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Cathy Altepeter: Oscar's biggest fan

Two-hundred-sixty-three down, 56 to go. At least that's Cathy Altepeter's tally of how many top Oscar-winning movies she's seen, and how many she has left to see since she began searching out and viewing Academy Award-winning films about 10 years ago.

Altepeter, East Grand Forks, says she didn't go to many movies as a kid growing up in Crookston because she couldn't afford it. But she's made up for it since.

About a decade ago, she set a goal for herself: She would watch every movie that had ever won an Oscar for best picture, best director, best actor or actress, and/or best supporting actor and actress, since the first Academy Awards were presented in 1929.

"I think I was looking something up on the Internet," Altepeter said, remembering the beginning of her Oscar movie quest, "and I found something that had all the (Oscar-winning) movies and printed out a list. I started looking over them and, of course, I'd seen some of them."

Then, the light bulb. Next time she and her husband were in the movie rental store trying to choose a movie, why not pick one from the Oscar list?

Some of the movies are really hard to find, she said, but she and her husband catch them on television or rent them. Just this week, she found two more titles she had been seeking at the library: "Melvin and Howard" (1980; Best Supporting Actress, Mary Steenburgen) and "Cactus Flower" (1969, Best Supporting Actress, Goldie Hawn).

"I try not to buy them," Altepeter said. "Some of them are really awful. It's like, 'Who liked this?'"

Just because a movie, its director or one of its actors wins an Oscar doesn't mean it's a great movie, she said. For instance, 1971's "The French Connection," the first R-rated movie ever to win Best Picture, also won for best director (William Friedkin) and Best Actor (Gene Hackman).

"Everyone thinks it's just so fabulous," Altepeter said. "It was just nothing but chasing and running and car chases and more running, and there was no dialogue. It was just awful."

Then, there was Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite," about a man with a genius adopted son who sets out to find his son's biological mother and discovers she's a prostitute and part-time porn star. Mira Sorvino won a Best Supporting Actress award.

"That was so bad I couldn't finish it," she said.

"The Rose Tattoo" (1955), starring Anna Magnani (she won Best Actress that year) and Burt Lancaster, was another disappointment. All Magnani did throughout the film was holler and complain. Lancaster's character was goofy, she said.

"It wasn't up to his standards," Altepeter said.

On the other hand, she said, she saw one of her favorite movies so far just last week. "You Can't Take It With You," the black-and-white 1938 classic, was directed by Frank Capra from the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It won for best director and best picture and starred Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore and James Stewart.

Barrymore and Stewart also starred in Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946). In "Can't Take It With You," Stewart plays a rich man and Barrymore a poor man. In "Wonderful Life," their circumstances are reversed.

Altepeter said she was charmed by the story of stenographer Alyce Sycamore (Arthur) in "You Can't Take It With You," whose eccentric family made fireworks in the basement, and what happened when she insisted her rich fiance and his snobby parents come over.

Another favorite: "Roman Holiday," 1953, directed by William Wyler, about a princess (Audrey Hepburn) who runs off in disguise with an American newspaperman (Gregory Peck) to escape the constraints of royal life. Hepburn won the Best Actress award for that movie.

Altepeter, who is married to Mike Altepeter and has two grown children, said watching so many award-winning movies has shown there's a lot of what she calls "inferior product" out there. Directors could do better. Take the 1941 Alfred Hitchcock thriller "Suspicion" (which won Joan Fontaine a Best Actress Oscar), Altepeter said. It's a masterpiece of suspense despite the absence of blood, gore or cursing. Killing and shooting doesn't make a movie suspenseful, she said.

Sunday night, the 82nd annual Academy Awards will be presented in the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and televised live on ABC. Of this year's top Oscar nominees, Altepeter has seen "Crazy Heart," "The Lovely Bones," "The Blind Side," "Julie and Julia," "Up!," "Nine," "Sherlock Holmes," "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince," and "Star Trek." She'd like to see "The Hurt Locker," The Messenger," "Invictus," "A Single Man," "The Last Station," and "Young Victoria."

"I still have a few days left!" she said earlier this week.

For best picture, her money's on "Avatar," and she'd love to see Jeff Bridges win for "Crazy Heart."

Last year, Altepeter attended the Empire's Red Carpet Celebration with her friend, Brenda Gjelsness. But she has a bigger Oscar party in mind, she said. Each year, Altepeter enters a contest to win tickets to the real Oscars ceremony. When she does, she and Brenda are off to Hollywood, Altepeter said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to

Empire Arts Center cancels Oscars party

Roll up the red carpet. Empire Arts Center has canceled its second annual Red Carpet Celebration, set for Sunday night, because of low advance tickets sales.

The party would have featured a live broadcast of the televised Oscars ceremony on the Empire's big screen, plus trivia contests and prizes, hors d'oeuvres, desserts and a cash bar. Party-goers were to be greeted on the red carpet by "paparazzi." They were invited to dress up, and there was a contest for best dressed, best hair and best shoes.

On Wednesday, Empire officials announced they'd only sold a handful of advance tickets and regretfully pulled the plug on the event.