“With a multitude of highbrow movies competing for the same adult audience” during the fall-holiday Oscar season, “film after film takes a nasty tumble,” writes L.A. Times industry columnist Patrick Goldstein. His piece refers more to last year’s wipeouts than this year’s, understandably. It seems fairer to let the fate of pedigree movies like Stranger Than Fiction find realization by God’s awful grace.
“Last year, for example, a host of movies tanked at the box office despite being touted — either by the studios or some breathless Oscar prognosticator — as having Academy Award potential. A partial sample includes Jarhead, Memoirs of a Geisha, The New World, North Country, Casanova, The Producers, Elizabethtown and In Her Shoes.”
The hauntingly beautiful forest primeval nebulousness in Terrence Malick‘s The New World made it seem like a doomed proposition from the start. (Because it was too self-importantly unto itself and romantically unsatisfying to boot.) Like- wise, everyone knew from the get-go that Lasse Hallstrom’s Casanova was too light and confection-y. And I still choke up over the failure of Curtis Hanson‘s In Her Shoes to get any Oscar traction. Talk about inexplicable. I still think that film is teeming with the right stuff, especially given the perfect performances by Toni Collette, Mark Feuerstein and Norman Lloyd.
But Geisha, Jarhead. North Country and Elizabethtown came out asking to be picked off, like wild turkeys in an open field. And I still feel very satisfied — I can even say comforted — that I was part of the team that took down (or at least helped to take down) Munich.
“Some of these movies would undoubtedly have failed no matter when they were released,” Goldstein writes. “But I’d argue that many of them would’ve had a better chance for survival if they’d had a chance to find an audience in a less competitive environment. In the fall, the bar is perilously high: Every movie is graded on an Oscar curve instead of being judged on its own merits. If some of these movies had been released in a quiet weekend in the spring when quality-starved adults had nothing else to see at the multiplex, they might have had a fighting chance for survival.
“This year the Oscar Follies are back. I’m sure every studio chief believes he or she is simply doing what’s best for the film’s box-office chances, since a best picture nod often gives adults an added incentive to see a serious movie. Unfortunately, of the 25 or so adult movies jammed into the last 12 weeks of the year, only five will get one of those cherished nominations. The rest will be orphans, ignored instead of adored, left to wither on the vine when all the free media hype goes to the five lucky nominees.
“The problem is simple enough: No one wants to tell a hotshot filmmaker — or admit to him or herself — that a film isn’t good enough to compete. Instead the studios put the blame on us, claiming that we won’t support any serious movies the other 40 weeks of the year. But the real reason all these good movies are coming out at exactly the same time is because everyone in Hollywood is smoking the Oscar crack pipe.”