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What to watch on Oscar night

By Bob Greene
updated 9:21 AM EST, Sun March 2, 2014
Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Chiwetel Ejiofor appear in "12 Years a Slave," which won the Oscar for best picture in 2013. For more than 80 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been designating one film the best motion picture of the year. Some of the winners have become classics, while others have been forgotten by all but trivia diehards. Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Chiwetel Ejiofor appear in "12 Years a Slave," which won the Oscar for best picture in 2013. For more than 80 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been designating one film the best motion picture of the year. Some of the winners have become classics, while others have been forgotten by all but trivia diehards.
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A history of Oscar-winning best pictures
'Wings' (1927)
'The Broadway Melody' (1929)
'All Quiet on the Western Front' (1930)
'Cimarron' (1931)
'Grand Hotel' (1932)
'Cavalcade' (1933)
'It Happened One Night' (1934)
'Mutiny on the Bounty' (1935)
'The Great Ziegfeld' (1936)
'The Life of Emile Zola' (1937)
'You Can't Take It With You' (1938)
'Gone With the Wind' (1939)
'Rebecca' (1940)
'How Green Was My Valley' (1941)
'Mrs. Miniver' (1942)
'Casablanca' (1943)
'Going My Way' (1944)
'The Lost Weekend' (1945)
'The Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)
'Gentleman's Agreement' (1947)
'Hamlet' (1948)
'All the King's Men' (1949)
'All About Eve' (1950)
'An American in Paris' (1951)
'The Greatest Show on Earth' (1952)
'From Here to Eternity' (1953)
'On the Waterfront' (1954)
'Marty' (1955)
'Around the World in 80 Days' (1956)
'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957)
'Gigi' (1958)
'Ben-Hur' (1959)
'The Apartment' (1960)
'West Side Story' (1961)
'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962)
'Tom Jones' (1963)
'My Fair Lady' (1964)
'The Sound of Music' (1965)
'A Man for All Seasons' (1966)
'In the Heat of the Night' (1967)
'Oliver!' (1968)
'Midnight Cowboy' (1969)
'Patton' (1970)
'The French Connection' (1971)
'The Godfather' (1972)
'The Sting' (1973)
'The Godfather: Part II' (1974)
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (1975)
'Rocky' (1976)
'Annie Hall' (1977)
'The Deer Hunter' (1978)
'Kramer vs. Kramer' (1979)
'Ordinary People' (1980)
'Chariots of Fire' (1981)
'Gandhi' (1982)
'Terms of Endearment' (1983)
'Amadeus' (1984)
'Out of Africa' (1985)
'Platoon' (1986)
'The Last Emperor' (1987)
'Rain Man' (1988)
'Driving Miss Daisy' (1989)
'Dances With Wolves' (1990)
'The Silence of the Lambs' (1991)
'Unforgiven' (1992)
'Schindler's List' (1993)
'Forrest Gump' (1994)
'Braveheart' (1995)
'The English Patient' (1996)
'Titanic' (1997)
'Shakespeare in Love' (1998)
'American Beauty' (1999)
'Gladiator' (2000)
'A Beautiful Mind' (2001)
'Chicago' (2002)
'Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003)
'Million Dollar Baby' (2004)
'Crash' (2005)
'The Departed' (2006)
'No Country for Old Men' (2007)
'Slumdog Millionaire' (2008)
'The Hurt Locker' (2009)
'The King's Speech' (2010)
'The Artist' (2011)
'Argo' (2012)
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: Why spend long hours watching people giving other people prizes?
  • Greene: Yet millions of people will watch the Academy Awards show on Sunday night
  • He says instead, pick three movies that have meant the most to you for a triple feature
  • Greene: They will remind you of why you started to love movies in the first place

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story," "Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War," and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen," which has been named the One Book, One Nebraska statewide reading selection for 2014.

(CNN) -- If you love movies there is a different, and perhaps pleasingly preferable, way to spend Sunday evening other than watching the Academy Awards presentation.

This will involve answering a three-part movie question. More on that in a moment.

It has always been a little puzzling: why people reflexively flock to their television sets for awards programs, the Academy Awards being the oldest and most prominent. Why spend long hours watching people giving other people prizes?

