March 09, 2010

Oscar's Identity Crisis

Had an over-the-fence chat with my neighbour yesterday. He was appalled that The Hurt Locker had beat out Avatar for Best Picture at the Oscars the night before. And even though I was delighted with the result, I had to agree. How can a film that has just barely made back its budget be considered the Best Picture of the year against the highest grossing film of all time ($1.8 billion and counting) that's still selling out theatres twelve weeks after its release? Shouldn't the Best Picture of the year be the one that the most people like?

An article in this morning's NYTimes called The Academy Smiles With Both Faces addressed this glaring incongruity:

This year the entertainment industry woke up to a clear if troubling realization: the Oscars telecast exposed an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in full-fledged identity crisis. Almost everything about the ceremony was big and commercial; almost everything about the winners was small and arty.

Later in the same article an explanation:

Over the last decade the voting membership of the Academy has skewed increasingly toward indie- and foreign-based filmmakers. That is because revised admissions rules strongly favor Oscar nominees over the kind of Hollywood old hands who were once a shoo-in for admission. As smaller films got a footing in the awards over the last few years, those who made and appeared in them became voters, increasing the tilt toward little movies.

It's an interesting paradox, those who vote for the winners (the members of the Academy) are not the people the television show itself is catering to (you and me). Which, now that I think about it, actually gets back to the whole reason for the awards in the first place - a night for the entertainment industry to pat itself on the back. The fact that the general audiences interests aren't represented shouldn't come as much of a surprise.


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