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Oscars Cold Shoulder to Families

A recent article in the entertainment industry trade magazine Variety talks about the great amount of money the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC Television are spending to convince masses of people the upcoming Oscar telecast is worth watching. They are especially concerned after news broke that far more Americans were interested in seeing amateur musicians on American Idol than observing the pros patting each other on the back during the Grammys.

“After all, there were few family films worth celebrating in 2005.”

Overall, ratings for award shows have been on the decline, and although the industry knows deep down why this is the case, they have a hard time talking about it. The cold truth is the average American and their family could care less if Crash might stand a chance at beating Brokeback Mountain for the Best Picture trophy.

It should hardly be surprising that this year's Oscars appear even more indifferent toward broad ranging audiences than most years. After all, there were few family films worth celebrating in 2005, and that fact also helps to explain the box office slump that many industry experts are scratching their heads over.

The result is an Oscar slate that, for the most part, only adults have been able to view. In the Best Picture category, four out of five films are rated Restricted, while the one lone ranger, George Clooney's PG-rated Good Night, and Good Luck. is hardly something your twelve-year-old is raring to see.

A check of some of the other major categories reveals more of the same:

Award for Actor in a Leading Role has three R-rated titles (Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Hustle & Flow) one PG-13 (Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line--arguably worthwhile for teens), and one PG (David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck.).

What about the women? Actress in a Leading Role again contains three rated-R titles out of five (Mrs. Henderson Presents, Transamerica and North Country). Here there is a small respite for families with Reese Witherspoon in the PG-13 rated Walk the Line and Keira Knightley playing a titled daughter in the PG rated Pride & Prejudice.

But the Supporting Actress category is an R-rated blackout--all five nominations are rated Restricted. Supporting actors are nearly the same, with four out of five nominations coming from R-rated films. Only Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man falls in the under-R-rated category with its PG-13 rating. It's still not a movie to take young children to, but is one of the few Oscar hopefuls that offer a strong positive role model within its compelling and inspiring story.

The animated feature category is usually one place families can stop and visit, but again, this year the pickings are slim. Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were Rabbit is a solid film (and definitely my pick of the category), but Tim Burton's Corpse Bride may be more of an acquired taste. The last nomination, Howl's Moving Castle, is a movie many people are not even aware of. The animation in this Japanese import is spectacular, but it’s a story only diehard anime fans will warm up to.

My point in dragging you through this isn't to merely complain about the lack of movies nominated for Oscars with a broad age interest. Instead, it's to illustrate how Hollywood's lack of interest in creating high quality films most Americans will want to see is beginning to have an effect on all aspects of the industry.

A little mathematics easily reveals the problem. Let's go back to the Best Picture category--truly the crowning moment of the Oscars. Here are the nominees:

Brokeback Mountain

Capote

Crash

Good Night, and Good Luck.

Munich

According to figures from Variety, the total domestic gross for these films, as of February 21 2006, is $215,476,073.

Now, if you will allow me to indulge, and if I were an Academy voter, here is my slate for Best Picture (and my exact nominations for this category in the Broadcast Film Critics Awards which took place in early January):

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Cinderella Man

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

Good Night, And Good Luck.

The Constant Gardner

My choices range from the PG rated Chronicles of Narnia and Good Night, And Good Luck to the R-rated The Constant Gardner. (The other two titles are PG-13.) The total domestic box office gross for this grouping as of February 21, 2006: $789,473,080. (The total easily surpasses $1 billion if you include foreign earnings.)

These numbers reveal that close to four times as many people saw these films. (Actually, the amount is likely even higher, as many attending Narina and Star Wars are not paying adult admission prices.) Imagine how many more people would be drawn to the Oscar telecast to see some of these heavyweights contending for the grand prize. The mere fact that two of these films (Narnia and Star Wars) each made more money than all five of the actual Best Picture nominees put together, reveals the incredible popularity these movies hold.

Of course, I'm missing a big point. The purpose of the Oscars is to honor the best made motion pictures of the year, not the most popular (that's what The People's Choice awards are supposed to accomplish). Yet, I sincerely feel the films I nominated are solid artistic creations. Obviously Academy voters disagree, and that's the fun and interesting aspect of artistic criticism.

However, it's a hard and fast fact that Hollywood is walking down a path that is more and more divergent from the mainstream audiences it dearly needs to maintain its high and mighty stature. And after this past year--with the first drop in overall box office receipts in over two decades--we are witnessing the first bottom line indication that America is finding other interests.

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