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

If you liked some of the movies that came out last year, that's fine and good -- but if you bought a pair of shoes that you liked last year, would you spend a Sunday evening in the only life you'll ever lead observing shoe manufacturers presenting awards to each other?

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week reported that 67% of Americans haven't seen any -- not even one -- of the movies nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars. That would seem to indicate a certain indifference, yet millions of people will be sitting in front of their TV sets Sunday.

There is an alternate, and arguably more fulfilling, way for film lovers to affirm their appreciation for the magic of movies on Academy Awards night.

From the time the multitude of pre-Oscars specials and red carpet coverage begins on various television channels late Sunday afternoon to the time the last of the post-Oscars analysis goes off the air, enough hours will pass for you to watch three feature films.

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We are in the golden age of being able to see, at home, the most outstanding movies ever made from every era of film history. It used to be, if you wanted to watch any movie other than what was currently in theaters, you were pretty much at the mercy of the over-the-air broadcast networks or of local stations that sometimes ran old movies very late at night.

But today, with Netflix, with Amazon Prime, with various streaming services, with YouTube, with iTunes, with classic-movie channels such as TCM, with DVRs, with tablets, you have an unprecedented opportunity to all-but-effortlessly program your own home theater with wonderful movies from every era of cinema. The variety is breathtaking and endless. Sometimes we take that for granted.

Roger Ebert, before he became a television presence and was still a young newspaper movie critic, used to urge his colleagues at the paper to accompany him to a seen-better-days theater in Chicago called the Clark. It was operated by a fellow named Bruce Trinz, who revered movies and who, every day of the year, would book a different double feature of classic, long-out-of-general-release films.

At the beginning of every month he would mail out a leaflet with a calendar of each day's movies (he would describe them in rhyming couplets). He selected and showed 730 movies a year; the Clark was open 22 hours a day. It was a rare chance to immerse yourself in the best of movies from down through the generations.

The Clark Theater is long gone, but today each person has far more movie-programming choices than the Clark ever offered. You are able to routinely stumble across movies that haven't seen the inside of a theater in years, but that can jolt you with their moments of brilliance and insight into the human condition and the mysteries of the yearning heart. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the talent and artistry in front of you; each motion picture, by its nature, offers its own enchantments, and the fact that people today can so easily make individual choices about what to see democratizes the viewing experience in a way that simply was not possible until recent decades.

Years ago, when the idea of such choices sounded like a fantasy, I asked people to hypothetically consider what would happen if they were stranded on a desert island for the rest of their lives with only a movie projector and five films. What movies could they stand to watch over and over, with nothing else to keep them company? But now the options for people deciding on their own what to view are real, and, just as significant, they're infinite.

So, as the Academy Awards ceremonies approach, here is a cordial invitation:

Name the three movies that, for you, would make the perfect triple feature to watch tonight. Movies that you've seen during your lifetime that have meant the most to you.

Your choices don't necessarily have to be your nomination for the three greatest or most important or influential movies ever made (although they certainly could be). Just three movies that, tonight, you think would do for you the thing that movies have always done best: bring pleasure and entertainment, provoke thoughts, provide inspiration or laughter or comfort or tears.

In other words: three movies to watch back-to-back-to-back tonight that will serve, better than the Academy Awards, to remind you of why you started to love movies in the first place.

If you'd like, feel free to include the reasons why: What is it about your three movies that make them feel absolutely right to you?

My own triple feature for tonight? I think I'll go with "High Noon," the 1952 Western starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, about the power of quiet courage when it seems there's no one in the world willing to help; "Hoosiers," the 1986 movie starring Gene Hackman, about a basketball team in small-town Indiana that triumphs over every obstacle; and "That Thing You Do!", the deliriously joyful 1996 movie written and directed by Tom Hanks, about a one-hit-wonder rock band from Erie, Pennsylvania, that briefly, in 1964, makes it to the top of the charts.

Your three movies will be different. But if you decide to spend Academy Awards night watching them, by the end of the evening you will be the one who feels rewarded.

And you won't even have to stand up and thank your agent.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

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