HeldenFiles: Some Oscar Numbers

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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In this undated publicity photo released by Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Jessica Chastain, center, plays a member of the elite team of spies and military operatives, stationed in a covert base overseas, with Christopher Stanley, left, and Alex Corbet Burcher, right, who secretly devote themselves to finding Osama Bin Laden in Columbia Pictures' new thriller, "Zero Dark Thirty." Best-picture prospects for Oscar Nominations on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, include, �Lincoln,� directed by Steven Spielberg; �Zero Dark Thirty,� directed by Kathryn Bigelow; �Les Miserables,� directed by Tom Hooper; �Argo,� directed by Ben Affleck; �Django Unchained,� directed by Quentin Tarantino; and �Life of Pi,� directed by Ang Lee. (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Jonathan Olley)

By now you have most likely seen many discussions and analyses of the Oscar nominations announced Thursday. But here are a couple of statistical issues you may not have followed:

How did the biggest blockbusters of 2012 fare?

How long would it take to watch all the best-picture nominees?

Dollars Don’t Do It. According to Box Office Mojo, the five biggest movies at the 2012 box office were, in descending order, the shot-partly-in-Cleveland Marvel’s The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, Skyfall (the latest James Bond film) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. The Hobbit: An Unexected Journey, which opened late in the year, is in sixth place and likely to move up based on its 2013 take, but let’s stay with the top five as is.

Since the Motion Picture Academy has been worried about the way it overlooks major commercial films — and how that dampens ratings for its annual Oscars telecast, coming Feb. 24 — you would think that some of those movies would have found a way into the major categories, especially since the Best Picture field can include up to 10 nominees.

No such luck.

By my count, the top five box-office performers have a total of six Oscar nominations. Combined. And Skyfall has five of those: cinematography, original score, original song, sound editing and sound mixing. (The sixth, for visual effects, went to The Avengers.) At least that best-song nomination for Skyfall means Adele could show up.

But yes, The Dark Knight Rises, Hunger Games and Breaking Dawn 2 ended up with a collective doughnut.

I am not saying that these films deserved Oscars, even in technical categories. And I am far more disappointed that Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow went un-nominated than I am by any slight to the films already mentioned.

Still, the money-vs.-nominations issue is a peek at the way the Oscars (and other industry awards) think about the importance of looking big and significant at awards time — while grabbing the bucks the rest of the time.

Consider: Last year’s best picture winner, The Artist, was the seventh most popular film among the nine nominees. It was 71st among all 2011 movies.

That’s not to say that commerce should trump art at the Oscars. Or that there are no box-office successes among best-picture contenders.

Lincoln, Django Unchained, Argo and Les Miserables have all taken in more than $100 million at the box office so far, and Life of Pi is in position to join the club. Lincoln, the biggest box-office performer in the field, also has the most Oscar nominations, 12. But it does not crack the box-office top 10 among movies released in 2012, even with its 2013 revenues counted. The Oscars almost suggest, it’s OK to be successful — just not too successful.

As for other best-picture nominees, Zero Dark Thirty just opened locally — although the same team’s The Hurt Locker was not a big hit with theatergoers even after it won a much deserved best-picture Oscar; Amour does not open locally until Feb, 1.

Silver Linings Playbook is no more than a modest commercial performer (which the Oscar nominations may help). And Beasts of the Southern Wild has already made its way to home video.

So let’s say you want to catch up on the nominated films ...

Got a Free Day (and Night)? I have noted before that a trip to the movies these days can turn into a marathon, with lots of big films running 2½ hours or more. And eight of the nine best-picture nominees run two hours are more.

By my calculation, it would take you 20 hours and change to watch all the nominees, whose running times range from a relatively modest 91 minutes for Beasts of the Southern Wild to a bladder-busting 2 hours, 45 minutes for Django Unchained.

Of course, that time does not include travel to a theater, or how much promotional material you have to sit through before the movie starts. When I saw Django recently, it was preceded by 25 minutes of trailers.

Elsewhere … Former Clevelander Steve Harvey has had a good week, with a People’s Choice Award win for favorite new talk show host — and his show getting renewed for a second season.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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