Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Oscar MythBusting: The Contemporary Picture

Hang around any Oscar site or Oscar board and you'll hear that of the five best picture slots each year there's certain "slots" up for grab; a blockbuster slot. a comedy slot. .a contemporary or non-period film slot.... as if the Academy members have quotas to fulfill. How did this meme come into being and is it true? Let's travel back in time and look at "contemporary" nominees --meaning films about the here and now... or films about the very recent past.

In the past five years your contemporary nominees have been: Erin Brockovich, Traffic, In the Bedroom, Mystic River, Lost in Translation, Million Dollar Baby*, and Sidewaysor 28% of the best picture nominees. A little more than 1 film out of 5. But not much. So the meme appears to be true.

The contemporary nominees were: Ghost, The Prince of Tides, Silence of the Lambs*, The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, The Fugitive, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, American Beauty*, The Insider, and The Sixth Sense. That's 34% of the nominees... but there doesn't seem to be any pattern, truth be told. Some years had no modern films --1998 dominated by World War II and Queen Elizabeth comes to mind. Others were heavily weighted toward current stories, like 1996. Perhaps the reason that we think of a "slot" is that it's hard to categorize these films. What, really, do all of these films have in common? There are comedies, rebellious indies, blockbuster hits, upscale dramas, and true stories. It's all over the place.

The nominees: Ordinary People*, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, E.T., Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict, The Big Chill, Tender Mercies, Terms of Endearment*, The Killing Fields, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Witness, Prizzi's Honor, Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Moonstruck, The Accidental Tourist, Rainman*, Working Girl, and Field of Dreams46% of everything nominated in the 80s, or at least 2 out of 5 of the nominees. The number keeps climbing.

Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love Story, M*A*S*H, The French Connection, Deliverance, The Exorcist, A Touch of Class, The Conversation, Lenny, The Towering Inferno, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest*, All the Presidents Men, Network, Rocky*, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall*, The Goodbye Girl, The Turning Point, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter*, Heaven Can Wait, An Unmarried Woman, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, Kramer Vs. Kramer* and Norma Rae form 62% of the nominees in the 70s --three out of five best pictures in any given year.

I don't have the strength to go back any further (must keep watching the Tour de France and then sleep!) I wonder if it cycles back to mostly period pieces again? I wonder if the ratios are reflective of the actual movie output? Are there just more period piece eye-candy movies now than there were in the 80s? The famed 'one spot of five' for contemporary pictures may be a fleeting trend. Fans of modern pictures that speak to where we are right now might rejoice.


Anonymous said...

It seems that The Academy has forgotten how to nominate just regular movies about people. Like, the most recent example of them doing this would be Lost in Translation - it only got four nominations.

But looking back at the early awards there were movies nominated for Best Picture with only one other nomination (or none) and sometimes winning. The most recent example of THAT was Four Weddings & a Funeral. They don't seem to regularly nominate movies just because they like them. They have to have real awards pedigree now.

Like, even blockbuster type movies that would have been nommed in the 70s or 80s (or at least gotten Best Director like Spielberg with Jaws, right?) that won't even get a look in now (unless it is Spielberg).

er... this was way longer than I intended.



It could be a sign of Miramax-ization. The campaigning being so strong that you have to look like a duck to be a duck. So the more overt Oscar bait elements (more readily found in period pieces) get more attention. On the other hand Miramax did have a hand in many contemporary indie-style nominees (before the days of Cold Mountain pedigree Oscar fishing)

Or the obsession with period pictures and epics could be a phase.

It's probably very complicated as to why? Any thoughts from readers out there...

Anonymous said...

I know a lot of people rag on Miramax but I will be eternally grateful to them for some of the movies they have given us.

And their Oscar campaigning single handidly won City of God (my fourth favourite of that year) 4 nominations including Director and Screenplay, which is wholeheartedly deserved. I know you weren't a fan but Miramax deciding to keep it in cinemas for essentially 52 weeks and campaigning for this tiny Brazilian movie that was released in January got it those nods and that I'm happy.

(sorry I can't put forth anything valuable to your discussion)


Anonymous said...

But did they really campaign for City of God? It was my impression that the movie did the work for itself. They had campaigned for it the previous year and it had failed to secure the foreign nomination. It seemed really quiet and really a shock when it was nominated.

Anonymous said...

Harvey Weinstein was apparently a big supporter of it at functions and what not. Spreading the word about this phenomenal Brazilian movie that the silly foreign film department of the Academy didn't nominate it.

I remember seeing plenty of FYC ads on

...i don't think I imagined that


Anonymous said...

I thought the FYC ads were AFTER the nominations? Anyone know the whole story? Did I just miss the campaigning for those surprise nominations?

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