Are the Oscars Turning 'Artsy'?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences "is becoming more artsy and indie-minded just as much of the Hollywood establishment hoped to make it more commercial" according to the New York Times's Michael Cieply, who yesterday reported on the increasing difficulty of obtaining membership to this famous organization. Apparently, Academy instituted a new admissions policy in 2004 that was meant to reduce its rolls, but which has also had the unintended effect of "tilting it away from the Hollywood regulars and shoo-ins who once filled its actor-rich ranks." As evidence of the "more artsy and indie-minded" direction the Academy has since taken, Cieply cites nominations in recent years for There Will Be Blood, Babel, and Little Miss Sunshine.

I won't get into a discussion here of Cieply's problematic use of the word "indie," or of the relatives merits of these movies. But suffice to say that I'm not convinced that nominations--and even trophies--for movies starring Daniel-Day Lewis, Brad Pitt, and Steve Carell, respectively, have steered the Academy away from Sunset Blvd. And is it really such a terrible thing, as Cieply implies, that because of this new policy the Academy hasn't yet admitted Casey Affleck?

"Remember when you were a kid and every movie was incredible, every movie was magic? Ooo, they were all great," said Chris Rock during the opening monologue of his (only) outing as Oscars host in 2005. "And then you grow up and you watch some of those same movies and you're like, Rocky V sucks." Mercilessly lampooning the mediocre talents in the Kodak Theater that night ("Clint Eastwood is a star. That's a star. Tobey Maguire is just a boy in tights.") Rock also went to the heart of the Academy's problem. In a video segment where he visited a local Magic Johnson theater, Rock showed that few of the mostly black patrons had seen any of the Best Picture nominees--or even heard of them.

The Academy, of course, continues to ignore the work of a popular director like Tyler Perry, whose audience is largely black, even as it professes an interest in honoring more "commercial" work. And when movies like last year's improbably brilliant Grindhouse are produced from their own assembly lines, the Academy can't seem to recognize them for the pop masterpieces they are. And anyway the Academy ought to realize by now that commercial appeal is hardly the best measure of Hollywood's value. If it were, then the top movie at the box office this past weekend, Four Christmases, would have a much better shot at their coveted little gold man.--Benjamin Strong


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