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EW.com: The Oscars Are No Longer About the Audience…

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  • PaulHJR
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    #53912

    Owen Glieberman, you are my hero:

    A couple of weeks ago, based on the
    fact that The Artist, as it began to open across the country, didn’t
    exactly seem to be setting the box office aflame (I don’t mean when
    compared to Thor — I mean on the traditional indie-crossover
    circuit), I made an Academy Awards prediction. It had much in common
    with a lot of the Academy Awards predictions that people have been
    making recently, in that it was fearlessly wrong. I said that I
    thought The Artist had peaked, and that The Help would win Best
    Picture. That could still happen, of course, but at this point I
    wouldn’t bet the farm on it, or even a nice steak dinner. Despite
    its less-than-Richter-scale-rattling performance thus far, The
    Artist, as it racks up wins (the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild,
    the Directors Guild), is looking more and more like a classic Oscar
    juggernaut, a runaway awards train fueled by the metaphysics of the
    entertainment-media echo chamber, in which the relentless chatter
    about the “inevitability” of one movie winning becomes a big part
    of the reason that it inevitably wins. (It’s Access Hollywood meets
    the doctrine of predestination. Or maybe just the doctrine of
    Harvey.)

     

    I bring up my mistake not so much to
    come clean (the great thing about Academy Awards predictions is that
    so many people get so many of them wrong that you don’t have to),
    but because I think the reason I was wrong illustrates a quiet sea
    change that has taken place in the Oscars: The audience — remember
    them? — is no longer a very big part of the equation. I had
    assumed, mistakenly, that because The Help was an astonishingly big
    hit, and because its success sprung from the way that it clearly
    touched a racial-cultural nerve in people, that the movie’s organic
    popularity — as opposed to the heavily marketed freeze-dried
    quasi-popularity of The Artist — would be decisive at the Academy
    Awards. But all I was demonstrating was a mode of analysis about how
    the Oscars work that is now, more or less, completely outmoded.

     

    The change has only really occurred
    within the last couple of years. As a kid, I loved the Oscars, but I
    always remember the first time I watched them as a film buff. It was
    1977, my freshman year in college, and the year that Rocky won. You
    could say that Rocky was an inspired choice, but when you look at the
    movies it was up against – All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver,
    Network, and Bound for Glory – the triumph of Rocky looks a lot
    more like what it was: Hollywood honoring the movie that year that
    had struck the greatest populist chord. Of the five nominees, it was
    hardly the most indelible work of art, and no one pretended that it
    was. It didn’t have to be. It was a classic crowd-pleaser, and the
    reason it won is that, make no mistake, that was the business that
    Hollywood was in, and always had been in. Pleasing crowds.

     

    For decades, ever since the dawn of the
    New Hollywood (and probably before), to be a movie freak and to watch
    the Academy Awards was to partake in a unique ritual of fused
    celebration and cynicism. The glamour and star power were the real
    thing, and a lot of the movies and performances that won were
    timeless. Yet the cynicism came from one’s awareness that the
    voters, no matter what their personal taste, always had one eye on
    “the mass audience.” At the Academy Awards, box-office success
    legitimized a movie, gave it cachet, and, in so doing, altered its
    meaning. And there was an unabashed hint of pop corruption in that.
    It was the “tasteful” middlebrow version of the blockbuster
    mentality. Yes, a movie that was a work of art could win the Oscar
    for Best Picture, and often did – provided, of course, that it was
    a major hit (On the Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, Midnight Cowboy,
    The Godfather, Annie Hall, The Silence of the Lambs, Schindler’s
    List). But just as often, the movie that won wasn’t a work of art,
    yet it was a work of entertainment that meant a lot to a lot of
    people (Marty, The Sound of Music, In the Heat of the Night, The
    Sting, Braveheart, Dances With Wolves, Chicago).

     

    For a long time, it was all too easy to
    be a snob about the Oscars. Now, though, you could almost say that
    the snobs have taken over the Academy asylum. The Oscars now covet
    something much more than popularity: They covet cred. It all shifted
    two years ago, when The Hurt Locker won Best Picture. The movie had
    grossed around $15 million, and no Best Picture winner in history had
    been seen in theaters by that tiny or select an audience. That simply
    wasn’t the way that the Oscars worked. But now, suddenly, The Hurt
    Locker’s triumph among critics’ groups and its big win at the
    Academy Awards became part of a continuous, aesthetically dictated
    sweep. In the old days, or even just a few years before, Avatar – the main movie that The Hurt Locker was up against – would likely
    have taken the award for Best Picture. Now, though, it wasn’t just
    critics, or “small” or “elite” groups of viewers, who had
    become art-conscious at the expense of even thinking about
    popularity. The entire Academy, reversing course on 80 years, had
    tossed out popularity as a priority.

