My wife and I had an interesting discussion last night, after watching The Blind Side [review here], about Oscar-nominated Best Picture films and the various audiences for them. After some discussion, it appeared that there were three primary groups of people interested in the Academy Awards.
- The first is the casual moviegoer, a person who is most likely to see the blockbuster Hollywood hits, the films that everybody sees and discusses around the water cooler. They are interested in being entertained, and that is their sole concern.
- Secondly, there are those cinema lovers who regularly go to the nearest theater, hoping to see a variety of films. They check out the blockbusters but aren’t always impressed with pure entertainment. But they also see smaller films, niche and independent movies, and whatever foreign films happen to be playing nearby. They tend to have a fairly deep understanding of the history of cinema and enjoy comparing new films to classics.
- Finally, there are the serious film critics. For this elite group film language is more than a theory. Every aspect of a film is picked apart and dissected. Their tastes often do not follow any portion of mainstream cinema-goers. They think philosophically and psychologically about films, and are not afraid to share their disdain for anything not showing significant thematic or linguistic depth.
Click to enlarge: from right to left The Human Vapor, Dear Dead Delilah, The House With Laughing Windows
- With an expanded field of ten Best Picture nominees this year, the Academy was able to include a few films for each of the above groups of people. A select number of blockbusters made the field. Avatar [review here] would most likely have been nominated solely on its critical reviews, but the enormous box office take made sure that viewers would tune in to see if it would win. The Blind Side falls securely into this category. It is not great cinema, but it is a crowd-pleaser, more in line with some of the early nominees for Best Picture back in the 1930’s. Up [review here] was a commercial and critical success, but one that casual filmgoers would recognize. District 9 [review here] might fall in this category for fans of sci-fi films.
- Film lovers will most likely have seen all or most of the nominees, but their tastes might lean farther from The Blind Side and Avatar, instead appreciating the art involved with creating films like Up or Up in the Air [review here]. They might have seen and enjoyed Inglourious Basterds [review here], and perhaps been confused but appreciative of A Serious Man [review here]. The thematic depth of District 9 might appeal to some members of this group, as might the emotional impact of Precious (the only one of the ten that I did not review, though I have seen it). An Education [review here], too, will be appreciated and enjoyed.
- The third group is the most difficult to predict. They might shy away from Precious and dislike District 9 for its commercially violent climax. Avatar will not enter the equation, nor will The Blind Side. They will perhaps appreciate the composure of An Education and the humanity of Up, particularly the heart rending opening sequence. Most of all, I suspect, they will support the complexity of A Serious Man, the technical skill involved and the immense thought that went into every shot and theme. They will enjoy the many layers, perhaps watching it several times to fully digest the themes and meta-themes. The latter will be most interesting, especially considering the film’s appreciation of the unknowability of life and how unknowable the film itself appears.
But this is a serious discussion, full of broad strokes generalizing mass groups of people into small categories. The above consists of a few thoughts on the topic, nothing more, and probably much less. I do not know the things of which I write, I merely extrapolate from my limited knowledge, but this, too, can be interesting to discuss. And since it all is, inevitably, meaningless, I will leave you with a few movie posters as companions to the ones stuck purposelessly in the middle of this article.