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Academy Cementing Its Irrelevance

22 Jan, 2009 By: John Latchem

John Latchem

The debate is spreading across the Internet. How could The Reader steal a best picture nomination from The Dark Knight?

As the Oscar telecast ratings continue to slide, the Academy seems more insistent in making their awards a contest among films many mainstream audiences have no interest in. If ever they needed an excuse to dismiss their reputation for snobbery, The Dark Knight provided a perfect one.

Breaking down critical response to the best picture nominees via RottenTomatoes.com “Tomatometer,” an aggregator of positive reviews, shows The Dark Knight, at 94%, outpacing all but one (Slumdog Millionaire at 95%).

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, over which Hollywood is fawning, received just a 72% Tomatometer score. And The Reader clocked in at a mere 60%, which is considered the threshold for being a “fresh” (good) film.

But The Reader was produced by The Weinstein Co., whose founders, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, have been known to schmooze Academy voters in the past to get favorable results for their films … Shakespeare in Love as best picture, anyone?

Another popular film, Wall-E, at 96%, was rated more highly than all of the best picture nominees. But Wall-E was practically guaranteed of not receiving a best picture nomination due to the best animated feature category, which it will assuredly win.

Yet in the end, Academy members just couldn’t bring themselves to nominate a “comic-book movie” for best picture, even though the film far exceeds parameters of the genre. (Just as last year they couldn’t bring themselves to attach the label “Academy Award Winner” to Transformers, even in a field such as visual effects, which it deserved.)

If I had to guess, I’d pin the snub on the actors’ branch that comprises more than 21% of the Academy’s 5,800 members. The Dark Knight scored well in nominations from the guilds representing directors, writers and producers (21% of Academy membership combined), but was pretty much shut out of the SAG awards. Perhaps the actors found the prospect of honoring the Batman film a bit too politically incorrect?

Among the major categories, the Academy did continue the trend of honoring Heath Ledger, who is easily the frontrunner in the supporting actor category.

But by not recognizing The Dark Knight for best picture, the group has chosen, for the most part, to ignore a film whose tremendous box office and home video numbers have, by most accounts, helped keep the industry afloat during very tough times. The end result is, in essence, Hollywood through its most visible representative turning up its nose at the very people upon which it relies to stay in business: consumers.

The Oscar is an invaluable marketing tool for a film. But if the gap between film fan and filmmaker continues to grow, it is a symbol that will quickly lose its meaning.

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