Last night was the Academy Awards ceremony on TV. Normally I don’t watch because I find it one of the dullest annual events the TV shows every year. Not that I would have been in suspense for long, because this time I knew nothing about the movies and actors that won. The only film I saw last year was “The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” and I didn’t expect that to win anything; I went because it was something Leive, Lindy and I could all enjoy (we went together to the first Fantastic Four movie, in 2005). As a history buff, I did want to see “The 300” and “Apocalypto,” but never got around to going; these days it’s less of a hassle to wait for the DVD, and after you add the cost of refreshments to the ticket price, a DVD becomes cheaper if I don’t watch it alone.
However, I did read this morning that the winners (“Juno,” “There Will Be Blood,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Michael Clayton,” and Atonement”) were all grim and depressing. Is there some new rule which says you can’t nominate a film if it has a happy ending? It reminds me of a column Mike Royko wrote in the 1980s, where he explained why he doesn’t like films if they don’t have a happy ending, and how easy such films are to fix. For example, if he had written or directed the original “Frankenstein,” he wouldn’t have had the monster burned to death in a rotting windmill; he would have had coach Tom Landry discover the monster, and make him a fullback for the Dallas Cowboys! I guess if Royko was alive today, he would hardly ever be seen in a cinema, too.
By contrast, more cheerful films like “Spiderman 3” and “Shrek the Third” brought in lots of viewers and money, and thus weren’t worthy of consideration by the critics. Which brings me to the reason why I’m writing this. Two years I wrote that the movie industry is out of touch with ordinary people, and last night’s awards show it still is. Here’s what I said about the process in 2006; change the names of the films and it’s just as valid as ever:
For a long time I thought that the entertainment industry’s principal god was Mammon, meaning that if a particular movie or TV show brought in lots of money, they would make more like it. After all, isn’t that why they have ratings services? I was wrong; most of today’s directors seem willing to forego a profit to push a leftist political/cultural agenda. Just look at which films get nominated for awards. One of the biggest box office hits of 2004 was “The Passion of the Christ”–it attracted quite a few people who otherwise wouldn’t set foot in a theater–but on Oscar Night, it wasn’t nominated for anything, nor have the studios shown much willingness to make more movies based on Bible stories. About the only movie since then with a Biblical theme is “The Nativity Story”; if allegories count, there is also “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Even Mel Gibson lost interest, going from “The Passion” to “Apocalypto.”
Now I for one don’t like getting preached at when I go to the movies; I’m there to escape the real world for a little while. Maybe that’s why I always enjoyed science fiction. Apparently a lot of folks feel the same way, judging from box office receipts. Make a movie that promotes family values, or at least doesn’t offend them, and the public will reward you by coming in droves; recently I heard those kind of movies generated 85% of all the revenue Hollywood earned in 2005. That’s also why most of the animated features from Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks do well.
When people vote with their wallets that strongly, why doesn’t Hollywood get the message? For the 2006 Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, they ignored big moneymakers like “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “King Kong,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Instead, the candidates were films like “Syriana,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote,” “Transamerica” and “Paradise Now”–films that promote unnatural lifestyles or leftwing politics, and which few people have bothered to see, except in the big cities of the “blue states.” If they expect me to enter a cinema more than once a year, and pay the ridiculous prices they charge for tickets and refreshments, that isn’t the way to do it. It looks like I’ll be sticking with the Internet and DVDs for the foreseeable future.