Two years ago, Time critic Richard Corliss wrote an article that clearly must have resonated at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Oscar telecast was sinking in the ratings, he wrote, because the nominees were largely unwatched by the masses. It used to be that the Best Picture prize went to mainstream box-office hits. "Now when the nominations come out, people try to catch up with the finalists, but it's almost like homework."
The 2010 Oscar nominations clearly signal that Hollywood is trying to return to a broader vision of the Oscars, as something more than an insular critics' circle that likes only the self-consciously arty and obscure. That signal came most obviously with the announcement that there would be 10 nominees for Best Picture. That list hadn't seen 10 nominations since 1943, when the winner was "Casablanca."
Arty films that almost nobody has seen are still there -- like "An Education." But arty blockbusters are there as well, like "Avatar" -- current box office gross: $601 million -- and the animated film "Up," with $293 million. (By contrast, two years ago, the Best Picture box office leader was "Juno" -- at $85 million when the nominations came out.)
The biggest surprise for many Oscar watchers this year was "The Blind Side," which has grossed $238 million. When it came out, the snooty critics hated it. It was "utterly conventional," and even worse for critics, it was a "feel-good" movie. When the finalists were announced and "The Blind Side" was on the list, the attacks started all over again.
Hours later, National Public Radio critic Bob Mondello couldn't resist sneering at Sandra Bullock, who was also nominated for Best Actress for the film. "I would not have guessed that you could get an Oscar nomination for being annoying for two hours."
NPR's Linda Holmes followed that insult minutes later by relating the outrage of what she called the "defenders of cultural quality. ... It takes Best Picture, they worry, from a showcase for serious movies about self-discovery to a swamp of mass-produced, populist dreck." But "The Blind Side" is about self-discovery. It's about a large black teenager who discovers he can be a football star. What in the world is wrong with that?