Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Best: Anti-Populist Academy Awards

I know I have made this point a lot, but the Academy Awards keeps shooting itself in the foot with their insistence on its anti-populism.

Again, the popular film isn't always the best.  But the Academy appears to have an aversion to things that are popular among the movie-going audience.

Allow me to demonstrate.  Here is an analysis of the Top Grossing Films by year for the 2000's, along with the rank of the highest grossing non-animated, non-franchise film and the ranking of The winner of the Best Picture Oscar:

Top Grossing FilmNon-Franchise/Non Animated Top GrosserGross Rank of "Best Picture
1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas2. Cast Away4. Gladiator
1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone7. Pearl Harbor11. A Beautiful Mind
1. Spider-Man 5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding10. Chicago
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King7. Elf1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
1. Shrek 23. The Passion of the Christ24. Million Dollar Baby
1. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith4. War of the Worlds49. Crash
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest10. The Pursuit of Happyness15. Departed
1. Spider-Man 36. I am Legend36. No Country For Old Men
1. The Dark Knight12. Gran Torino (Hancock (#4 in gross) is technically not a franchise film, but it was intended to be).16. Slumdog Millionaire
1. Avatar8. The Blind Side116. The Hurt Locker
1. Toy Story 36. Inception18. King's Speech
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 213. The Help71. The Artist
1. The Avengers13. Lincoln22. Argo
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire6. Gravity62. 12 Years a Slave
1. American Sniper1. American Sniper78. Birdman
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens8. The Martian62. Spotlight
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Stor14. Hidden Figures95. Moonlight

You can see the breakdown like this:

Only The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the highest grossing film of the year to win Best Picture.  

Notice too how erratic the grosses are for Best Picture.  The Academy seems to have a hard time giving an Oscar to a semi popular movie.  After 2003, every time a relatively popular film wins an Oscar, the Academy goes out of its way to choose an obscure film.    Look at the swing between Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, and The King's Speech.  And if you notice the trend since 2012, the Academy is moving further and further away from popular films.

But even if you controlled for non-franchise, non-animated films, the Academy is not in step with the movie-going public.  Granted, most of the films in this category were nominated for Oscars, but they rarely won.  Even if the Academy decided eliminate every franchise or animated film from Best Picture contention, they are still incredibly far apart from their audience.  

What does this mean?

The Academy voters want to tell us what is good.  But I tend to trust the movie-going public more.  But I think it goes beyond that.  Look at the themes in the non-franchise, non-sequel films:

2. Cast AwayHold on to hope
7. Pearl HarborPatriotism and friendship
5. My Big Fat Greek WeddingFamily and Marriage
7. ElfFamily and Christmas spirit
3. The Passion of the ChristThe Love of God
4. War of the WorldsProtectiveness of Fathers
10. The Pursuit of HappynessProtectiveness of Fathers
6. I am LegendFaith and self-sacrifice
12. Gran Torino (Hancock (#4 in gross) is technically not a franchise film, but it was intended to be).Caring for others who are different and self-sacrifice
8. The Blind SideFamily and racial unity
6. InceptionThe nature of dreams
13. The HelpHuman dignity and racial justice
13. LincolnHuman dignity and leadership
6. GravitySurvival and faith
1. American SniperPatriotism and courage
8. The MartianInnovation and courage
14. Hidden Figuresinnovation and racial justice
For the Oscar winners its this:

4. GladiatorStrength and Honor
11. A Beautiful MindLove overcomes all challenges
10. ChicagoFame corrupts
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingCourage and Goodness against evil
24. Million Dollar BabyHandicapped life isn't worth living
49. CrashEveryone is racist
15. DepartedLife is unjust
36. No Country For Old MenWe're all going to die
16. Slumdog MillionaireLife is all connected
116. The Hurt LockerWar is a drug
18. King's SpeechWe can overcome our handicaps
71. The ArtistAdapt or die
22. ArgoCourage and creative movie-making
62. 12 Years a Slavecourage and endurance
78. BirdmanArt is better than life
62. SpotlightCorruption in the Church
95. MoonlightRacial and orientation injustice.

Now my interpretations of the theme are debatable.  But for the most part, there is a higher appeal to traditional values in the first list as opposed to the last list.  

I believe the Academy is not only trying to sell us on style, but on theme.  The reason why is that themes deal with the transcendent part of the story and those are the places that truly affect our world-view.  I believe that as the years have gone on, the Academy is less interested in reflecting the themes that truly are universal to all humans and instead focus on trying to push new and innovative themes.

This is a mistake for several reasons.  But the primary reason is this:  truth always wins out.

If art is not touching on something truly transcendent and universal, then it is too much tied to the zeitgeist.  And when that happens, it becomes quickly out of fashion.

Be honest, in the last 10 years, from which list of films are you going to find movies that are still relevant?  And from which list will we find movie that will be relevant in 30 years?

The Academy voters need to stop thinking only of the moment but of the film's place in the pantheon of great films.  To horribly repurpose and paraphrase a quote about Shakespeare, great movies should not be for only their time, but for all time.

1 comment:

  1. Return of the King shouldn't have one Best Picture

    It should have won Best Picture of All Time

    ...For the record, It's a Wonderful Life, which did not win Best Picture, could have won Best Picture of All Time too