Lauren Burney

Academy Award aficionado Lauren Burney is a schoolteacher at Alexandria Elementary by day and a server at Classic on Noble by night.

Tim Barton/Special to The Star

Lauren Burney loves movies and freely admits to having an obsession with the Academy Awards.

A teacher at Alexandria Elementary and an evening server at Classic on Noble, Lauren’s interest in the Oscars started more than a dozen years ago when she and her three children gathered around the TV to cheer for "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King."

Over the years, the family’s interest in the awards production intensified as their movie tastes changed. They may feel frustrated about the lack of diversity in films or quality movies for younger audiences, "but we continue watching the awards regardless of who is nominated or how embarrassing a host’s behavior may be," Lauren said.

When her daughters went off to college, it didn’t stop the family from gathering to watch the Oscars. "The girls would come home from Tuscaloosa and we’d have our own version of a Super Bowl party," Lauren said.

The family often agrees on what movies should win, but in 2011 the four were a house divided between "The Fighter," "127 Hours," "The King’s Speech" and "The Social Network." (Daughter Danielle was victorious that year with "The King’s Speech," and the family still has to hear about it.)

In sharp contrast, all four were united in their distaste for the movie "Boyhood" in 2015. When it failed to win either Best Picture or Best Director, "we were downright smug," Lauren said with a laugh.

Sadly, this is the first year that none of Lauren’s children will be in town to watch the Oscars with her.

Danielleis in Green Bay, Wisc., working as a producer for a local TV morning news program. "She will watch the awards for research," Lauren said. Her other daughter, Lexi, will stay in Tuscaloosa and tune into the show for the pop culture aspects.

Son Brendan will be watching from Cambridge, Mass., where he is a student at Harvard University. Lauren is already anticipating texts from him venting over "obvious Oscar bait" taking home awards.

"And I will watch with my long-suffering husband, who will likely prepare something delicious for me," Lauren said. Her husband, Mike Akers, is a chef at Capeside in Rainbow City. They met when he was a chef at Classic on Noble.

As is her custom every year, Lauren tries to see all the movies nominated in all the categories, including short films.

Here is her take on the nine movies nominated for Best Picture:

"La La Land:" "Breezy and entertaining. I was struck by how charmingly Ryan Gosling portrayed Sebastian, but felt Emma Stone’s acting had more depth and her singing was far superior. I liked the story, but didn’t love it."

"Arrival:" "A pleasant shock to me. I expected a traditional alien invasion film, but was instead treated to a beautiful story on the human penchant for misunderstandings."

"Moonlight:" "An understated masterpiece. It’s impossible to watch and not become emotionally attached to Chiron at some stage in his life. I felt discomfort, despair and hope during each chapter and was both haunted and uplifted when the movie ended. It’s my favorite."

"Manchester by the Sea:" "Depressing but at times hilarious. The directing is particularly good considering how smoothly the flashbacks are woven into the story. I was impressed by young Lucas Hedges and scene-stealing Michelle Williams. Casey Affleck, however, left me underwhelmed."

"Hacksaw Ridge:" "A good story, but it lacked focus. I enjoy a good war movie and was fascinated by a conscientious-objector-turned-hero, but this film was needlessly long and sewn together haphazardly. I’m baffled the Academy chose to nominate it."

"Fences:" "Produced as a showcase for the actors and the entire cast delivered with dialogue-rich performances. I’m normally skeptical of movies based on strict adaptations of plays, but this one avoided the usual pitfalls, such as adding scenes."

"Hell or High Water:" "A thoroughly enjoyable tale with relatable characters and dialogue. (I’ll be quoting Jeff Bridges for weeks to come.) It’s not a groundbreaking movie, much like so many other tough guy crime films, but out of all this year’s nominations, it’s the one I’m most likely to watch again and again."

"Lion:" "What I call a ‘mood’ film because the feelings it induces stays with the viewer. I felt lost with young Saroo, but even after he was rescued and adopted, I had an even more urgent feeling of hopeless longing. My one complaint is that the anticlimactic ending was overly drawn out."

"Hidden Figures:" "Wholesome, entertaining and features a solid cast. The story avoided the more frightening aspects of the 1960s, but it was the everyday injustices that these brilliant women faced in the film. I enjoyed the soundtrack, the period costumes and sets, but I expect this movie will win more hearts than Oscars."

Contact Donna Barton at smalltalk@cableone.net.