For the past few years, independent films have out-performed Hollywood studio productions when it comes to awards like the Oscars so consistently that the studios made very little effort to campaign on behalf of big-budget films. But the New York Times reports that the studios are getting ready to promote some of their blockbuster releases for awards this year.
In theory, any film released this year is eligible for awards, but as a practical matter only the films supported by their studios will get the critical mass of support necessary for a nomination. Each fall, very expensive campaigns — special screenings, distribution of DVDs, some promotional swag, ads in trade publications “for your consideration” — determine which films are prominent in the voters’ minds when it comes time to cast their ballots.
After years of giving plenty of running room to independent film companies or studio art house divisions that set the pace with critic-friendly but limited-audience films like last year’s “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood,” this year the major studios are pushing some of their biggest crowd-pleasers into the thick of the awards race.
Their approaching multimillion-dollar campaigns come at a time when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose 6,000-plus members award the Oscars, is planning to give its annual show a more commercially popular flavor. In part the academy’s producers will do that by including glimpses of the year’s box office favorites [previously the broadcast did not permit commercials for upcoming films], whether or not they are nominated for prizes….
Shrinkage in the small-film business has left more room for big studios to play the Oscar game. Awaiting awards pushes are films like Universal’s “Frost/Nixon,” directed by Ron Howard; Paramount’s “Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a David Fincher film starring Brad Pitt; and 20th Century Fox’s “Australia,” a Baz Luhrmann epic starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.
The Times says there could be campaigns for such commercial hits as Wall?E and Iron Man. While this could be more about attracting viewers to the Oscar broadcast as it is about the quality of the film candidates for awards, I like the idea of recognizing that just because a movie makes a lot of money does not mean it is without artistic merit. A large part of what made Iron Man successful was the artistry of Robert Downey, Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, and director Jon Favreau. And what made Wall?E so successful was the way its stories and characters touched the hearts of the audience, thanks to its writers and artists. I like seeing independent films get nominated for awards because it brings them a larger audience. But I’m glad to see blockbusters getting studio support for awards because it reminds us why they are so important to us.