Opinion: The area’s Oscar-worthy performance

The Oscars are tonight, and for most people in America, the big nominees are a mystery.

USA Today ran an Academy Awards cheat sheet last weekend to help people follow along as films few people have seen grab most of the non-Chris Rock screen time during the ABC broadcast, which starts at 8:30.

The problem is that, with the exception of “The Aviator,” the Leonardo DiCaprio-Martin Scorsese picture about Howard Hughes, the big nominees are small-budget movies made outside the Hollywood mainstream. And that means the megaplexes that dominate the entertainment landscape aren’t likely to spare much screen space for those films (at least until they win multiple Oscars and get a new marketing push).

That’s where we’re incredibly lucky in Henderson. We have Nancy Jo Smith and her independent movie theater, Marketplace Cinema.

Ten movies hold the nominations for the top four Oscars, best actor, best actress, best picture and best director. At least nine have played or are due to play at Marketplace. (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” came and went so long ago, it’s hard to remember if it was ever here.)

The key to our big-screen bounty is the Critic’s Choice Series at Marketplace.

Smith decided a couple of years ago to launch the series to see whether others in the area shared her appreciation for independent and films. She was willing to sacrifice the possibility of higher profits to bring higher cinematic art to Henderson.

The Marketplace Web site explains Smith’s thinking: “The Critic’s Choice Series is a 12 week series of films commonly referred to as ‘art films.’ The films selected for the series may include films that are controversial, limited in number and availability, foreign, documentaries, and other such films that are preferred by the discerning viewer. At Marketplace Cinema, we are very excited to be able to provide alternative choices from the big ‘blockbusters.’ We would like to invite you to patronize our series, and thank those patrons who have made it a success!”

For anyone who loves movies, Smith made an offer you couldn’t refuse: 12 movies in 12 weeks for $36, plus a $2 discount at the concession stand for each film. The only downside is the limited number of showtimes: Initially, each film played Monday through Friday at 5 p.m.; Marketplace has since added 1 p.m. Saturday, to the joy of working folks.

To the credit of Vance County, we’ve embraced the Critic’s Choice Series, and Smith has rewarded us by running series in the spring and fall. Marketplace even lets Critic’s Choice patrons help pick the final eight films of each series.

In the past, we’ve seen the likes of “Big Fish,” “Mystic River,” “Cold Mountain” and “Passion of the Christ” for $3 apiece. Last fall’s series included “Maria Full of Grace,” whose star, Catalina Sandino Moreno, is a nominee for best actress tonight.

The current Critic’s Choice Series includes best-actress nominees Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby,” Imelda Staunton in “Vera Drake” and Annette Bening in “Being Julia.” “Finding Neverland,” with actor nominee Johnny Depp, opened the series, and “Hotel Rwanda,” with nominee Don Cheadle, and best-picture hopefuls “Sideways” and “The Aviator” are among the moves still to come.

In all, seven of the big 10 nominees are in the current series.

(Even if you’re not a Critic’s Choice member, you still benefit from the series’ existence because you have the option to buy individual tickets for any of the 12 films.)

In a time when Henderson and Vance County seem to stand out for all the wrong reasons, we should remember that many things make this area a great place to live. Marketplace Cinema is one of them.