There was a time when being one of the highest grossing movies in history actually counted for something with the Academy Awards. Gone With the Wind was the highest-grossing movie ever in 1939 and won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. The Sound of Music was the new highest-grossing movie ever in 1965 and won Best Picture, despite or perhaps because it was “awful and sentimental and gooey,” in the words of Music star Christopher Plummer. The Godfather became the highest-grossing movie ever in a long-ago time period when people went to see bleak three-hour crime epics that didn’t star Batman. The Godfather won Best Picture; the next three “highest-grossing movies ever” were nominated, but didn’t win. Jaws lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an oversight you can blame on the hippies. Star Wars lost to Annie Hall — a justifiable loss, since as awesome as Star Wars is, it would clearly be much better if it featured a scene where C-3PO sneezed into a mound of cocaine. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial lost to Gandhi, which proves definitively that the ’80s were much lamer than we tend to think.
Jurassic Park wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture when it grossed almost a billion dollars in 1993, although the productive Mr. Spielberg walked away with the big trophy that year for Schindler’s List. (And what did you accomplish in 1993, lazybones?) James Cameron’s Titanic grossed nearly $2 billion on the way to winning an award for everything except for the screenplay or the acting, which are two things that used to be important before the invention of digital effects. Cameron one-upped himself a couple years ago with Avatar, which made about $2.7 billion, but wound up losing the Best Picture award to The Hurt Locker, which made about ten cents.
Avatar‘s nomination was a notable exception in this Oscar era. In recent years, the Academy has generally preferred nominating small, low-grossing mediocrities instead of big-budget, high-grossing mediocrities. It’s generally accepted that the Best Picture field was widened to 10 in 2009 specifically because the epoch-defining The Dark Knight was not nominated for Best Picture. (It lost out to the pleasant Slumdog Millionaire, the overlong Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the awful The Reader, the decent Frost/Nixon, and the actually-good Milk.)
So Daniel Radcliffe is not alone in thinking that the Academy has been snubbing popular films. According to the Guardian, the Harry Potter star expressed some resentment that Harry Potter 7.5 was not nominated for Best Picture:
“I don’t think the Oscars like commercial films, or kids’ films, unless they’re directed by Martin Scorsese. I was watching Hugo the other day and going, ‘Why is this nominated and we’re not?’ I was slightly miffed… There’s a certain amount of snobbery. It’s kind of disheartening. I never thought I’d care. But it would’ve been nice to have some recognition, just for the hours put in.”
Now, as a film fan, I’m inclined to point out that, for all its faults, Hugo is a real movie with a beginning, a middle, and an end, whereas Harry Potter and the Infinite MacGuffins, Part 2 is a TV series finale with a big fireworks budget. But Radcliffe does make an interesting point. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last Harry Potter, but was it really worse than Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? (Notably, Radcliffe is also addressing the Academy’s recent habit of relentlessly nominating Martin Scorsese, perhaps out of collective shame for not giving him any awards in his golden era.)
It’s always a bit strange when people complain that a massively successful movie was overlooked by the Oscars — by comparison, imagine if the guy who was the captain of the football team and the student council president complained that he wasn’t elected Prom King. Still, in a year when the two Oscar frontunners are inside-baseball low-grossers about moviemaking, it is a bit striking that the Academy seems almost painfully disinterested in the most successful film franchise in history. What do you think, fellow Oscar agnostics?
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