ANALYSIS: Have Oscars gotten lost in arthouse byways?
By Andy Goldberg Feb 22, 2012, 12:35 GMT
Los Angeles - The Oscars may be the highlight of the Hollywood calendar, but the average moviegoer will probably react to the festivities this Sunday night with a giant yawn.
Recent ratings for the Oscar telecast parallel a long-term decline in movie ticket sales in the United States and reflect a growing sense of ambivalence toward the awards show, which appears to be increasingly irrelevant to the tastes of the movie-going public.
A year ago, just 36 million viewers tuned in to watch the 83rd Academy Awards, when the royal drama The King's Speech took home the best picture prize. That was actually a pretty good year for the Oscars with a bunch of popular films in the running for prizes. The King's Speech had earned more than 100 million dollars at the box office, while other popular contenders included True Grit, The Fighter and Toy Story 3.
The previous year, The Hurt Locker won the Oscar with less than 40 million dollars at the box office, beating out Avatar, the highest-grossing film of all time. Before that, Slumdog Millionaire was a relatively popular winner with a US take of 140 million dollars, almost double the ticket sales for 2008 winner No Country for Old Men.
Not since 2004 and the record-breaking Oscar haul for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has a best-picture winner been as popular with audiences as it was with Academy voters.
This year's ceremonies are unlikely to change the elitist dynamic that has swept the Oscars. Hot favourite The Artist has taken in just 28 million dollars at the US box office, while leading contender Hugo has earned 67 million dollars. The only film nominated for best picture to crack the 100-million-dollar mark is The Help, which has earned almost 170 million dollars.
'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,' notes Owen Gleiberman, film critic for Entertainment Weekly, recalling such popular winners as Rocky, Chicago, The Sound of Music or The Sting.
Now Oscar voters shun mass entertainment, he argues: '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.'
Why are the Oscars so out of tune with regular moviegoers that not a single one of the year's top-grossing films has a look-in at this year's awards? Even the final Harry Potter film, which took in 381 million dollars and closed a franchise that helped define the blockbuster era of the last decade, was shut out of the major categories, earning just three nods for art direction, visual effects and makeup.
Part of the reason may be the composition of the Academy, which is completely out of sync with the young, racially diverse audiences that pack theatres throughout the land.
According to a study by the Los Angeles Times, the Academy is 94 per cent white and 77 per cent male. Only 14 per cent of the Academy is younger than 50, with only 2 per cent African-Americans and 2 per cent Latinos.
Film professor Neil Gabler of the University of Southern California believes that the dichotomy - between the films that Hollywood makes, and the ones that it actually admires - reveals a sense of self-loathing deep in the heart of Tinseltown.
While studio executives lust as strongly as ever for box-office lucre, they lust just as much for artistic respect.
'Hollywood ... may make a lot of junk, but it doesn't mistake that junk for art,' Gabler wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
The preponderance of nostalgic movies in Sunday's Oscar line-up 'are less about a lost past than they are about an unsatisfactory present,' he said. 'In modern Hollywood, it is easy to hate what you do. This year, the Oscars are giving folks there a chance to say so.'