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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Room and The Benefits of the Oscars Nominating Films That Make No Money

Even in a year that saw Guardians of the Galaxy and one of the Hunger Games films being released, the highest grossing film of 2014 was American Sniper. Despite earning multiple Oscar nominations last year including a Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor nomination, American Sniper's only win came for Best Sound Editing. This of course caused outrage among conservatives claiming that Hollywood was out of touch with "the real America".

That being said, it wouldn't be an unfair criticism of The Academy to say that they're out of touch with the vast majority of the movie going public. Jurassic World, Furious Seven, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, grossed a gazillion dollars between the three of them in 2015 (rough estimate), and have a combined 0 Oscar nominations. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the highest grossing domestic film of all time, and it didn't earn a Best Picture, Best Director, Best anything Actor, or Best Screenplay nomination. The original Star Wars is the second highest grossing domestic movie all time when adjusting for inflation, and did earn a Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay nomination in 1977, but lost all three to friggin' Annie Hall.

However, that's the beauty of The Academy Awards; they can be so great by not being swayed by popular opinion. In 10 years (hell, maybe even 5), we will forget about Jurassic World and  2015's latest Avengers romp because those films were disposable. Scott Mendelson from Forbes wrote an excellent piece in 2014 about how Avatar was the highest grossing film of all time yet left no pop culture footprint. Money doesn't always equate to immortality, but The Academy can.

While it can be a double-edged sword, an Academy Award nomination can help cement a film's legacy- or at the very minimum help bring great, under-seen movies to light. That was the case with Whiplash, my favorite film of 2014. I first saw the trailer for Whiplash in the summer of 2014, but that's only because I see every trailer released on IMDB. It looked really interesting to me, but since it was released in the theater and came and went in the blink of an eye, I didn't bother checking it out. But then came Award Season. Not only was J.K. Simmons getting crazy Oscar buzz, but the film was too. That buzz started to snowball, and I got excited all over again. Thanks to its 5 Academy Award nominations, the film was re-released in theaters and I was then able to experience the joy and amazement that was Whiplash.

2015 had its own version of this narrative- Lenny Abrahamson's Room. Room has only grossed a little over five million dollars (which is literally pennies to Hollywood studios), but it managed to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. That's insane that it was able to earn that many major Oscar nominations despite the fact that Room is the lowest-earning Best Picture nominee of All-Time. While I personally was not that big of a fan of Room, many others were. A lot of people I respect love Room, and I like how their love of the film snowballed into these major award nominations, and seemingly Oscar win for Brie Larson.

There are some films like Bridge of Spies, that will automatically get Oscar nominations just because of the names attached in the film. Then there are the films like Room and Whiplash that weasel their way into these nominations because of the quality of the piece of art itself. It's these films that should be honored and should be brought more into the mainstream. The Oscars help do this. For all of the completely legitimate problems and criticisms of The Academy and the nominations themselves, the one thing they can do right is by honoring great films that the average American might not even have heard of. While I personally would not have nominated Room this year, I respect the hell out of the nomination.



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