (the groups that nominate movies) are saying these are the five (in one category) that are really good then they’re saying this is our output for the year and what we think you should see. That’s the way I think about it, but maybe they don’t think about it like that.”
Riss said the nominated films can be used as a starting point to introduce casual viewers to other stories by the same director or writer, the way someone who reads books ends up reading other books by the same author.
Ultimately, Riss said he’s just interested in being told a story every now and again, and the Academy Awards season is a perfect time to find new stories to learn from and entertain us.
“I overdo it more than other people but it’s not just entertainment but a way to pass the time. People need a way to unwind,” Riss said. “It’s just something that captures my attention and it’s always good to have the benefit of some sort of artistic merit or a message. You always learn something.”
Riss is happy with most of the Academy Award selections this year for Best Picture but a few others he’s seen and recommended from 2019 are “Uncut Gems,” “Waves,” “Queen and Slim,” “The Lighthouse,” and “Honey Boy.”
The Times is asking readers to submit their predictions for the Academy Awards on Sunday. Visit http://mywebtimes.secondstreetapp.com/Times-Oscar-Picks/ to enter and winners will be printed in Saturday’s paper.
Where to watch?
Those looking to do some last-minute catching up before the big show can find access to most of the nominees through various streaming services but only a handful remain in theaters in the area.
Best Picture nominee “1917” remains in theaters at Roxy Cinemas, Streator Eagle 6 and Peru AMC.
Streator Eagle 6 is having a special “Strong Women Film Fest” through Thursday, Feb. 13, with many nominated films unavailable in other theaters including “Little Women,” which is nominated for Best Picture; “Judy” which Renee Zellweger is nominated for Best Actress as Judy Garland; “Harriet” which Cynthia Erivo is nominated for Best Actress as Harriet Tubman; “Bombshell which Chalize Theron is nominated for Best Actress as Megyn Kelly, Margot Robbie is nominated for Best Supporting Actress as Kayla Popisil, and the film is nominated for best Makeup and Hairstyling; and “Late Night” which Emma Thompson was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes.
Source: The Daily Chronicle