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It's often overlooked that one of the original purposes of The Academy Awards - aka The Oscars - was public relations. The much-maligned "tabloid culture" of entertainment news was already alive and well in the late 1920s. Coverage of the "scandalous" exploits of high-living famous faces on the mysterious West Coast was a constant headache to their studio boss employers, who lived in mortal terror of more media-driven debacles like the now-infamous Fatty Arbuckle Scandal. Louis B. Mayer, the king of the early Hollywood moguls, is said to have conceived The Oscars in part to help control the celebrity news narrative, ensuring that the biggest, most glamorous, most star-packed event of the year would be a press-saturated awards ceremony where the stars would dress their finest and line up to make grateful acceptance speeches. "See, Joe and Jane Average? These aren't godless hedonistic elitists, but rather humble servants blushing at recognition and bowing before your almighty ticket-buying dollar!"
In much the same way that The Superbowl has become less a clash of American football's best teams than it is a high holy day for bookies and HDTV salesmen, these days, The Oscars seem less like a party and more like the peak of the film industry's year-long marketing strategy. Nominated and victorious films hope for a bump in forthcoming DVD sales, nominated or winning actors hope to up their asking price, and the ad campaigns of upcoming films start getting re-written. Will the American adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo be coming to you "From The Director of Seven" or "From Academy Award Winner David Fincher"? Oscar will decide.
Alright, enough intro - Here are the major nominees this year, and some relevant commentary from my end. Click here if you'd like to check out the full list of nominees.
Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone
The ten nominee change from last year once again produces an interestingly mixed field. Five dramas, a horror film, an animated film, a western and a sci fi/action movie. Not bad.
Every year's best picture contest has a narrative in the lead-up, and this year said narrative is all about analog versus digital. All the top tier prognosticators seem to agree that despite the wide field, it all comes down to whether or not The Academy's aptly-nicknamed "old guard" will prefer the solid-but-unremarkable King's Speech - which isn't so much a movie as it is an expertly filled-out "How To Win An Oscar" Mad Libs sheet - over The Social Network - a right-here-right-now encapsulation of a modern cultural landscape that the "old guard" is largely unaware and/or terrified of.
Truth be told, if I were voting it'd be for Inception or Toy Story 3 before either of them, but yeah, that's probably what it comes down to with Grit or Fighter as possible spoilers. Pleasant surprise seeing Winter's Bone in there - a murder mystery set in the rural mafia of Appalachian meth dealers, it's the best movie nobody saw this year.