The Oscars may be collateral damage in the war on film critics

Doubt_lThe war on film critics is something I’ve been writing about in this space for two years (for instance, here, here, and here); now, Hollywood is finally starting to realize that marginalizing critics may not be such a good idea, especially at Oscar time, and may actually be hurting the box office. According to this Advertising Age article (registration required), the studios are starting to see a correlation between the disappearance of movie critics from newspapers and the slumping ticket sales for the kind of movies that depend on critics to publicize and champion them — not just art-house movies from independent and foreign-language filmmakers, but also expensive, year-end Oscar hopefuls from the major studios. The pre-sold franchise fare Hollywood specializes in (like the upcoming High School Musical 3 or Quantum of Solace or Twilight) doesn’t really need critics’ help to become a success; neither do low-budget teen flicks and horror movies of the sort that the studios don’t even bother to screen for critics in advance. But movies like Doubt (pictured), The Road, Frost/Nixon, and Changeling — expensive, star-studded, awards-oriented films with bleak, grim, philosophically meaty plots — are going to need all the help they can get from critics whose ranks have been decimated. As Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard bluntly tells Advertising Age, "We’re f—ed."

I almost think Hollywood wants this to happen. If the so-called "specialty" divisions of the studios keep shuttering, the studios can get back to devoting their full energies toward nine-figure blockbusters instead of trying to niche-market smaller films, which the big studios don’t know how to do and can’t make a huge profit from anyway. As gravy, with the niche movies out of the way, it’ll be the studios that dominate the Oscars once again. Which the Academy will like, because honoring worthy but little-seen movies means a less star-powered Oscar cast and fewer interested viewers. It’s a win-win for everybody, except for moviegoers who crave thoughtful, grown-up movies and the formerly employed critics who used to find those movies for them.

More on the war on critics:
The war on TV critics
Do we need more female movie critics?
The war on music critics
Where have all the movie critics gone?
The war on film critics
Has the Web killed movie criticism?

addCredit(“Andrew Schwartz”)

Comments (9 total) Add your comment
  • NineDaves

    i totally agree gary. as someone who aspires to be a critic, the dying industry scares me. my biggest problem? the complete lack of objectivity in the entertainment media. bloggers have become a force to reckoned with on the entertainment front. and when they declare that a movie is “going to suck” before they’ve seen it, i think they make a big impact.

  • Rob Grizzly

    Tough nuts, I suppose.
    Though I saw all of last year’s Oscar nominees, (some where good, but most were overrated) I don’t think I can stand more award shows filled with “indie darlings”

  • iris

    Well said.

  • Martha

    The studios used to put out “thoughtful, grown-up movies” back in the day, right? What happened? I guess it all came down to money. Maybe the only way to get the big studios’ attention once they’ve rid the market of the indie divisions is to boycott. Then once a big string of their “blockbusters” crash and burn, the studios might realize that a big segment of the population (i.e., adults over 22) is not buying their product and start making those grown-up films again. Hey, a girl can dream, right?!?

  • Eric Friedmann

    Martha, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve been boycotting the crap since 2007.

  • DanOregon

    Totally disagree with your assessment that Hollywood would like critics to go away. The blockbusters are critic-proof for the most part and the indie-flicks can be the most profitable if given good critical reviews.

  • Matt

    The reason why critics are failing is because the newspapers that publish them are failing. The newspapers look at their bottom-line, and ask what articles can they cut, who can they not pay, to attempt to gain a profit. The answer is almost always “film Critic first.” And the reasoning behind it, is that no one actually cares what a critic thinks about a movie.
    If you support Critics, support newspapers, and buy the lot of them… Better yet, get rid of the internet all together.
    That, or stop complaining about something that popwatch has a hand in.

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