Oscar Update: Blockbuster vs. Contender… Setting the Record Straight

Photo: Walt Disney/Pixar

There’s a problem from the outset with the New York Times article headlined “Studios Are Pushing Box Office Winners as Oscar Contenders” in reference to Walt Disney’s “decision” to push WALL•E for Best Picture and Warner “decided” to do the same with The Dark Knight.

The article insinuates the studios are pushing box-offfice winners when referring to these two films as opposed to calling them what they are, which are the two best reviewed films of the year so far according to MetaCritic, not to mention WALL•E is currently #15 on MetaCritic’s all-time best reviewed films list. Of course, in those terms, WALL•E sits behind fellow animated flicks Ratatouille (#7) and Spirited Away (#11), both of which were not nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but did end up winning Best Animated Feature in their respective years.

The article says the reason for the “shift” they refer to as “Welcome to the pop Oscars,” is due to the folding of specialty divisions like Warner Independent Films and the shrinkage in the small-film business. Sure, Michael Cieply’s piece references Joe Morgenstern at the Wall Street Journal who said, “WALL•E isn’t just an animated feature; it’s a great motion picture by any measure, and has already been hailed as such — by critics who’ve called it a masterpiece … Pixar’s latest gift to movie lovers should be a candidate for the most prestigious award, Best Picture.” But Cieply doesn’t give the critical attention a second glance after that statement, proving quality is not the only thing that matters.

It gets even more comical in these three sentences later in the piece:

One problem is a presumed tendency to split votes. Academy members can vote for a film in both the best picture and best animated feature categories. But they may not be inclined to do that or even know that the rules permit it.

Are we talking about a sea of illiterates? Does the Academy really need Cieply to inform them of the rules and what they can and cannot do? If so, why do we give these awards any kind of attention?

The article talks about the potential for Paramount to push Robert Downey Jr. for a Best Actor nom for Iron Man, but with them already focused on a potential push for Downey as a Supporting Actor in Tropic Thunder I don’t expect that campaign to have very long legs.

As much as I think the article completely misses the issue of Academy members voting for films and performances that actually deserve acclaim as opposed to those the Academy seems to nominate via politics; it is nice to know it is being talked about. I mean, the logic behind saying Disney and Warner Bros. have to actually spend money to campaign for WALL•E and The Dark Knight is so flawed it speaks to just how lucky we may be in any given year for the “right” film to actually get nominated for the top prize let alone win it.

Read the complete article here.