In recent years, the Oscars have been accused of taking an overly narrow view of what constitutes a best picture, prioritising a certain kind of art-house film above all others.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the 8,000-strong group considered among the most influential in the entertainment industry, made a number of firsts Tuesday when it announced its best picture candidates. And populism ran through many of them.
It chose among its eight nominees an installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“Black Panther”), the first modern superhero film to land the honour. It went with a movie from Netflix (“Roma”), the hugely popular streaming company of 58 million U.S. subscribers that has angered traditionalists with its indifference to the theatrical experience. And it selected a crowd-pleasing rock biopic (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) that had been savaged by many critics and thought dead just two weeks ago.
“The irony is, the year they decided against the ‘popular’ Oscar, look at how popular the movies they ended up with really were,” said John Sloss, executive producer of the best-picture-nominated “Green Book,” referring to a shelved plan last summer to create a separate category for blockbusters.
It is the first time in nearly a decade — since the 2009 releases — that three best-picture nominees have grossed at least $200 million at the time of nominations. Last year, not a single one reached the mark.
It had become an almost annual rite. The academy makes its choices and, shortly after, faces charges that it has gone too rigorous and dark, that it has forsaken its history of a place where quality and the mainstream can coexist. That all changed this year. With a few marks on their ballot, the group revived a forgotten creature: the hit Oscar movie
But in so doing, the academy also raised questions, not least of which is the importance of money in its choices.
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” about the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, was written off for much of the season, with few top nominations from Hollywood’s guilds and a Metacritic score below even 50 percent. Yet it had grossed $202 million, a factor that seemed hard to deny both for the 90 people who decide the Golden Globes and, now, for the academy.
“Roma,” though far from a commercial hit, may have had some financial factors behind its selection, too. Netflix has spent profusely to land a nomination for the film, a black-and-white Spanish-language coming-of-age movie from Alfonso Cuarón centered on heroic housekeepers in 1970s Mexico. The company threw splashy events at Los Angeles hot spots such as Spago, collaborated with high-end publisher Assouline on a glossy art book it then gave away and took out a seemingly endless stream of outdoor and television ads, all to attract attention from academy members. Read more