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Movie History – What the Oscar Nominations Tell Us About Movies in 2010

It was an interesting year at the movies. Attendance was down at theaters: it was almost 6 percent lower (the lowest in fifteen years) than in 2009, and fewer tickets were sold, though we saw slightly higher revenue (over $10 billion) owing to steeper ticket prices for 3-D. Many things were proposed as causes: was it noisy theater patrons, poor images and sound at multiplexes, more viewing options (video on demand, streaming, etc.), the economy, the use of social media to instantly broadcast word-of-mouth reactions, or something else?

Of the ten 2010 Best Picture nominees, the audience favorites are Toy Story 3 and Inception, although the former will most likely win Best Animated Feature Film, and the mind-bending Inception, as has been pointed out numerous times, is missing a key Best Director nomination. The main front-runners — The Social Network, True Grit, and The King’s Speech — aren’t blockbusters like last year’s Avatar, Up, and Blind Side. Here are some of the overall trends that emerged.

Fantasy Films Mostly Nixed in Favor of Real-life Nonfiction Stories
Jerry Bruckheimer failed twice as producer this year, with the video-game adaptation Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and the fantasy-comedy The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Other fantasy flops included M. Night Shyamalan’s awful Nickelodeon-cartoon rip-off The Last Airbender and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Mainstream audiences neglected the multi-genre flop that was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and also Jack Black in Gulliver’s Travels. One flippant over-the-top film that did appeal to geeks and fanboys was the unapologetically defiant R-rated comic-book-superhero adaptation Kick-Ass — its title referring to a teenage crime-fighting superhero who teams up with a foulmouthed, sexually aggressive, and murderous 11-year-old Hit-Girl.

No, filmgoers (and Academy members) preferred a heavy dose of nonfiction stories this year. Examples included the Best Picture nominee The King’s Speech, about a debilitated monarch with a stammering problem; the generation-defining Social Network, about finding one’s identity amid social media; the art-house ballet thriller Black Swan; the almost unfilmable 127 Hours; an eccentric sleeper hit about an atypical two-mom family (The Kids Are All Right); a come-from-behind boxing story (The Fighter); the realistic, raw Winter’s Bone; and the marriage-disintegration drama Blue Valentine.

Poor Response to High-Profile Sequels
If it wasn’t the critics, then it was the poor audience response to sequels
such as the superfluous comedy Sex and the City 2 and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which was
received only lukewarmly as a fantasy film with nothing special in
it. Even though Iron Man 2 made over $300 million domestically, few
liked it, and it was the sole comic-book film of the year to receive an
Oscar nod (Best Visual Effects) — proving there was an overall decline in (and exhaustion with) superhero action films. The top-grossing talking-animal film of 2010 was Yogi Bear. The subgenre is tired. The remake Tron: Legacy (with 3-D) missed out on a Best Visual Effects nomination, and
Oliver Stone’s topical Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps fell flat.
The most obvious exceptions were both based on blockbuster book franchises: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Eclipse.

A Decline in the Cult of Major Film Stars
The fast-action comedy Knight and Day counted on Tom Cruise’s
bankability (with another aging headliner, Cameron Diaz), but it ended up
having Cruise’s lowest-attended opening weekend since Far and Away. The poorly received summer flick The A-Team was a real low for a
repeat of a major action TV series. The star power of the romantic
thriller The Tourist, with the pairing of Johnny Depp and Angelina
Jolie, fell flat, as did Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett in the Gladiator-like Robin Hood, a mismatched Jennifer Aniston and Gerard
Butler in The Bounty Hunter, and George Clooney in the slow-moving American. Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix’s appearance in the experimental
mockumentary I’m Still Here made fun of celebrity itself.

The Hype of 3-D
The phenomenon of 3-D didn’t entirely live up to its promise, recalling
its fifties status as a fad. The prediction following the record-breaking Avatar that such films would be the wave of the future
fizzled in early 2010. Backlash came from users who complained about
eyestrain, the silly glasses, dark images, shoddy transfers, and so
forth. The best example of failed 3-D was the incoherent flop Clash of the Titans, whose conversion from 2-D to 3-D in postproduction totally backfired. 3-D was also misused in The Nutcracker in 3D, The Last Airbender, and Saw 3D. Maybe 3-D was most appropriate when applied to the guilty-pleasure sexploitation film Piranha, the zombie horror film Resident Evil: Afterlife, and the immature and stunt-filled Jackass 3D.

The Strength of Feature-Length Documentaries
Movie audiences had a more positive attitude toward screen entertainment
of all kinds, thanks to a growing familiarity with reality TV and
YouTube. There were a number of film distributors who took chances on
self-produced low-budget projects independent of the studios during a
time when the number of studio films declined. Many documentaries of feature length made a strong showing as unexpected hits during the summer months. Some felt there was a glut of documentaries critical of various social issues, such as the two
environmentally themed documentaries Waste Land and GasLand. They were joined by National Geographic‘s war-themed Restrepo, Inside Job‘s accounting of the 2008 global financial meltdown, and the mysterious U.K. graffiti artist Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop. Others that showed
promise included the highest-grossing documentary of the year, the Disney nature drama Oceans, and Babies, Waiting for ‘Superman, Catfish, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Countdown to Zero, and The Tillman Story.

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