On Thursday, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences released its list of Oscar nominees (see NRO’s slideshow here). As usual, the list was a mélange of little-seen, heavily political prestige pictures; entertaining but cold big-budget critical favorites; and precisely one movie that was both a commercial and critical success.
This has been a mediocre year for movies. There is no standout film that should clearly take Best Picture, and the only film that the masses and critics both enjoyed was Gravity, the visually astounding (if physics-defying) Sandra Bullock–George Clooney blockbuster (spoiler alert: Clooney’s character did not need to die, as there is no gravity in space). The only other films in the Top 30 box office performers nominated for Best Picture are Captain Phillips and American Hustle, which stood at 29th and 30th in box office for 2013 (although American Hustle will obviously climb the box-office rankings over time, given that it was released late in the year). The other Best Picture nominees rank far lower.
This demonstrates the continuing disconnect between the critics and their audiences. In fact, the earnings of Razzie nominees were not outstripped by Oscar nominees: Grown Ups 2 (ranked 20th, with $133 million), The Lone Ranger (38th, with $89 million), A Madea Christmas (65th, $52 million), After Earth (58th, $60 million).
Either this demonstrates that Hollywood is out of touch or that the American people’s taste is declining — or both. There’s little doubt that The Croods is not exactly a filmmaking masterpiece; the continuing success of idiot flicks like We’re the Millers demonstrates that vulgarity sells. But by the same token, many popular films this year were quite good: take The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, or Monsters University. The problem: These are all films with mass appeal — and some even appeal to children. But gone are days when Beauty and the Beast could be nominated for Best Picture. Instead, qualifications for Best Picture include AIDS (Dallas Buyers Club), rage against the Catholic Church (Philomena), alienation from humanity (Her), bleakness on the prairie (Nebraska), and the decay of Western civilization (The Wolf of Wall Street).
Would it be so terrible to see a Best Picture lineup including Hunger Games? Or Frozen? Or even the wildly overlooked Saving Mr. Banks?
According to the elitists, that would be a crime. That’s because it is unimportant to celebrate simple virtues such as sisterly love (Frozen) or to create a film about resistance to tyranny that isn’t set in George W. Bush’s United States (Hunger Games). It’s far more important to tell American society that it is deeply disturbed and evil. Films that do that have a better shot at Oscar gold than films that actually earn box office gold.
— Benjamin Shapiro is editor-at-large at Breitbart News.