The Oscar nominations are out, almost by surprise. There was a time when Oscar nominations were news, when people cared. Did you care?
Maybe, but it’s hard to see why.
There was a time when the Academy Awards were an institution, where the nation devoured the nominations and joined together around their TV sets to watch the show itself. It was fun – the whole family watched. But that time is rapidly receding in the rear-view mirror of American culture.
It’s more than the fact that there are, literally, other things to watch while in the past the other two networks bowed to the inevitable and counter-programmed with “Mannix” reruns. But the ratings are now in freefall. We don’t care about Oscar because Oscar stopped caring about us.
Let’s look at the Best Picture nominees: “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris,” “The Help,” “Moneyball,” “War Horse” and “The Tree of Life.” For many of these, that’s the first time anyone has looked at them – only three of these movies are even nearly within even the loosest definition of a “hit.”
“The Help,” which has its fans but struck many as another movie about plucky white folks rescuing blacks, thereby making its nomination a certainty, made about $170 million. “Moneyball” and “War Horse” made about $75 and $72 million respectively. And the rest of the nominees? They’re coming soon to one of those supermarket bargain DVD bins near you.
Hollywood defaults to the darlings of the urban elite – I’m doubting “The Tree of Life’s” mopey, soul-searching spiritual journey through time and space and Sean Penn’s soul did a lot of business outside of hipster-infested coastal cities where neo-beatnik audiences in skinny jeans snapped their fingers in approval of the groovy insights Terrance Malick flashed on screen in the place traditionally filled with things like “a plot,” “action” and “a point.”
The presence of Tom Hanks and its high-falutin’ literary heritage are the only things selling “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” – but America isn’t buying. It’s made just $12 million. I guess 9/11-related journeys of self-discovery are a hard sell. And I guess the only people who don’t get that live in Hollywood.
There’s Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Well, if it’s Paris there’s no reason why he couldn’t have somehow incorporated Roman Polanski into it too and made it the ultimate Hollywood tribute to elite-approved and excused sexual exploiters.
“The Descendants” had a big downside – smug lefty George Clooney in the role of “Sensitive George Clooney” – and one huge upside – it was written by the hilarious Jim Rash, best known as the Dean on “Community.” “Hugo” was generally seen as a pleasant diversion. But neither was a huge hit – probably 5-8 million out of 310 million Americans saw each of them. And more importantly, neither has sent out the cultural shockwaves of truly great films – they’re just movies, and not a hugely memorable ones.
Where are the classics, the movies that in future years we will stumble upon on AMC on Sunday afternoons and be unable to look away? These aren’t “Best Pictures” – they’re “Meh Pictures.”
Now, “The Artist” has enjoyed raves but, at $12 million, made little impact at the box office. It seems like a pleasant enough film, but a black and white, silent movie about old Hollywood isn’t a Best Picture. It’s a novelty, and one that’s only been noticed at all because it flatters Hollywood by being about Hollywood.
Maybe “Harry Potter and the Damn Thing Finally Ends, Part 3″ was not the best picture of the year, but did the Academy really expand the number of Best Picture nominees just so that another session of cinematic onanism from Malick could stagger onto the list?
It’s not supposed to be a dry exercise in film criticism – where’s the showmanship, the pizazz that Hollywood used to deliver? This isn’t a Best Picture nominee roster; it’s a laundry list of mediocre movies no one will remember in six months. Sheesh, there’s not even anything amazingly, awesomely awful enough to get our pulses pounding. 3-6 Mafia, where are you!
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So, will Americans gather together in their living rooms on Oscar night, with partisans of “The Descendants” shouting down those favoring “Moneyball?” Yeah, sure. And Jonah Hill deserved to be nominated over the great Albert Brooks.
Hollywood is out of touch and disconnected from its audience on every level. Its theaters are miserable, its content dull or worse, its politics offensive and the ticket price for it all outrageous. The idea of a movie star is dying, and it appears the Oscar is on life support.