This awards season, the Hollywood studios’ Golden Boy, Oscar, stars in The Return of the Prodigal Son. This year’s lineup of studio contenders has opened screen doors to the top award after Oscar’s long affair with those wild young things called “the indies.”
As the blockbusters became the more and more favored means of recoupment — or at least annual survival — Oscar, who serves as avatar, superhero and shining beacon of Hollywood’s highest and mightiest of aspirations, turned his attention away from his studio fathers. He started running around in the ’90s with the kids from what was once derisively deemed “Poverty Row.”
So the studios tried to put on brave faces and continued their march toward responsible fiscal stewardship of their corporate coffers, while increasingly seeing their Golden Boy’s ass kicked by the declasse likes of Harvey Weinstein and his would-be indie sector competitors.
Then another gambling indie maverick named Bob Shaye took the best picture prize with an epic that shoulda been a studio contender, followed by another even more mavericky guy named Bob Yari. So by the time something called “Slumdog Millionaire” got picked up at a bar in Toronto and a bunch of people from a couple of foreign countries were on stage celebrating a best picture win, the Academy woke from its slumber and tried to fix the problem. Its solution in 2009: More best picture nominees.
The dream was to make sure their big shiny superhero money-spinning salvations would also become big shiny prestigious Oscar best picture winners. Call it “The Dark Knight Solution.”
Only one problem.
It didn’t happen.
It only got worse.
And as the studio hits failed to grab Oscar’s attention, ratings cratered for the Oscar telecast. This is the dire and dreaded trend that led to this year’s panic button pushing in the Academy engine room that first blasted out “We will give an award for best popular film!” followed by “All clear. This was just a test of the emergency Oscar ratings boost system. Never mind.”
Get ready for some good news: This is the first year in decades when the studios are back in the best picture race with ribbons and bows and a bounty of films that wonderfully fulfill the mission the Oscars began with: big studio prestige pics, dramas with emotion and heart, powered by movie star performances that are drawing big crowds.
“A Star Is Born” has racked up close to $200 million at the box office on a modest $38 million budget but more importantly, the Kleenex factories are working three shifts to accommodate the sobbing induced by pop star Lady Gaga’s brilliant screen debut and bonafide movie star Bradley Cooper’s astonishing quadruple-threat triumph as actor-director-co-screenwriter-producer.
“Green Book” is the kind of studio picture that Stanley Kramer used to make, which is no small feat considering Kramer’s multitude of Oscar nominations and the fact there’s a Producers Guild award named after Stanley Kramer.
There’s even a superhero pic getting encouraging signs that Our Long National Comic-book Pic Oscar Snubbing Nightmare is over. “Black Panther” is a once-in-a-generation cultural phenomenon with nearly $1.4 billion in grosses and enough positive change in its sails to send into the history books as the first comic book best picture Oscar nominee.
“Mary Poppins Returns” appears destined to join the original film in both the Oscar noms winners’ circle and the hearts of film fans in need of magic and hope as only the Disney hitting on all cylinders magic-makers can provide. Multiplex cash registers will ring in New Year with new “Returns” tunes.
And when’s the last time a major studio made a rock and roll film with a shot at a best picture nomination? “Bohemian Rhapsody” has racked up over a half billion dollars at the global box office and looks to join a short list of pictures that include the Beatles “A Hard Day’s Night” and Prince’s “Purple Rain” and garner Oscar nominations.
With any luck, the ratings should be up.
And by the time you’ve read this, they may have found a host. My suggestion: Get a studio star. It’s that kind of year so why fight the feeling. As Max Bialystock would say, “If you got it, flaunt it.”