The war on film critics is something I’ve been writing about in this space for two years (for instance, here, here, and here); now, Hollywood is finally starting to realize that marginalizing critics may not be such a good idea, especially at Oscar time, and may actually be hurting the box office. According to this Advertising Age article (registration required), the studios are starting to see a correlation between the disappearance of movie critics from newspapers and the slumping ticket sales for the kind of movies that depend on critics to publicize and champion them — not just art-house movies from independent and foreign-language filmmakers, but also expensive, year-end Oscar hopefuls from the major studios. The pre-sold franchise fare Hollywood specializes in (like the upcoming High School Musical 3 or Quantum of Solace or Twilight) doesn’t really need critics’ help to become a success; neither do low-budget teen flicks and horror movies of the sort that the studios don’t even bother to screen for critics in advance. But movies like Doubt (pictured), The Road, Frost/Nixon, and Changeling — expensive, star-studded, awards-oriented films with bleak, grim, philosophically meaty plots — are going to need all the help they can get from critics whose ranks have been decimated. As Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard bluntly tells Advertising Age, “We’re f—ed.”

I almost think Hollywood wants this to happen. If the so-called “specialty” divisions of the studios keep shuttering, the studios can get back to devoting their full energies toward nine-figure blockbusters instead of trying to niche-market smaller films, which the big studios don’t know how to do and can’t make a huge profit from anyway. As gravy, with the niche movies out of the way, it’ll be the studios that dominate the Oscars once again. Which the Academy will like, because honoring worthy but little-seen movies means a less star-powered Oscar cast and fewer interested viewers. It’s a win-win for everybody, except for moviegoers who crave thoughtful, grown-up movies and the formerly employed critics who used to find those movies for them.

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