Friday, January 24, 2014

Academy Awards amnesia

A friend recently asked me why Hollywood can't distribute first-rate movies for grownups throughout the year, rather than shoving them all into the last 20 percent. I was going to be snarky and say "There aren't enough to go around for 12 months." But the real answer is that the average Academy Awards voter has the memory of a house fly.


Think not? Take a look at the current nominees. Of the nine films nominated for best picture, not a single one was released before October, and seven of them came out in the last two months of the year. All five director nominees come from that list, so none of them predates October, either.

Eighteen of the 20 people nominated for acting awards are in movies from the same time period. The lone exceptions, Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins, were in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," which came out at the end of the summer. But actors in Allen's movies frequently get nominated, so they're no surprise.

How about the screenplay category? Four of the original nominees fit the end-of-year mold, with Allen the lone exception. Four of the adapted entries are also late releases; the single exception, Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset," was the final film in a trilogy whose first movie ("Before Midnight") was nominated for a screenplay Oscar, too.

Some release patterns make sense. Big action pictures come out during the summer, when kids out of school can see them over and over; family entertainment blossoms over holiday breaks, when generations are likely to have free time together. But "prestige" pictures seldom dominate the box office -- "Gravity" being a rare exception -- so distributors want a different kind of payoff.

The people who put out "12 Years a Slave" or "Her" know Oscar voters are lazy: They're likeliest to nominate stuff that's playing at the multiplex now or has just left. Distributors cram these films into the waning weeks of the year, often playing them for one or two weeks in New York or Los Angeles to qualify for Oscars before rolling them out to the rest of us after New Year's Day. Sadly, that system won't change any time soon.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I finally saw the Butler the other day. Did you think it deserved any awards nods? I keep hearing people mention how it was overlooked.

Anonymous said...

Sadly disappointing compared to other contenders like 12 years a slave. Even Oprah, her best acting in this film was frying an egg. Something I know she has done in over 30 years. Sorry.

Lawrence Toppman said...

I don't think the picture or director needed a nomination, and Forest Whitaker's performance was probably too understated to grab voters. I did think Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo were reasonable candidates for supporting actress and actor.