2018: A mute janitor at a secret government lab falls in love with a humanoid sea creature.
2017: The professional and personal lives of an actress and a musician intersect as drivers sing and dance while stuck in a traffic jam ... no, sorry; the life of a young man is told in three stages as he comes to grips with his upbringing and his sexuality.
2016: An unsung team of heroic journalists (no, it isn’t science fiction) exposes corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of the Catholic church — all while competing to see who can speak with the worst Boston accent.
2015: An actor nearing professional, personal and psychotic breakdowns tries to keep it together long enough to take the stage as various tangential relationships form and dissolve around him, ultimately leading to a face-to-face encounter with the personification of his most famous character in a story that seemingly bobs and weaves without so much as taking a moment’s pause — as if it were some interminable run-on sentence that might never end.
2014: Finally, a man is born into freedom in New York, only to be kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana, fights more than a decade to escape his circumstances.
Those are the past five winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture. (Well, six ... if you count 2017, when the wrong film was announced before being corrected.)
How many did you see? How many could you name?
Don’t worry; you’re not alone in being unequipped with Raymond Babbitt’s memory banks. According to The Hollywood Reporter, only 20 percent of those polled can name last year’s Best Picture recipient ... while more picked the wrong films (“La La Land,” “The Revenant,” “American Sniper”) as the Oscar winner for the previous three years — even though all the nominees were listed in the poll.
Only “12 Years A Slave,” the 2014 champ, rang a bell with respondents. (How are you doing with the titles of the others, by the way?)
Nominations for the 2019 Academy Awards are set to be announced on Tuesday ... in what could be the high point for an American tradition that seems more and more like an irrelevancy as the years pass.
If you are, however, among those who believe that the Oscars haven’t lost their luster because they are presented increasingly to films that don’t reach a wide audience, consider this:
In the same national poll cited by THR, more than half of the respondents answered that they “don’t know” and/or “don’t care” which films and performances received the statuette of a little golden man that Dustin Hoffman noted “has no genitalia and is carrying a sword.”
It has been a particularly bad build-up to next month’s ceremony.
In August, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the creation of the grandly named “Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement In Popular Film” ... you know, basically a crumb thrown to a movie that audiences actually went to and admitted they liked.
(Unlike, say, films people say they liked — or worse, admired — because, well, it makes you feel smarterer in proper company.)
The prize was a recognition that movies that generate populist buzz for the Oscars telecast weren’t getting consideration — or worse, respect — by those who do the nominating. Among the many problems was that, simply, no one bothered to define what categorized a movie as a “Popular Film.”
Not to mention (although I will, since I simply can’t help myself) that by calling the films in that category “popular,” would the Academy be tacitly acknowledging that the majority of the films up for Best Picture would be the cinematic equivalent of castor oil?
By the end of September, the Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement In Popular Film had been shelved. And it looks like those “unpopular” nominees will be sharing the stage with “Black Panther.”
Still, while the Best Pictures might be difficult to remember and the public at large might not give a whit, it’s prudent to keep in mind that the Oscars are first and foremost a television show.
Ratings have slipped in this era where there are 500 or so scripted series and countless program providers, but the Academy Awards still draws more viewers to their TV screens than any non-sports event on television.
Continuing to do so, however, depends on the entertainment factor — which, ultimately, means the host.
This year, barring some last-minute change, there won’t be one.
Comic actor Kevin Hart was announced as taking over the reins from Jimmy Kimmel, until homophobic comments from Hart’s past resurfaced and he a) withdrew, b) reconsidered, c) gave an interview with Ellen DeGeneres after which she was criticized by segments of the LGBTQ2+ community, leading to d) Hart ultimately pulling out once again.
This will be the first Oscars without a host since 1989 — when the show included an extended musical opening featuring Lily Tomlin dressed as Carmen Miranda and Rob Lowe singing “Proud Mary” with an actress dressed as Snow White, followed by a group of young “Stars of Tomorrow” singing, “I Want To Be An Oscar Winner.” (None of them has won, been nominated or, for that matter, been an Oscar Meyer weiner.)
As memorable as those production numbers were, I’d be willing to wager that if The Hollywood Reporter polled folks today about the Best Picture winner from that telecast, most would correctly choose “Rain Man” over “The Accidental Tourist,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Mississippi Burning” and “Working Girl” — and likely would have heard of all of them.
Definitely. Most definitely.
Mail Tribune columnist Robert Galvin practices the unexpected virtue of ignorance at email@example.com.