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Klavan On The Culture

What Do the Oscar Nominations Tell Us?

January 26th, 2014 - 8:00 am
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Often, around this time of year, I like to write a little satire on the Oscars, teasing Hollywood for all the great conservative films that would be massive hits — if it weren’t for the fact they never get made. (Hannity! The gripping ripped-from-the-headlines story of a square-jawed Fox News commentator who stands alone against a racist media lynch mob when three innocent Duke Lacrosse players are wrongly accused of rape!) But to be honest, reading this year’s list of nominees, I couldn’t work up the energy. The awards just seem too irrelevant.

Take a look at this. I picked three years before 1968, when Hollywood began to get radicalized.

1946 was a high watermark of movie ticket sales. Of the Oscar nominees that year (not counting the British Henry V, which had a staggered release), three out of four were top ten at the box office. The fourth was It’s A Wonderful Life, which came in at only number thirty but has been making up for it ever since. The winner, The Best Years of Our Lives, was number one.

In 1956, again, four out of five films nominated were in the box office top ten. The exception was William Wyler’s Friendly Persuasion, which fell just out of the top twenty. The Oscar winner, Around the World in Eighty Days, was number two at the BO. The Ten Commandments was number one, and remains popular to this day.

Finally, in 1962, all five of the nominated films were in the Box Office top ten. The winner, Lawrence of Arabia, was number one and also one of the greatest films ever made.

Nowadays, the academy has taken to nominating twice as many films because they can’t find five that are both award-worthy and popular enough to draw eyeballs to the Oscar show. Of the nominees this year, only the fine and original entertainment Gravity is in the top twenty, though Captain Phillips, certainly one of the best films I saw last year, and American Hustle, have both done respectably. To be fair, many of the pictures were released late in the year and may climb the BO ladder with some Oscar buzz. But many — Her, Philomena, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club — are unlikely to reach a big audience ever. Her is also a bad movie.

Now obviously, bad box office doesn’t mean a film is undeserving of award attention any more than good box office makes The Hunger Games sequel an enduring classic. That’s not my point at all. My point is simply that Hollywood used routinely to be able to make fine films that were also popular smashes. Now, with only the very occasional exception like Gravity, not so much.

In part this is just something that happens to an art form as it ages and its energies and variations get played out. Byron’s poetry made him a celebrity. Today, most people couldn’t name a living poet.

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Top Rated Comments   
If you are not going to recognize "Lone Survivor" and properly honor the U.S. military, then quite frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
“Once-popular awards like the Oscars become embarrassing gatherings of the privileged applauding their own superiority.”

Spot-on, Mr. Klaven.

One of WSJ’s “House of the Day” features recently showed the home of Gregory Peck’s widow. (She bought this home after he had passed away, and now that she has also died, the heirs are selling it.) One of the slide captions draws the reader’s attention to Peck’s two Oscars that are displayed on shelves in the room, with the an additional note that during his life time, Peck chose not to display these Oscars in a public area of their home, but rather elected to keep them on shelves in his dressing room. A telling comment, not likely to be said of anyone these days!
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Haven't seen any of them and probably won't.
But the years you picked! Only a great and loving culture would make The Best Years of Our Lives the number 1 movie. A wonderful mature, realistic loving movie.
Look at the list for 1956. Friendly Persuasion, not in the top 20 at the box office, but nominated. Another masterpiece, a bit romanticized, but no other movie I know so accurately the portrays how a reasonably prosperous farmer lived in the mid 19th C. The story is great, but look at the details in the scenes and Gary Cooper is fantastic. His desire to beat his neighbor on their Sunday trip to church is priceless.
Then 1962, Lawrence, Longest Day, Mockingbird, Days of Wine and Roses, Music Man, Baby Jane, Manchurian Candidate.
Sadly our culture is unable to produce such remarkable works of art any longer.
So so sad...
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (38)
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Hey Andrew!
May God bless you for what you accomplish. We all wish we could so articulately ridicule the regime the way you do.
Caucasian
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I haven't seen an Academy Awards ceremony in years ... nor am likely to in the future.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wait, don't tell me!

Hmmm...

That Hollyweird is filled with self-regarding assholes?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
One thing I've noticed with the films I've seen so far is that they are not very ambitious in a big film sense. Gravity seems like 1/3 of a film that may have been better suited within a larger story. As is it is better suited to TV. So is Her, as much as I liked it.

American Hustle is a very good film with fantastic performances but kinda forgets to include much of a story that would make those performances mean much more than a tightrope act might be.

Wolf of Wall Street is much the same thing: a series of set pieces we've seen before and which don't quite add up to a film. It's not self-plagiarized but the thought crossed my mind. It is very much inferior to Goodfellas.

I guess what I'm saying is that the films I've seen remind me of a quarterback trying not to throw interceptions rather than going for a touchdown. That tells me the filmmakers are more than aware of their limitations and lack of an authoritative voice.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm a frequent visitor to pjmedia.com, good articles written by generally common sense authors, including Andrew Klavan. However, why should most of us care about the self-serving Oscars, and the preening air heads that comprise most of the movie industry. The Oscars, its a non-event, so
Andrew next year don't waste your time commenting on it.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not so sure it was just Byron's poetry -- he had a busy sex life too, in an early tabloid kind of way.

Turning to 'intellectuals and critics for praise and prestige' is certainly part of the mess, but the raw material matters more: today's Great Thinkers of Hollywood include Cher, Streisand, M. Damon, G. Clooney and many babbling black people. To make gold there you need alchemy, not the Academy.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hollywood used to draw on a long, rich literary tradition. Now they make sequels, and prequels, and frame-for-frame remakes, and movies based on comic books and video games. The writing talent is wanting and they have completely run out of ideas.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Any marketing company that marketed drugs, alcohol and tobacco as vigorously and effectively as the SAG (i.e., this year's homage to Breaking Bad) would not be allowed to hide behind the First Amendment and "artistic freedom," but would be brought to its knees, with trial lawyers licking up the scraps from the money feast.

Any CEO of industry with a history such as Roman Polanski's would be hounded by the media, until there were few places on earth that he could hide.

Hollywood does have some 'splainin' to do, and it should be done in front of judges, with full financial liability at stake. When you glamorize hurtful behavior, life imitates art. For example, all the members of the SAG who voted for and made money off of entertainment such as Breaking Bad should have to explain to the grandmother of three little girls why their mother is incapable of caring for them, but her meth dealer continues to profit.

Hollywood creates victims, then feeds off them.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe it's a bit like the French Académie des Beaux-Arts in the 19th century. A few artists felt the institution was stifling artistic creativity and progress. So they rebelled, and we got Impressionists painting their way and holding their own art exhibits - or counter-exhibits.

Maybe filmmaking needs a similar revolution today. The radical young filmmakers of the 60s and 70s are now the old guard. Get out from under them, the AMPAS, the crowd at Cannes and Sundance. Do you own thing.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent take on how arftforms decay! And if Klavan's fictional Hannity! movie appeals to you how about these -

http://glitternight.com/2014/01/04/the-most-controversial-independent-movies-of-2013/
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hmmm, some pretty good ideas at your link!
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe the last popular poet might have been Robert Frost.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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