Feb 18, 2007

And the Nominees Are . . . Lame

I know that all of you faithful readers have been anticipating my take on the Oscar nominees. In fact, I have been asked that very same question more than two times in the last month. Well, you don't have to wait any longer. I am putting this up today, because one week from today is the actual ceremony. I will be doing a running diary of the show, but a little delayed because I'll be on my way back from Chattanooga that day.

ABC is stressing right now. You know why? They are worried about how badly the Oscar telecast is going to do in the ratings next week. The Oscars used to be one of the most watched shows of the year - if not the most watched. But it has been losing viewers like crazy. Last year, 38.8 million people watched the show. In 2005, 41.8 million watched it. 2004 had 43.5 million viewers. In 2003, 33.1 million tuned in. 2002 there were 41.8 million. Before that, the lowest had been 37.2 and 37.8 million in 1986 and 1987. The highest ever was 1998, when 55 million watched Titanic sail off with a boatload of gold men. The telecast continues to change hosts, limit speeches, have more coverage of the dresses (preferably the ones with little coverage), and build more ornate set designs. But the number continue to drop like crazy.

Want my suggestion? How about having some nominations that the average movie watcher gives a darn about? I'm not saying that the awful Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Eyeshadow should have gotten nominations. But come on? I did a study of the Oscar nominations since 1998 - taking a look at the Big Six categories. That would be Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. I did some averages - looking at each category and the overall averages. Here's what I found.

Last year - the horrible rated show - the overall average for films in those 30 nomination slots was a whopping $40.2 million. Keep in mind, that was after the Oscar telecast when the movies got bumps in box office. The average for best picture was $49. Not a single picture made $100 million. The year before? Overall average $43.5 million; best picture $80.3 million. Maybe that explains the ratings drop? Yeah, I think so. These films being nominated have not been seen by most average Americans - like the ones watching the Oscarcast. Look at the big viewer years - there are films that people cared about -- Lord of the Rings, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan.

So this year? Well, what do you think? These numbers were as of the nominations - so they have probably changed a little. The overall average is $43.7 million. The Best Picture nominees average just under $49 million. Only one film in the Best Picture race (The Departed) made over $100 million. Only three more films nominated at all in the Big Six made $100 million (Dreamgirls - barely, Pursuit of Happyness, and Devil Wears Prada). Instead, we have a bunch of wimpy independent films that have box office numbers like the only people watching them were voters.

It is ridiculous. Letters from Iwo Jima had sold $2.6 million in tickets and is up for Best Picture and Best Director. $2.6 million? That is like 260,000 people. Are you kidding me? The best picture all year only drew 260,000 people? If it was really the best, wouldn't more people want to see it? Honestly, I never even saw that it came to Orlando - not to any theater I frequent. How could anyone in good conscience vote for a movie that made less in its whole run than a big movie can make on the midnight shows the night before release? I don't think that all of the movies have to be huge money makers - but there needs to be some kind of popular response. t

The other categories are not much better. Peter O'Toole's acting job in Venus was so amazing that it sold $1 million in tickets. Ryan Gosling's in Half Nelson was almost four times more inspiring as it brought in $3.8 million. Who watches a film if it only makes a million dollars? All told FIVE FILMS with nominations in the Big Six made under $10 MILLION. Give me a break. I can somewhat understand that some of the acting nominees may not have huge box office. Can you really hold Forrest Whitaker responsible for the fact that no one wants to see Last King of Scotland? For years, the acting nominees will honor supreme efforts - even if no one sees that film. In the last ten year, seven times the average of the nominees in one acting category was below $40 million. This year accounts for two of those. Of the six categories, all averaged less than $50 million except Supporting Actor. Last year was virtually the same story (4 of 6 under 50 mil).

What's the point of all of this? The Oscars are becoming a boring event because they insist on honoring films that no one cares about. The world of movies has become split into categories. There are the popular, high-grossing films with little critical interest or recognition. There are the small, low-grossing films with high critical interest and recognition, and low public interest. Then there are the mid-range films no one really cares about. Very rarely does a movie crash out the category it belongs in. The Lord of the Rings series was so good the critics could not ignore it, so it got nominations (but very few awards, if you really look at it). The Departed, A Beautiful Mind, and Seabiscuit are a few critical darlings that somehow got a lot of money. But the general rule is that films that are popular are not going to get nominated. For example, Batman Begins was an extraordinary film. Most people put it on their Top Ten list. But it was not going to get any big nominations. Are you honestly going to tell me that it was not as good as Capote? How would you even know? No one saw it. And another film that year that got shafted in the Best Picture category was Walk the Line.

Think about over the years some of these films that got passed over because they were big money films. The Matrix in 1999 - it was better than three of the Best Picture nominees. LOTR got shafted on the first two films and wasn't rewarded until the last one in the trilogy. What about Daniel Craig this year for the new Bond film? Matt Damon for The Good Shepherd? Unless it has that "indie" feel - or if it has one of the major Oscar sweethearts (Meryl Streep, Judi Densch, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks) it is not getting a chance. Even I have gotten bored with the whole Oscar process - and I love movies so much. I know that nothing I've ever seen will get nominations. This year, I had only seen two of the nominated films. So, what do I care who won? I bet that opinion is going to be echoed all over the nation next Sunday.

You want predictions? Here are my predictions.
Best Picture: Babel
Best Director: Martin Scorcese for The Departed
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker for Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: Helen Mirren for The Queen
Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls
Best Animated Film: Cars
Oscar Neilsen number: 35.7 million - First place for the week (barely over American Idol

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