Something amazing happened last Thursday. Ready for it?
The Reader is measurably the worst movie nominated for Best Picture this decade. It's not even close, actually. Secondly, the class of 2009 is the worst critical and financial Oscar class of the decade. Look here, at this lovely chart:
Top Five Rotten Tomatoes Best Pictures since 2000:
src="http://i.realone.com/assets/cs/201/02655201.jpg" alt="Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" width="100" height="150" align="left" hspace="6"/>1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (97% Rotten Tomatoes Ranking)
2. The Queen (96%)
3. Sideways (96%)
4. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (96%)
5. Lost in Translation (95%)
5. The Pianist (95%)
The list ends a little like this:
src="http://i.realone.com/assets/cs/201/04712201.jpg" alt="Crash" width="100" height="150" align="left" hspace="6"/>41. Crash (75%)
42. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (72%)
43. Babel (68%)
44. Chocolat (62%)
45. The Reader (60%)
Yep, The Reader is the worst reviewed Best Picture nominee of the decade. But so what? Critics don't matter, right? Well how's about the box office then?
Numbers are domestic ...
src="http://i.realone.com/assets/cs/001/02570001.jpg" alt="Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" width="100" height="150" align="left" hspace="6"/>1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King ($377m)
2. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ($342m)
4. Gladiator ($188m)
5. A Beautiful Mind ($171m)
The worst box office of Best Picture noms in this decade ends like this:
src="http://i.realone.com/assets/cs/401/04892401.jpg" alt="Capote" width="100" height="150" align="left" hspace="6"/>41. Capote ($29m)
42. Milk ($22m)
43. Letters from Iwo Jima ($14m)
44. Frost/Nixon ($12m)
45. The Reader ($10m)
It's incredible, but The Reader is also the least watched Best Picture Nominee of the decade.
Do you see what I'm getting at? It's nothing short of astounding. All of the Best Picture nominees, excepting Slumdog Millionaire, are either critical or commercial flops. One movie (The Reader) is both. Benjamin Button has made $100m at the box office ... but it's also the 4th worst "Best" film of the decade. The Reader is easily the worst critical and commercial film nominated this decade. Frost/Nixon and Milk were critically adored but have yet to gain any traction in the marketplace.
Now then, these numbers will rise. Hell, The Reader might get all the way up to $30m, placing it amongst the bottom ten percent of all Oscar contenders. It's a historically poor nomination, only because of the Weinstein Company's amazing ability to get films nominated. However, that's not even the worst part of this debacle. It's perfectly acceptable to have a down year critically or at the box office, providing the candidates simply weren't there to nominate.
So, were there any other films out there that might have taken up one of the four non-Slumdog slots?
src="http://i.realone.com/assets/cs/401/05530401.jpg" alt="The Dark Knight" width="100" height="150" align="left" hspace="6"/>The Dark Knight, 94%, $531m
The Wrestler, 98%, $10m (hasn't made money, but critically beloved)
Doubt 78%, $26m (this was the art-house film to give a nom to)
Thus, the issue is not that Oscar prefers art-house films that only critics like. It's that The Academy seemingly prefers films that no one really likes. It's evidently no longer important to The Academy to recognize art (as they did with There Will Be Blood) or to give a nod to populist leanings (Titanic, anyone?). Instead we're left with a Best Picture category that seems to be made up entirely of who has the best lobbyist. And that's a shame. And a sham.
We deserve better. So to do the actors, directors, and writers of great films. I'll accept that the general public doesn't always buy tickets to the worthiest films. I'll also stipulate that critics occasionally bash films that are worthy of love. But I have a hard time believing everyone outside of The Academy is clueless. Do a better job next year, if only for the sake of your own relevance.