Movies - The Oscars postsWednesday October 29, 2008
Dark Knight + Oscar
I missed this article about the Academy Awards and box office when it came out two days ago — distracted, as ever, by the presidential campaign and the World Series — but it’s certainly in my wheelhouse. Last January I wrote an article (or articles) on the subject for HuffPost, and throughout the year I’ve certainly blogged enough about Times’ writers Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, and the two tag-team on this one.
Here's the point: In the past, popular but lightweight movies were nominated best picture (Three Coins in a Fountain; Love Story; Raiders of the Lost Ark), while weighty Oscar nominees could be huge box office hits (Bridge Over the River Kwai; The Graduate; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). But for the past 30 years, and particularly this decade, we've seen a split: Box office hits rarely get nom’ed and weighty best picture nominees rarely become box office hits. Last January I wrote:
How rare is it when at least one of the best picture nominees isn't among the year's top 10 box office hits? Since 1944, it's happened only five times: 1947, 1984...and the last three years in a row: 2004, 2005, 2006. What was once a rarity has now become routine.
Make that the last four years in a row. The biggest box office hit among last year's best picture nominees, Juno, topped out at 15th for 2007, $25 million behind Wild Hogs.
Now, according to Cieply and Barnes, the studios, who have been busy closing their prestige divisions, are hyping their box office hits, including The Dark Knight and Wall-E, for best picture. Good for them. Unfortunately, Cieply’s and Barnes’ article is also filled with the conventional wisdom of Hollywood insiders. No sentence screamed at me more than this one:
However, several [Oscar campaigners] noted a belief that audiences — weary of economic crisis and political strife — are ready for a dose of fun from the entertainment industry.
It screamed because last May, in Cieply’s article about how Hollywood insiders were worried about their gloomy, sequel-shy summer box office, we got this graf:
The [summer movie] mix may not perfectly match the mood of an audience looking for refuge from election campaigns and high-priced gas, said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures marketing executive who is now an adjunct professor…
What movies, included in this “mix,” did Cieply specifically mention that the audience might not be in the mood for? The comedy Tropic Thunder, which quietly made $110M, and, of course, The Dark Knight, which noisily grossed $527M. Internationally, it's approaching $1 billion.
You’d think a journalist might be shy about quoting Hollywood insiders in the exact same way after dropping a bomb like that. Not here. Seriously, I encourage everyone to read Cieply’s May article. It’s instructive. Hell, it’s downright Goldmanesque. Nobody may know anything but some of us really don’t know anything.
In the end, and depending on what gets released in the next few months, I wouldn’t mind seeing Dark Knight get nom’ed. It shouldn’t win, of course (Three Coins, Love Story and Raiders didn’t win either), but it was a hugely popular, critically acclaimed film and in the past that’s been enough for the Academy.
But that’s only one part of the equation: a box-office hit will have gotten nom’ed. The other part — a weighty best picture nominee that becomes a box-office hit — will take more work. Work, I should add, the studios don’t appear interested in doing.
And the winner is...
...Hope Putnam! All of 4 1/2 years old. She — with perhaps a hand from Dad, Mike — won our annual Oscar pool with 16 of the 21 categories correct. (We ignore the short subjects.) I came in second with 15, Brenda got 14, Tommy and Patricia 13, etc. etc., on down to Tim with 3. He picks with his heart.
It was a nice night. About 25 people, a lot of kids running around, a lot of crushed crackers on the floor afterwards. Wine, beer, bruschetta. At one point Rico threatened me but you know how architects are. I suppose I shouldn't have made his wife, Jolie, stricken with laryngitis, repeat herself unnecessarily but it seemed funny at the time. Now, too. It was great seeing Sullivan healthy and looking great. Mr. B kept score, as always. Tommy showed up in a porkpie hat, which not many people can pull off but Tommy can. Jeff S. remained pretty funny for a tall guy. His riff on the hot chicks (this year, Jessica Alba) always presenting the sci-tech awards was spot-on.
Our consensus — and despite Alessandra Stanley's opinion — was that Jon Stewart did a helluva job. He was funny, loose, stayed on message (movies, movies, movies...with some politics) and brought back the Once chick to complete her acceptance speech. That brought the house down. Our house anyway.
Looking over the list of acting winners it's all western Europe: Spain, France and two Britains. Loved all the French and Spanish — along with Jon Stewart's translation of the latter. Happy with all the choices. The movie that should've won, won. The actor that should've won, won. Wish the Coens could've gotten past their Minnesota upbringing and reveled in their moment of triumph a bit more. Or at all. Somewhere between them and Roberto Benigni lies a happy medium. Happy to see MN girl Diablo Cody win for best original screenplay and loved her shout-out to the other writers.
The women at the party loved themselves some Javier Bardem, the men loved themselves some Cameron Diaz. Everyone agreed that Helen Mirren looked stunning and sexy.
All in all, a fun night. Thanks, everyone. Let's do it again next year.
Yep, no shortage of Oscar noms
More on the Oscar party later but for now add Jeffrey Lyons to the “Everybody deserves an Oscar nom” list. In his HuffPost piece on the Oscars, he writes: “Nice to see Josh Brolin as a presenter. He and co-presenter James McAvoy were overlooked for nominations which they deserved.” No word from Mr. Lyons on who gets cut.
Everyone deserves an Oscar nom - again
Entertainment Weekly has a piece about the 100 greatest Oscar snubs ever — you can read it here — but once again they're adding without subtracting. That's like governing without taxing. Grover Norquist would be proud.
The list is made up of actors and actresses who weren't even nominated for what we now consider classic performances. At no. 24, for example, we get Denzel Washington in Philadelphia. EW writes that Tom Hanks deserved his Oscar for the same film but “Washington, as the ambulance-chasing homophobe, had the harder task. He had to coerce audiences, ever so gently, into realizing that his character represented our own ignorance, and then drag us on his path to enlightenment.”
But EW ignores its own harder task. If Washington gets a nom in 1993, who doesn't? Daniel Day-Lewis for In the Name of the Father, Laurence Fishburne for What's Love Got to Do With It?, Anthony Hopkins for Remains of the Day or Liam Neeson for Schindler's List? Who does EW snub?
It's bad enough that they're doing this from an historical perspective that allows them to seem smarter than the Academy by touting classic film roles — Rita Hayworth in Gilda (no. 21), Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange (no. 17), Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (no. 9) — but add some teeth to the argument. Add some hand wringing. I thought their no. 6 choice was inspired: Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham. I thought: Yeah! Great performance. Totally bought her in that role. Then you look at the other best actress nominees from 1988: Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons, Jodie Foster in The Accused, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Meryl Streep in A Cry in the Dark and Sigourney Weaver in Gorillias in the Mist. Now it's a little tougher. For my part, I'd pick Sarandon over Griffith or Weaver but EW doesn't want to make any hard choices, just easy ones.
Aren't these lists disposable enough? Make them about something. This list could be about how overlooked performances tend to come from genre films (horror, comedy) while the nominated performances tend to come from overserious dramatic films. And of course this is still going on. The Academy is still doing this. Talk about that and at least you're talking about something slightly relevant.