I’m seeing articles lamenting that the Best Picture nominees for tonight’s Oscars weren’t popular or didn’t have big box office numbers.
The Oscars are not a popularity contest. They’re about awarding craftsmanship. The movies chosen in every Oscar year are meant to last, and grow, as pieces of art, kids. Commercial art, maybe, yes. But it’s not about how many seats they filled, or how often they were streamed.
And it’s been like that always. I’ve chosen 1980, a wonderful year for film, an an example.
The Best Picture nominees were “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Norma Rae,” “Breaking Away,” and “All That Jazz.”
The winner was “Kramer,” which made $11.6 million on its release and didn’t ultimately hit $106 million until well after Oscar nominations and the win.
Runner up was “Apocalypse Now,” which ultimately earned $89 million, didn’t break $100 million and lost money. It became a classic over four decades.
The remaining three were not widely seen at the time and didn’t make much money. The lovely “Breaking Away” earned $16.8 million. “Norma Rae” was about $23 million. “All that Jazz” did a little better with $37.8 million.
All of them, despite low numbers in 1980, are still seen today and highly regarded and even kind of loved.
That is the case for every year. Sometimes you get a big box office hit in the mix. More than often you don’t.
Keep that in mind. This year’s films, in an odd pandemic year, were really terrific. “Nomadland,” “Minari,” “Chicago 7,” “Ma Rainey,” “The Father,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Billie Holiday,” — there isn’t a clunker in the group. Even “Mank” will remain watchable, and maybe more so as time goes by. Did they set box office records? No. But they added to the human condition. And that’s what this is all about.
PS There will be a rush to post the ratings tomorrow morning, wait and see — headlines about lowest rated Oscars ever. Let’s concede that point now, and just enjoy the show.