Oscar Musings: Don’t be Fooled by Box Office Numbers

Most years, there are about three pictures truly worthy of being put in an exclusive category dubbed “best picture. “ One would think a field of five nominees would be more than enough to cover all the bases. So, for the 2010 Oscars, why is an expanded best picture field of ten nominees being dragged into the house to cause trouble? The announcement of an expanded field was followed with exuberance curtailed by modest hope and an overabundance of skepticism. The critics of this choice argue that the expanded field is a marketing gimmick, and would not help to recognize deserving movies. Hopefuls, trying to believe in the new system, argue that the larger field would lend respectful nods of acknowledgment to otherwise non-conventional Oscar winning movies, which may include box office successes. Box office numbers are in no way an indicator of the quality of content in either a positive or negative way. However, this year, the fears have been realized as the academy’s expanded field included a combination of both prestigious films and well-marketed but overall mediocre movies. “Avatar”, “The Blind Side”, “District 9”, “An Education”, and “Up”, four of which were top 50 highest grossing movies of the year, are at a loss when compared with the remaining nominees. Yet their fiscal numbers and effective marketing schemes allow them to be placed in the same category as meaningful well-made films. This type of nomination not only degrades the achievement of the filmmakers who truly deserve commendation but also steals recognition from other movies that would be more suitable to join the remaining nominees as peers in the best picture category. It’s like if AA and AAA teams were allowed to compete in the playoffs with MLB caliber teams based on the fact that the AA and AAA clubs did well with ticket sales that particular year. It is disappointing to find that major art award shows, namely the Oscars, have risen to such cultural importance that they sacrifice recognition and the prestige of their respective trades for culturally driven economic principles. Going forward, a viewer can only hope to find that the expanded field is properly used to exalt the movies that earn our respect and admiration, and not ones that cause motion sickness due to 3D.