Oscar’s best picture nominees are built on hope

Though mired in war, illness and tragedy, the nine best picture nominees push away the gloom.

01/10/2013 4:53 PM

05/16/2014 8:45 PM

After a year of unspeakable disasters, both natural and manmade, of bitter political partisanship, of a listless economy, Oscar is looking on the bright side.

Yes, the nine films nominated Thursday for the best picture Academy Award had been in the pipeline for years, but, coincidentally or not, they arrived together in a flow of optimism just when we needed it.

“Lincoln,” the favorite to win, gives not only hope of a better life for slaves in mid-19th-century America but for the workings of government today. “Zero Dark Thirty” (reviewed in FYI today) and “Argo” remind us that our country can get something right in an Asian morass.

“Les Miserables” dreams a dream for the downtrodden, “Silver Linings Playbook” for the mentally ill, “Django Unchained” for the underdog and the French-language “Amour” for love in the twilight years.

In “Life of Pi” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” kids miraculously survive a shipwreck, a hurricane and snarling special-effects creatures.

That’s not to say that these movies are living in fantasy worlds. They are firmly rooted in the gritty realities of the past and present — familiar territory for the Academy Awards (think “The Hurt Locker,” “The Departed,” even “The King’s Speech” to some extent).

The latest nominees aren’t caught up in rose-tinged nostalgia like last year’s lighter heavyweights “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris” and, especially, the big winner “The Artist” (although, with “Les Miz” and “Amour,” Oscar still has a thing for France).

While the academy was smitten last year with films about filmmaking, this year only “Argo” takes us behind the scenes, incorporating a movie-in-a-movie as a CIA ruse.

As “The Artist” clearly demonstrated, small films and art-house themes can dominate the awards. Of last year’s nine best picture candidates, only “The Help” had topped $100 million when nominations were announced. And three, including “The Artist,” hadn’t even cracked $15 million.

Now, four of the best picture nominees have already grossed more than $100 million, with another closing in. That’s even more impressive when you consider that the nominations came out two weeks earlier than usual (in an effort to steal some Golden Globes thunder).

After playing in only a handful of theaters, “Zero Dark Thirty” (opening wide today), “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Amour” (arriving in KC Feb. 8) will enjoy box office boosts from the nominations. (OK, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” grossed only $11 million while it was in theaters — but that’s on a budget of less than $2 million.)

What’s this? Movies beloved by Oscar

and

the general public?

Maybe there’s hope for Hollywood after all.

WHY NINE?

The rules now allow for anywhere from five to 10 best picture nominees. But to be part of that pack, films have to earn a certain percentage of first-place votes during the nomination process (it’s actually more complicated than that). This is the second year in a row with nine films in the top category.

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