With one month until the 85th Academy Awards and the Oscars buzz building, I can't help but express frustration at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their tendency to leave out popular movies that they consider too "lowbrow" from the big categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress), focusing instead on films that are historical, foreign, political, "intellectual," or low-budget indie flicks. They often feature films that many people haven’t seen (like Amour which barely grossed $1 million domestically), and avoid including movies that did well at the box office, as if financial success was an indication of poor quality. This pattern of ignoring mainstream movies in favor of less accessible pictures has hurt Oscars ratings in the past, and continues to alienate many moviegoers each year.
This year, just three of the top 10 most successful films at the box office will be mentioned at the Academy Awards, and they are mostly nominated for technical achievements: Skyfall received nominations for Best Sound Editing,“Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Cinematography. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is nominated for“Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Visual Effects. And Marvel’s The Avengers — the highest grossing film of the year — earned a single nomination for Best Visual Effects.
Each of these films, which make up three of the four highest grossing movies of the year, were undoubtedly seen and experienced by many more people than Amour (five nominations), Argo (seven nominations), Beasts of the Southern Wild (four nominations), or Silver Linings Playbook (eight nominations), which will all be prominently featured on February 24 as “Best Picture” nominees. And movies like The Hunger Games, which was the ninth most successful picture at the box office and stood out as a totally unique contribution to the 2012 Hollywood lineup, will likely only make an appearance at the Oscars in the form of a Seth MacFarlane joke aimed at Jennifer Lawrence.
I should mention that I don't have anything in particular against this year’s Best Picture nominees; I enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty and will root for them both to win awards next month. I will also acknowledge that some of the films featured in this year’s Oscars were both critical and box office successes; Best Picture nominee Life of Pi, for example, earned 11 nominations and was the 13th highest grossing film of the year. But Life of Pi was also the only Best Picture nominee to crack the top 25 in terms of box office performance, and there is a clear disconnect between the films that the Academy has chosen to honor this year and the movies that most Americans paid $12 to see on the big screen.
Hollywood and the Academy's failure to reconcile the relationship between box office successes and what they have deemed as "award-worthy" content has continually hurt Oscars ratings; last year only 39.3 million people decided to watch the awards, making it the seventh smallest audience of the last 26 years. The Academy should consider including more "mainstream" films in order to be more relevant and engaging for a wider selection of moviegoers. By doing so, they might just be able to achieve a viewing audience close to the 57.25 million people who tuned in on March 23, 1998 when Titanic, the highest grossing film of 1997 and the second highest grossing film of all time, won 11 awards including “Best Picture.”