erik lundegaard


Thursday January 22, 2009

Note to the Academy: Why So Serious?

The Oscar nominations were finally announced this morning, and, as soon as Forest Whitaker said “Frost/Nixon,” alphabetically passing up “The Dark Knight,” I knew that, unless the Academy subscribed to Comcast’s idiotic system of alphabeticization, they had turned their backs on the Batman. Bummer. I was beginning to root for him.

So after all of the guesses, here and here and here, these are our (or their) best picture nominees:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

What does this mean? As I wrote last January, since the Academy finally settled on five best picture nominees in 1944, there have only been six years when there wasn’t a top 10 box office hit among the nominees: 1947, 1984...and the last four years in a row: 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. This year, unless “Benjamin Button” can make another $50 million without getting swamped in the process (it’s currently at $103 million), it’ll probably be five years in a row. Stunning.

In the past I didn’t quite know who to blame for this divide between supposed popularity and supposed quality. The Academy? The studios? Moviegoers? But not this year. “The Dark Knight” was a critically acclaimed, monster box office hit with tons of buzz. In terms of domestic, unadjusted dollars, it was the no. 2 movie of all time. Yes, it was about superheroes, and no superhero film has been nominated before; but before “Lord of the Rings” no fantasy film had been nominated, either. The rule sticks until something breaks it. This year? Didn’t break. And it was the year to break it. We’re not talking about crap like “Spider-Man 3.” We’re talking about a pretty good movie. One of the five best of the year? Maybe. I’d take it over “Frost/Nixon” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” anyway. Don’t know about “The Reader” yet. Haven’t seen it. (Psst. It’s about the Holocaust.)

Besides, in the past, the Academy has nominated some popular but fairly suspect films for best picture. “Love Story”? “The Towering Inferno”? “Three Coins in a Fountain”? “Ghost”? It’s hardly a body to hold its nose.

Given the chance, who would I have nom'ed? I don't know. Because of the studios' idiotic system of rolling the best films out in piecemeal fashion at the end of the year, I haven't seen, oh, “Doubt” or “The Reader” or “Revolutionary Road” yet. I'd definitely nom “Milk” and “Slumdog.” I'd think about “In Bruges” and the forgotten but expertly crafted and genre-busting (or genre-solildifying) “Appaloosa.”

And I'd think about “The Dark Knight.” More than the Academy seemed to anyway.

ADDITION: Yeah, should've known. Harvey Weinstein was the man behind the push for “The Reader,” just as he was the man who pushed “Shakespeare in Love” to the crown in '98. Shame. Much talk about the next Batman villain. I suggest “Weinstein.”

Posted at 08:09 AM on Thursday January 22, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars