What a find most interesting is how baffled even Hollywood seems to be about the bizarre pick. How the hugely popular and critically acclaimed film got displaced by an unpopular bomb that received mediocre reviews continues to unravel. I’ll withhold judgment for the time being, but certainly by choosing such a strangely bland and unliked movie to replace “The Dark Knight” in the Best Picture race is raising eyebrows.
AP talked to “Benjamin Button” producer Frank Marshall:
(AP) BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is the Academy Awards heavyweight with 13 nominations, yet the shadow of Batman loomed large with the absence of “The Dark Knight” in the best-picture race. The Batman blockbuster “The Dark Knight” had picked up so much momentum from honors by Hollywood trade unions that awards watchers generally thought it would land a best-picture nomination.
“Benjamin Button” producer Frank Marshall said “it was a bit of a surprise” that his movie would not be competing with “The Dark Knight” for the top prize. “The fact that `The Dark Knight’ did so well at the box office was probably a good thing and maybe a not-so-good thing,” Marshall said. “People tend to think films as successful as that are not well made, but certainly, `Dark Knight’ is exceptionally well made.”
LA Times talked to Milk’s producer Michael London:
In the barest appraisal, “Dark Knight” was yet another summer sequel about a masked-man fighting crime. But after its July release, the film, directed by Christopher Nolan, started racking up so much box-office success (it now stands as the second-highest grossing movie of all-time in the U.S. behind “Titanic“) and such intense critical acclaim (only “WALL-E” scored a higher quotient of raves among the year’s wide-release films, according to Rotten Tomatoes) that Oscar talk began to gain traction. It’s telling that by the end of the film’s journey of credibility, Hollywood insiders were surprised when it wasn’t called out as a best picture nominee.
“People were surprised ‘The Reader’ got the fifth slot instead of ‘Dark Knight,’” said Michael London, a producer on “Milk” and “The Visitor.” “That seemed to be the biggest surprise. People are talking about it. I don’t know what it means. I love ‘The Dark Knight.’ It was a fantastic movie, but I suppose it’s difficult for successful popcorn movies to get serious attention from the academy. It’s a knee-jerk thing where smaller movies are perceived as more artistic.”
As for now it appears that “The Reader’s” baffling appearance in the Oscar race is due to the clever work of Harvey Weinstein:
So the big question is, did Oscar get it right?
Obviously, Harvey Weinstein, who willed “The Reader” into this year’s race against all odds and the objections of original producer Scott Rudin (who took his name off the film), thinks so on the evidence of a triumphant five nominations, all in key categories like best picture, actress, screenplay, directing and cinematography.
UPDATE: Harvey Weinstein just called sounding deliriously happy about his latest Academy Awards success story and he’s just getting revved up with that old Oscar mojo of his. “I tell people its nice we got all the nominations but do not count yourself out. You have a real chance to overtake this all. We’ve seen that happen with ‘Crash’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’. It’s all great. The only thing I can say is the race ain’t over. It’s just beginning,” he said.
In the end, my only sense of loss as part of this campaign is the sense of loss of interest in the Oscars. Tomorrow “The Dark Knight” will be back in theaters and IMAX screens around the country. People will still agree it’s their favorite movie in years. And “The Reader” will still be an unpopular poorly-reviewed film that no one wants to watch.