Writing this book series involves an enormous amount of preparatory work — watching the movies obviously takes time, but a great deal of work precedes even that.
The first thing I do is make sure that the original nominees and categories are correctly listed and formatted. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has the final word on this, in their excellent database (found at http://awardsdatabase.oscars.org/ampas_awards/BasicSearchInput.jsp).
I then use a variety of sources to come up with a list of titles the Academy ignored or overlooked. Sometimes this is my own memory, but more often it comes from perusing Wikipedia’s yearly round-up of film titles (a typical year: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_in_film). I also look at the indispensable book Inside Oscar by Damien Bona and Mason Wiley, who not only provide me with the bulk of the information for the yearly snapshot of the Oscar ceremony, but also have useful lists in the yearly appendix in the back for overlooked films and songs. Film critics often put out lists of movies which help track down dark horse candidates, and relieve my ignorance of foreign films (one of the great things about writing this book is I’m less ignorant than when I started — an endless process not unlike Sisyphus and the boulder, but worth every minute). David Thomson, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, and Andrew Sarris have all been helpful in this regard.
Once the lists are done — which they never really are, as I keep finding new entries — I begin to track down the movies. My own collection provides a large number of them. Turner Classic Movies, which is phenomenal, provides even more.
I then go to my local library system, which has a search and recall computer system open to their patrons, so I have requested literally hundreds of films for a mere quarter a title! Netflix has also been critically important. That generally takes care of 90% of the task.
The remaining 10% takes up most of my hunting season. Youtube may be breaking copyright, and I would never condone that, but a goodly number of the more obscure films are in public domain, which is why they are hard to find in restored copies. Friends and family sometimes help. Amazon has streaming video available fairly cheaply. My second-to-last resort is to buy them, but since I’m just a poor teacher, and you haven’t bought enough copies to let me buy freely on Amazon — shame on you! — I try to avoid this step.
The final destination is to UCLA or other film archives for the movies which aren’t available elsewhere.
As a result, I’ve been able to see 99% of the movies I’ve wanted to see, although the hunt for a couple of them has taken well over a year. What’s wonderful is when that moment of despair hits that I won’t be able to find some critically important title, TCM or another source often comes through in a pinch.
So many thanks to my favorite drug dealers: librarians, TCM, Netflix, Youtube, friends, family, and UCLA. Without you, this series wouldn’t be possible.
If I get sued, I’m blaming all of you.