     

    You could argue that it was a fluke.
    The following year, the Oscars got swept by The King’s Speech,
    which was a classic art-house crossover movie. Suddenly, it seemed,
    popularity was relevant again. I began to think that the year of The
    Hurt Locker was merely an anomaly. Only here we are in a new Oscar
    season, and the hot buzz is gathering around a movie – and one key
    performance – that remains stubbornly unaffirmed by the old
    populist yardstick. The Artist, when it first began to generate
    excitement, was presumed to have a major mainstream viability: It
    would be the silent black-and-white heart tugger that made the
    antique new, that turned everyone in the ‘plex onto old-movie
    magic. But now it’s looking a lot less universal in its appeal (not
    that there’s anything wrong with that). And wouldn’t it be ironic
    if Meryl Streep, who looks like she might take home an Oscar for the
    first time in 30 years, did so for a film that, with its already
    middling per-screen average, has basically demonstrated how little
    most people want to see a movie about Margaret Thatcher. (Or maybe
    they just don’t want to see one as brassy and maladroit as The Iron
    Lady.)

     

    At this point, a lot of you are
    probably thinking: This is all a good thing! Why not sever the
    Academy Awards from the scuzzy sway of popularity? I’m tempted to
    join the chorus. Except that a couple of things bother me about how,
    and why, the issue of what the audience thinks has become a
    nonstarter for a great many Academy voters. It seems to me that in
    the old days, the Oscars were striving, in their way, for a fusion of
    commerce and art, of popularity and acclaim, that represented the
    very soul of the Dream Factory. Sure, the Oscars didn’t always
    achieve that fusion (remember when Chariots of Fire won? Or, of
    course, Crash?), but there was something honorable in the attempt. In
    the current era, Academy voters have evolved to the point that they
    keep a new kind of kosher, with Art and Mass Entertainment on
    separate tables, and increasingly rarely shall the twain meet. That’s
    why franchise movies, even stupendous ones like The Dark Knight, or a
    cathartic zeitgeist comedy like Bridesmaids don’t get Best Picture
    nominations. They may be works of art, but they come from the wrong
    table. And that’s why a likable (but, to me, minor) curio like The
    Artist, even when it has connected only modestly to the enlightened
    audiences that made hits (and Oscar victories) out of The King’s
    Speech or No Country for Old Men, can already look like an official
    shiny winner in the hermetic new world of Academy Cred.

    I guess I’m saying that there was
    something, in its wisdom-of-the-mob way, that made the Oscars sort of
    soulful in the era when the judgments of the Academy had to be
    validated by the raw power of the audience. Back then, you could only
    take the Oscars halfway seriously (if that), but at least Academy
    Awards night, in its combination of glitz, pandering, and middlebrow
    taste, represented the unity of Hollywood movies and everyone around
    the world who adores them. On the surface, at least, the new Academy
    Awards appears to be far more tasteful and pure. The movies, by and
    large, are smaller, the judgments more refined, and the popcorn
    movies – remember them? – that the vast majority of the audience
    prefers are nowhere to be seen. (In effect, they’re shunned.) But
    since the folks in Hollywood spend most of their time making those
    movies, you have to wonder if leaving the audience behind on Oscar
    night is a sign that the Academy Awards have evolved to a new
    artistic seriousness, or if they’ve turned art into another high
    concept, and if the voters are just pandering in a new way: not to
    the masses but to themselves. 

    Reply
    Scottferguson
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    #53914

    Seriously, couldn’t you attach this to a thread where one of your several hundred posts on the same subject already appears?

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #53915

    Meh.  Is film history best served by ROCKY beating up TAXI DRIVER for best picture?

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    PaulHJR
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    #53916

    The post was to describe my resignation over the inevitability of The Artist cleaning everyone’s clock.  Nothing more or less.

    Get the frak over yourself. 

