How to watch the Oscars: an expert guide to staying up all night to watch the Academy Awards

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Cinephile and somewhat masochist Katrina Conaglen has watched every Oscar ceremony for the past 24 years. Here’s why she loves the preposterous event - and how you can join in, too

Nobody questions football fans in their devotion to the beautiful game (well, I do, often and quite vocally, but I’m trying to illustrate a point). We accept with alacrity the prognosticating, pre-game pints and post-game discussion, not to mention rapt watching of the actual 90 minutes, as a fulfilling pastime. Despite the fact that - and even football fans will agree with me here - the game itself can often include lengthy spells of nowt happening. It’s all part of the pleasure and mystery. The pain and the reward.

So it is with me and the Academy Awards. In the months ahead of the ceremony, I watch every film nominated. I devour interviews with actors and directors up for awards, podcasts predicting who will win. I look up the odds and I write out my own lists of likely winners.

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Despite the fact that the ceremony itself - almost always four hours, sometimes five - can be decidedly uneventful. Sometimes painful. ‘Comic’ bits are almost always an ill-judged damp parp, while earnest speeches can be dull at best, cringe-worthy at worst. The whole thing is an oft-poorly executed excuse for industry back-slapping.

It’s part of the pleasure. The mystery. The ecstasy. The Oscars are my Superbowl. My World Cup. I’ve watched them every year for the past 24 years. Join me. It’s fabulous. Here’s how to do it.


In my younger years, watching from my home country of New Zealand, the Oscars were a leisurely affair. It necessitated taking a Monday off work and breezily downing beer with friends as the ceremony played out, from about 1pm to 6pm. In the UK, it is an endurance sport. Watching the event requires staying up through the night - they kick off at 1am, and rarely finish before 5am.

The ad breaks are given over to talking heads at Sky TV who, bafflingly, rarely know much if anything about movies and become more irritating as the night wears on (Boyd Hilton is the exception). You need to have a steady stream of sugary snacks to hand and an iron will. One year, my then-boyfriend said: “Oh I may watch with you, for a bit.” I insisted that he had to stay for the entire ceremony or not watch at all (curiously, we are not together anymore). People: commit. If you’re going to do the Oscars, do the Oscars.

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Pick a horse

Nostalgic warm fuzzies: Ke Huy Quan as a boy in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, left, and right, now in his fiftiesNostalgic warm fuzzies: Ke Huy Quan as a boy in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, left, and right, now in his fifties
Nostalgic warm fuzzies: Ke Huy Quan as a boy in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, left, and right, now in his fifties

Emotionally invest in one particular film, yes, but ideally in one particular actor or actress. Make them your ride or die and thrill to every shot of them in the ceremony. Underdogs are more fun than likely victors. This year, I will be waving the flag for Ke Huy Quan, who was tender, loveable, and unexpectedly sexy in his role in Everything Everywhere All At Once, his first on-screen appearance in over 20 years.

Was he the best supporting actor of the year? Who can say? Such distinctions are ludicrous, but he was Data in the Goonies and Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so I love him. The cheeky-faced scamp is emblematic of my childhood. The Oscars are not rational, there is no empirical measurement for talent. Lean into the absurdity.

Expect defeat

Once you’ve picked someone you adore, ready yourself for them to likely lose. The year Mickey Rourke was overlooked for his career-best turn in the Wrestler was a travesty - particularly as Sean Penn’s milquetoast performance in the soggy biopic Milk kept Rourke from the prize.

“You can’t eat it, you can’t f**k it, and it won’t get me into heaven” came Rourke’s philosophical response to not taking home a statuette.

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This sanguine attitude was wrong, though. You should be incensed if your choice loses out. Rail against it for far longer than any of your friends, family, therapist cares to hear you flannel on for. The Oscars have a long and illustrious history of getting it wrong. By whining about your particular favourite snub you are part of a grand, dare I even say, regal tradition.

This forms my preamble to complaining about Gary “fromage” Oldman beating out Daniel Day Lewis to best actor - the former wobbling around impotently in a fat suit for Darkest Hour, the latter offering an exquisitely judged comic masterclass as Reynold Woodcock in the delectable The Phantom Thread. Try and tap into your own righteous indignation when moaning about an egregious Oscar snub. Extemporise. You’ve got it right when your friend’s eyes glaze over and you stop being invited down to the pub.

That said… they occasionally get it so, so right

Did I say there’s no empirical judgement in film, the notion of a ‘best’ actor or actress or director et al was nonsense? Of course! Except for when that is resolutely not the case. Sometimes the Academy sees sense and gives the award to the correct recipient:

Bong Joon-ho winning four gongs for his scathing social satire, Parasite. Moonlight being awarded Best Picture in favour of the more easy-watching La La Land. Or, gloriously - Olivia Colman beating the bookies odds to best actress for the Favourite.

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She proceeded to give a gorgeous rambling speech, kicking off with the phrase “this is hilarious” and blowing a raspberry to the crowd when told to wrap up. The fact that pundits predicted the win a shoo-in for Glenn Close made it all the sweeter. Moments like that and the Oscars are nigh-on transcendent.

Drinking games

(Please drink advisedly)

It’s an unfortunate truth my teetotal years Academy Awards watching were less fun than the nights where tipples were involved. The longeurs languered longer, and the brief instances of excitement weren’t as giddy.

If you enjoy a drop and haven’t got work the next day, I heartily commend a drinking game.  Set the rules with your friends, predicate them on standard Oscar tropes, but try and avoid anything likely to get you too blotto. Taking a drink every time there is a montage or someone makes an unwieldy political reference, for example, is a good shout.

By contrast, my decision to take a shot everytime a New Zealander won an Oscar should work in theory, but turned out to be somewhat of a disaster the year Return of the King swept the awards to record-making effect. 13 shots later it was less of a glamorous event.

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(As a digression: Perhaps my favourite Kiwi Oscar win of all time was Bret MacKenzie taking the award home for his Original Song, “Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet?” - a worthy victory, with a delightful speech in which he noted, “once you get to know Kermit, he’s just a regular frog.”)

Objectify the nominees

Nicole Kidman’s 1997 Academy Awards look is credited with ‘changing the game’ for stars on the red carpetNicole Kidman’s 1997 Academy Awards look is credited with ‘changing the game’ for stars on the red carpet
Nicole Kidman’s 1997 Academy Awards look is credited with ‘changing the game’ for stars on the red carpet

These are some of the best looking, most glamourous people on the planet walking the red carpet. Not to be shallow, but judging their lewks vocally and enthusiastically with your friends is part of the fun.

Most of them have careers partially predicated on their appearance, so: feel free to evaluate from the safety of your own home (keep it off Twitter. Doing it publicly is tacky. Being b****y privately is classy fun!). I’m not talking body-policing or moaning about Botox, but judging outfits is fair game. In our circles we take a sip everytime we see someone we wouldn’t mind taking a tumble with. Just be careful if your other half is in the room and easily made jealous.

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