Thursday, November 19, 2009

One can only hope

That something comes of this:

Despite the surface glamour of the Oscar race, studio executives have been waging a ferocious, and almost entirely private, debate about the value of joining the hunt.

The chase for prizes can add tens of millions of dollars to the cost of marketing a movie that, like “Crazy Heart,” may have been produced for peanuts. Sometimes, as with “Slumdog Millionaire,” which also fell to Fox Searchlight after a division of another studio passed on releasing it — Warner Brothers, in that case — the prize game pays off. That movie won a best picture Oscar and took in $141.3 million in domestic ticket sales, which were shared by Fox and Warner. But Universal was disappointed after spending heavily on “Frost/Nixon,” a best picture nominee, and its Focus Features division did only modest business with “Milk,” which was nominated as well.

An Oscars minus multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns wouldn't necessarily mean that obscure Icelandic films would start contending for real awards--the Oscars do better in ratings during years where people have seen the films, which still aligns the incentives in favor of pandering--but if they stopped with the campaigns, it would definitely be an improvement. I personally think that the entire concept of the Oscars is wrong. The tendency to try to pick The Best Movie of the current year invariably leads to a popularity contest, and while the Oscars sometimes get things right, the movies that sell the most tickets are of course rarely the most important or innovative ones. I'd rather see the Oscars happen with a five-year latency period. Let's take some time to see which movies stick in the public's consciousness, which ones inspire rabid cults, which ones spawn tons of imitators before closing the book on the year. I think it's safe to say, for example, that The Insider was a considerably better film than American Beauty, which confused misanthropy with insight; and Munich was obviously a much, much better film than Crash as well as Brokeback Mountain, the movie that everyone figured would win. But I'll readily admit that I thought much more of American Beauty the first time I saw it (my excuse was that I was, at the time, eighteeen). And I initially thought that Munich was sort of an average genre exercise until I watched it again a few years afterward and realized it for the masterpiece that it truly was. Sometimes something doesn't catch you the first time you see it, or maybe something inferior convinces you it's something it's not.

So, enhanced Oscar latency would probably result in better picks, I suspect, but then again there are some decisions (Shakespeare In Love over Saving Private Ryan?) that don't make any sense at all unless one considers the bribery campaigns that these studios wage to get their baubles. At the very least, we might be spared some of the more blatant Oscar head-slappers in the future.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.