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Oscar Best Picture: What’s Wrong With Well-Crafted Entertainment?

What do voters have against movies that are well-made — and also as entertaining as hell?

Among this year’s typically serious and/or weighty crop of frontrunners, there are at least three dramas set during wartime (“Unbroken,” “American Sniper” and “The Imitation Game”) and a slew of biopics (all three of the previously mentioned films, “Selma,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Wild.”) All of these films, along with “Foxcatcher,” are based on true stories.

But can’t Oscar make room for some titles that represent exceedingly well-crafted fun? While a “District 9” might slip in from time to time, odds are fairly slim that “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a film that critics and audiences adored, will sneak into the best picture noms. Over at Rotten Tomatoes, “Guardians” is sitting pretty with a 90% fresh rating, higher than many frontrunners (“Theory of Everything”: 82%, “Imitation Game”: 84%, “Foxcatcher”: 85%.) The film was widely praised for elevating the comic book genre and making a star out of Chris Pratt.

For that matter, both “The Lego Movie” and “Big Hero 6” earned some of the best reviews of the year, but they’ve been relegated to the animated movie discussion, when they deserve to be talked about for the top prize. Previous animated films like “Beauty and the Beast,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3” all made it into the best picture race, but they are few and far-between.

As long as we’re discussing “The Lego Movie,” that film’s directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord achieved another spectacular feat this year with “22 Jump St.,” the rare sequel that many people felt was better than the original. But that perfectly executed movie — which achieved what it set out to do in its genre — has no shot at any kind of Oscar nom.

There are other films in the discussion that are likely to get nominated but when stacked up against the frontrunners, they’re considered a bit smaller and lighter. The excellent “Whiplash” is adored, but most people seem to think its Oscar chances lie in supporting actor and screenplay. “Gone Girl” is a solid film that has its admirers but might be considered too commercial for its own good — ditto for “Interstellar.” Meanwhile, musical “Into the Woods” and comedy “The Grand Budapest Hotel” represent two genres that rarely win best picture. Of course, “Woods” is helmed by Rob Marshall, who previously championed “Chicago” to best picture glory. But even that film was a darkly funny tale that tackled some serious issues about celebrity, crime and the media.

And yet, one of the smallest films of all is considered by many to be a frontrunner. With a budget estimated at $4 million, “Boyhood” features no wars, no great tragedies, no heralded true-life heroes. It is simply a story about an average boy growing up. While much has been made about the fact that Richard Linklater shot the film over the course of 12 years, that choice never plays as a gimmick. Buoyed by great performances and a straightforward style, it just might be the small little movie that wins big.

 

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