Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Mainstream Oscars (Updated 1/25/11)

It's been apparent for a while now that The Academy Awards have lost a bit of their mass appeal, mainly because they tend to hand out the Best Picture Award to small, art house type movies like No Country For Old Men or the Hurt Locker.

They tried to address the issue in 2010 by nominating ten pictures for Best Picture, the most since 1943, when Casablanca won. A lot of mainstream flicks like Avatar and Up made the list, but the award ultimately went to Hurt Locker, which might be the most minor flick ever to win the prize. (It was the 116th top grossing move of the year.) There's a fairly good chance more people have seen Casablanca in the past year than the Hurt Locker.

Last year I had an idea of how to make the Best Picture list more mainstream, while making sure that the pictures were good, and avoiding a lot of the usual biases (like the tendency to favor movies released late in the year).

I call it the mainstream Oscars. It is a list of films that have accomplished three milestones:

1) A Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes
2) A Universal Acclaim rating of 81% or more on Metacritic
3) A top fifty spot on Box Office Mojo's Yearly Box Office list.

It's a tough trifecta to hit. Last year, only five pictures made the cut:
District Nine
Star Trek
and Up in the Air.
Of these, only Star Trek failed to get a Best Picture nomination.

This year, the pickings are even slimmer, with three pictures qualifying:
The Kings' Speech
The Social Network
and Toy Story 3.
(King's Speech hasn't quite made the top fifty B.O. list, but it almost certainly will before it ends its run.)

It's an interesting and varied selection, even if it is short. The King's Speech is your classic hoity toity British "class" picture for the Masterpiece Theater crowd, the Social Network is a prime example of the increasingly endangered middlebrow drama, and Toy Story 3 is a critical and box office smash that stands the least chance of making the cut because it is A) a cartoon, and B) features Mattel's Barbie in a key supporting role.

There are some interesting close calls, mostly due to Metacritic, or as I like to refer to it, Mr. Picky-Picky. Recent critical and popular successes like True Grit (80%), Black Swan (79%), and the Fighter (79%) failed to hit its "Universal Acclaim" mark, instead having to settle for achieving "generally favorable reviews," which puts them in the same general category as the Karate Kid remake.

So how will this year's Mainstream Oscar winners do when the 2011 nominations are announced on January 25? Well, I predict that The Social Network and King's Speech are probably shoe-ins, and that True Grit, Black Swan, the Fighter, and Inception all stand pretty good chances. As for Toy Story 3, I hope it sneaks onto the list, and becomes the picture that nobody figured anybody else would vote for.

Update: Well, the nominations are in, and my predictions were pretty much spot-on though in truth, most were no-brainers:

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

127 Hours and especially The Kids Are All Right are, in retrospect, obvious choices, but Winter's Bone earned less than $8 million worldwide, meaning it was slightly less successful than MacGruber.


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