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    Lone Pirate
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    #53917

    I had assumed, mistakenly, that because The Help was an astonishingly big hit, and because its success sprung from the way that it clearly touched a racial-cultural nerve in people, that the movie’s organic popularity — as opposed to the heavily marketed freeze-dried quasi-popularity of The Artist — would be decisive at the Academy Awards. But all I was demonstrating was a mode of analysis about how the Oscars work that is now, more or less, completely outmoded. 

    This sentence is pretty much spot-on perfection. The Help is a hit because people (moviegoers) actually liked it and responded to it. The Artist with its manufactured popularity is certainly not. While some members of AMPAS still respond naturally to films, it is easily apparent that many of them are suckers for hype. Or maybe they are simply robots awaiting a new program that tells them what to like.

    Thanks for posting his article, Paul, You aren’t the only one who enjoyed it.

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #53918

    Girly “women’s pictures” like THE HELP never win Best Picture.  They never have and it’s not fair to blame THE ARTIST for that.

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    Scottferguson
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    #53919

    <<And my post was to describe my resignation over the inevitability of The Artist cleaning everyone’s clock.  Nothing more or less.>>

    That of course would be a film whose win you protest without having the intellectual honesty or curiosity to see for yourself, which for me, makes your opinion worthless.

    And I started from the position years ago supporting the idea that BP nominees should include films like Dark Knight and Inception, even if they weren’t my choices. And now they are, which is mostly what you were complaining about.

    The Artist for me will be a much more deserving winner than The King’s Speech. But we all have our objections to many of the winners. Only you keep it as the sole reason for coming here, and then repeating the same thing with zero variation day after day, year after year.

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    iskolar
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    #53920

    Oh my god, here we go again.

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    dannyboy.
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    #53921

    Sort of seemed like a promptly timed plea for The Help to win BP. Not a major fan of The Artist, rather see Hugo win, but if it blocks The Help from receiving the title, I’m ok with that.

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    babypook
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    #53922

    Well, they can keep biting the hand that feeds them. The Oscars, will likely never become incidental to me, but I am not arrogant enough to dismiss what the audience wants to see.

    There is nothing ‘enligntened’ about the Academy going with “The Artist” for Best Picture. In any event, good for them. Let’s see how long their collective hard-on lasts when nobody gives a damn about these awards. Nobody but the ones voting.

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #53923

    Why shouldn’t THE ARTIST appeal to members of the Academy?  It’s about making movies, fercrissake!

    And why disregard critical consensus, which indisputably finds THE ARTIST is a better-made movie than THE HELP?

    BTW, HUGO won’t win because it will be seen (wrongly or rightly) as a “children’s film.”

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    Scottferguson
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    #53924

    Actually being about the movies has heretofore been a negative for winning best picture.

    A number of previous films on the subject – Sunset Blvd, A Star Is Born, Singin’ in the Rain, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Barefoot Contessa, Barton Fink, Ed Wood, Day for Night, 8 1/2, Get Shorty, Gods and Monsters, The Player, Purple Rose of Cairo, The Stunt Man, Sullivan’s Travels – are considered by many to be as good or better than many best picture winners. Yet only a couple of these (maybe only one) was even nominated. It actually has clearly been a negative for the Academy at least to this point.

    The Bad and the Beautiful – perhaps the best film ever about Hollywood – managed to win five Oscars without even being nominated for best picture.

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #53925

    My only reservation to THE ARTIST winning best picture is its costume design using “monkey fur.”  This is a serious and frankly idiotic lapse in judgment that could easily have been avoided.  Didn’t anyone watch this movie before it was released?  At any rate, it should be excluded from winning Best Costume Design.

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    Logan
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    #53926

    I couldn’t bring myself to read the entire thing, but here’s the worldwide box office for the last 10 BP winners:

    A Beautiful Mind – $313,542,341

    Chicago – $306,776,732  

    The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – $1,119,929,521 

    Million Dollar Baby – $216,763,646

    Crash – $98,410,061

    The Departed – $289,847,354

    No Country for Old Men – $171,627,166

    Slumdog Millionaire – $377,910,544

    The Hurt Locker – $49,230,772

    The King’s Speech – $414,211,549              

    ……………………….

    So, yes, it is jumping the gun to say the Oscars don’t care about the audience (especially when nearly all of these films hit with BOTH the public and critics).

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    Scottferguson
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    #53927

    Facts aren’t going to matter to those who have closed minds, but thanks for posting this.

    The Artist is up to $46 million. If it wins, I expect world wide it will get to $150 million, which would be phenomenal.

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