In a 1.15 Huffington Post-ing, MSNBC movie columnist Eric Lundegaard laments that Best Picture Oscar nominees have become, box-office-wise, a smaller niche market than horror films or urban comedies. Which underscores, he says, that we have no “national cinema,” which is to say quality-level but highly popular movies that “we’re all aware of and can enjoy and reference.”
Because — shocking disclosure! — we’ve become two moviegoing nations sharing a common land mass. The good movies are supported (most of the time) by the educated quality-seekers, film geeks and the elites, and the “popular” movies are sometimes enjoyed by same (thank goodness) but are mainly carried on the shoulders of the mostly tasteless rubes.
Lundegaard offers a decade-by-decade listing of no. 1 annual box office hits that were also nominated for Best Picture. There were 7 in the 1950s, or 7 out of 50 Best Picture nominees. There were 8 in the 1960s, and 9 in the ’70s. And then along came the blockbuster phenomenon (i.e., high-concept movies aimed at the lowest common denominator in order to get the biggest opening weekend), the infantilization of movies (the Spielberg-Lucas effect from Star Wars and Jaws) and the resultant expiring of Hollywood’s golden age, which lasted from the late ’60s until sometime in the late ’70s or early ’80s.
There were only 3 Best Picture nominees that were also #1 box-office champs in the 1980s. There were also only 3 in the 1990s, and there’s been only one since the turn of the century.
“From 1950 to 1979, in other words, the most popular film of the year was almost always nominated for Best Picture,” Lundegaard writes. “In the three decades since? The reverse. Since 1983, it’s only happened five times: Rain Man in 1988, Forrest Gump in 1994, Titanic in 1997, Saving Private Ryan in 1998 and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003.
“What isn’t so familiar is how bad it’s gotten in this decade,” Lundegaard states. “Let’s widen the parameters. How rare is it when at least one of the best picture nominees isn’t among the year’s top 10 box office hits? Since 1944, it’s happened only five times: 1947, 1984…and the last three years in a row: 2004, 2005, 2006. What was once a rarity has now become routine.”
Well, of course, naturally…come on. This is the Age We Live In — a time of great divide between those smart and rousing and finely woven films that truly matter and will be enjoyed by people of quality 20 or 50 or 100 years from now, and the big-studio downmarket dumb-ass movies that are aimed at the culturally and educationally challenged. We are Gorilla Nation with tiny little slices of chimp and orangutan culture in the cities…and Lundegaard is only just waking up to this?