‘I’ ON CULTURE
The Academy Award nominations for the past year’s movies are out, and one thing is clear: Hollywood has voted most of America (and the world) off the island. Years ago, the movies nominated tended to be the ones we all went to. People tuned in to see if their favorites made it. This year, forget about it.
Of the films nominated for Best Picture, only two, Dunkirk (14th) and Get Out (16th) were in the top 50 grossing films of the year. After them, the next high grosser, number 66, was Lady Bird. The top ten grossing films garnered zero — that’s right, zero — nominations in the major categories. Wonder Woman was a huge hit, and deservedly so, but its star, director and the film itself were ignored.
Compare that to 20 years ago (1998). The winning film was Titanic. Also nominated were As Good as it Gets, Good Will Hunting, The Full Monty and LA Confidential. All were box office hits, and all the acting awards and Best Director were from these films.
I am not arguing at all that the movies nominated are bad ones. I particularly liked Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and all the others are good films. It is not that Hollywood is choosing dogs. The films nominated are all good, or at least reasonably so. But they are not the films people are going to see.
The problem for Hollywood is that it has broken into several threads of filmmaking. Supporting all the films are the blockbusters. When we see Star Wars VIII, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Wonder Woman, Jumanji, Beauty and the Beast, Spider-Man: Homecoming, It, Thor: Ragnarok, Despicable Me 3 and Justice League, we have pure entertainment. And here’s where the public flocks to the movies. Divide the grosses, ranging from $600 million to $200 million, by 10 (average price of a ticket, rounded off) and from 60 to 20 million people in this country (foreign grosses are not counted or always available) saw the films. Lady Bird had about four million people viewing it.
A few of the awards, it should be noted, are for old times’ sake. Meryl Streep won a nomination for a not wildly dramatic part in The Post, but then again, she is Meryl Streep. And the movie itself was a tribute to the “good old days” of newspapers.
Then there are all the small films that most people never see. I remember seeing Birdman a few years ago in a theater where I was the only occupant. It won for Best Picture, and several people who knew I had liked it came up to me screaming when they saw the film after it won the award telling me it was “not really a Best Picture.” I shrugged and told them that I had never suggested it was.
What does nominating films that no one sees do to the movie business? Well, it certainly lowers the audience for the Academy Awards show. My wife and her friends watch the fashion show. That is always fun. But they turn to other things once the show actually starts.
Why watch a show dedicated to movies you never saw and probably never will? For a few weeks, some fans will go to see a few of the nominated pictures and some, though certainly not all, will be satisfied. One of the films will win as Best Picture and have a decent weekend if nothing particularly good is opening that weekend.
Perhaps we need another set of awards for people in movies that we’ve all seen, the top ten grossing movies. My “Len’s” are as followed: Best Actor in a Film Making a Lot Money: Tom Holland of Spider-Man, although frankly Gary Oldman had a tougher role and was superb for the few who have seen Darkest Hour. Best Actress: Gal Gadot (not even close. Not only was she great becoming the first successful female superhero, she helped establish a female-run blockbuster franchise). Best Supporting Actor: Jack Black for Jumanji (although he might have won it for Best Actress; the gender lines were sort of fluid in a funny way). Best Supporting Actress: Carrie Fisher in Star Wars (longtime crush on Princess Leia). Best film: Wonder Woman.
If you stay awake, watch the Academy Awards. I’ll bet my award will work a lot better for you. Maybe Hollywood should drop its pretensions and join the rest of us.