Oscars Vs. Vox-Sters

In the chilly pre-dawn hours in Beverly Hills earlier today, the nominations for the 95th Academy Awards were announced.  Judging by the number of alerts I received while I worked my paying job, I suspect a lot of people still care.   I’m just not sure I’m have as much in common with them these days as I used to.  Nor do I feel I’m alone with that detachment.

The Oscars have lost a lot of steam and TV audience in this decade, and it’s not strictly related to the delays and changes that COVID restrictions inflicted on the first three ceremonies of the 2020s.  More nominations than ever went to films and performances that were released initially or concurrently on streaming services, effectively sticking a finger in the face of the very industry those gold statues honor.    For the previous nine decades, the Academy Awards honored the glamour and gradeur of real movie stars, playing on big screens, dominating pop culture and drawing icons in tuxedos and gowns to be honored by their peers and be celebrated by some of the largest TV audiences of all time.  But in these challenged times, a lot of that luster was diminished.  The Awards were literally held in a train station, and one did not have to even set foot in a theatre to see most of those noiminated.

And need we remind people that, more than ever, we are at a crossroads between elite passions and Academy members’ personal favorites versus the preferences of those who actually will set foot in the remaining theatres around the country.  For an industry being increasing run, by necessity, by bottom-line-driven czars more than willing to cancel entire movies before their release and armed with conclusive data that shows minimal correlation between award wins and profitability.

So it’s perhaps more than a bit noteworthy that, as Jake Coyle of the Associated Press reproted, this year’s crop is a bit more of a nod to the past than we’ve seen of late:

If last year’s Oscars were dominated by streaming — Apple TV+’s “CODA” won best picture and Netflix landed a leading 27 nominations — movies that drew moviegoers to multiplexes after two years of pandemic make up many of this year’s top contenders.

For the first time, two sequels — “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” — were nominated for best picture. The two films together account for some $3.5 billion in box office. Tom Cruise missed out on an acting nomination, but the film credited with bringing many moviegoers back to theaters walked away with seven nominations. Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” made in the wake of Chadwick Boseman’s death, scored five nominations, including the first acting nod for a performance in a Marvel movie: Angela Bassett, the likely favorite to win best supporting actress.

Only one streaming title broke into the best-picture field: The German WWI film “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Though Netflix for the first time in years lacks a possible best picture frontrunner, “All Quiet on the Western Front” landed a better-than-expected nine nominations.  (Not bad for a remake of a theatrical first produced more than 90 years ago, based upon a novel from the 1920s.)

Yes, a plethora of performances from less populist films did dominate, with the appropriately-titled EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE leading the field with 11 nominations.  That film will vie for Best Picture honors with the billion-dollar sequels, and four of their actresses will also compete for awards.  Fueled by both the subject and the recent death of its subject’s only child (and co-producer), ELVIS may be a resurgent wild card in the battle between populism and art.

At least this year’s ceremonies, to be televised March 12 on ABC, appear headed for something resembling a traditional staging.  In almost reluctant fashion, the Los Angeles county COVID police issued statements yesterday that self-congratulated us on apparently avoiding a winter spike last we saw last year, though still begging for caution and isolation in the same breath.  It’s talk like that continues to keep box office upside down for the kind of films the Academy might want to see win, yet nary a member tells Barbara Ferrer and her friends to simply report on the facts without throwing in their “recommendations” for what they THINK could still unfold, despite their track record of predicting outcomes is right up there with how mine has been of late in picking Oscar winners.

With few late theatrical releases breaking through, Academy members will have time to catch up on even the populist nominees via streaming services and pay cable.  I’d like to think they might give more than passing consideration to the films that are keeping their studios relatively cash-positive, but I won’t hold my breath.  The Academy has been urged to award an Oscar for popularity, but so far hasn’t taken the bait.   Perhaps the issue has resolved itself for now with the presence of so many films TV audiences have actually seen.  Even Tom Cruise is likely to show up.

And should amidst all of this somehow the BAFTA-award winning ALL QUIET emulate its success across the pond here, well, at least it will have had the chance to BE populist.  If March 13th proves to be TOO quiet on THIS Western front, we’ll cross that bridge then.

For now, get your popcorn ready, and may the lobbying begin full force.

Until next time…

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