Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Has Elvis has left the building?

I remember when the Grammies finally tanked. I think the exact moment was when Jethro Tull won for the best heavy metal/hard rock album in the year when Metallica had released their eponymous "black album" that still sells like sliced bread to this very day. Hip hop/rap was on the rise, and there were grumbles that it needed to get the respect its fans and artists felt it should have, so it started its slow takeover of the airwaves.

In the music biz, boy bands and other ersatz artists began to clog the airwaves that were left over from hip hop. Radio itself had conglomeratized into monoliths that controlled most of the market, pumped commercials up to over 23 minutes per hour. Meanwhile, software came out that allowed folks to convert CDs into files that took only 3 megabytes per song, making it possible to store most or all of one's collection on a PC. People rediscovered their collections, and since the airwaves were only catering to kids and gangstas, people stopped buying music regularly.

Queue "The Day the Music Died" and you can have my MP3 player when you wrench it from my cold dead hands in prison.

I say that to say this: Are movies going the same way?

The Oscars have always had their inadequacies since they never give good comedies their due, and seem to have missed the memo that fantasy and sci-fi have been the primary forces that drive people the movies anymore since Jaws and Star Wars.

But for the films they did honor, they seemed to do a decent job of matching nominations with popular tastes, art, and the well-known strokefests for folks who'd been passed over or ripped off earlier.

But, is this the year the Oscars leave the rails?

Let's have a look at the past, first. Here's a list of the nominations and winners for best picture from 2000 forward. An Asterisk (*) denotes the winner, a smiley emoticon marks those I judge as commercial and popular successes based on box-office and word of mouth (whether I personally liked them or not).

* Gladiator =)
o Chocolat
o Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon =)
o Erin Brockovich =)
o Traffic

* A Beautiful Mind =)
o Gosford Park
o In the Bedroom
o The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring =)
o Moulin Rouge! =)

* Chicago =)
o Gangs of New York
o The Hours
o The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers =)
o The Pianist

* The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King =)
o Lost in Translation =)
o Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
o Mystic River =)
o Seabiscuit

* Million Dollar Baby =)
o The Aviator
o Finding Neverland
o Ray =)
o Sideways =)

And here we are at this year's nominations.

o Brokeback Mountain
o Capote
o Crash
o Good Night, and Good Luck
o Munich

Reviewing the movies that were in wide release, this appears to be somewhat of a dry year, but there seems to be quite a few that could and should be on this list that aren't. Why are these the ones nominated?

Capote looks like it's good, but it didn't pack'em in.

Crash is popular on video because of the controversy it's stirred up, but it was ignored in the theatres, too. I would say popular opinion is that it's a turkey.

Good Night and Good Luck looks absorbing and classy, but it also looks complex and dank, perfect for a late-night DVD viewing with the SO, but not a day out at the flicks with a $10 bucket of popcorn. The producers didn't expect big box-office, and they were right.

Munich is probably an official flop. Especially for a Spielberg.

Brokeback Mountain is the only one in this list that continues to appear in the box-office top ten, and so is the only one that could claim to be a hit. Though, I still don't know anyone who's seen it - and it is playing locally - and while a box-office of 50 million is nothing to sneeze at, most moderate hits outsell that easy. It'll be interesting to see the business this one does in DVD.

Short version: None of these were really a full-blown hit, save maybe "Brokeback." And with the possible exception of Capote, they're all cut from political cloth - they are about supposed debates of the day. That's not entertainment. That's "we know what's best for you."

Have we hit the year where the Oscars have become yet another political tool and/or deviate so far from popular tastes as to become irrelevant?

I hope not.


Anonymous said...

Actually, it could well be argued that the Oscars have been irrelevant for some time:

"I do find it noteworthy how many of the recent-ish Best Picture winners have been movies I think are straight-up bad. The 94-97 Gump/Braveheart/English Patient/Titanic period is especially bleak. Having been vastly overrated in its day, I think there's now a tendency to overstate American Beauty's flaws, but it's still more "annoying" than "good." I recall liking Shakespeare in Love but it was sufficiently forgettable that I've pretty literally forgotten it." - Matthew Iglesias

FWIW, I agree with him. Most of my favorite films have not won oscars, and I'm rather pissed that the Academy *completely* ignored Sin City this year, not even giving it a nod for visual effects though it was clearly deserving in that category.

But in general, when someone trying to convince me that their favorite movie is REALLY REALLY GOOD points out how many Oscars it won, well, that just doesn't mean shit to me. Sorry.

Yahmdallah said...

Agreed to an extent. I guess my point is they've wandered even further into the forest and haven't noticed the birds eating their bread crumbs behind them.

Anonymous said...

When my daughter got back from Africa, we watched "Out of Africa." Among many complicated reactions, a simple one was, "What the hell happened to movies?"

I don't want their messages these days, in fact never did, so I won't give them my money. This, incidentally, makes it my fault, and makes it clear that I am trying to suppress their free speech.

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