This week’s column was originally intended to discuss the box-office viability of Carrie, notable as both a remake of Brian De Palma’s classic and Kimberly Peirce’s first feature film since 2008’s Stop-Loss, but then I read Peirce calling Brian De Palma’s film “semicampy” in an otherwise fascinating and spot-on New York Times article, which rubbed me the wrong way. Moreover, giving more ink to yet another cash-in remake of an all-time great horror film would find us caught within the cogs of the Hollywood machine—something this column is actively opposed to.
A more pressing issue than Carrie’s potential box office has presented itself with 12 Years a Slave, opening in limited release this Friday (but even so, it stands a considerable chance at cracking the Top 10), though screened for the first time to Oscar voters on Sunday night. In an excellent, if depressing, Los Angeles Times recap from Glenn Whipp, AMPAS members couldn’t even fill the auditorium for Steve McQueen’s latest, even though the film has been riding a tidal wave of good reviews from festivals and is being called the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture by many prominent prognosticators, such as Sasha Stone of Awards Daily. This comes after the previous weekend, where Academy members were turned away from a screening of Gravity, with the Samuel Goldwyn Theater packed to the brim, much like the rest of North American theaters.
There’s a parallel here: Like other North Americans, Academy members are fervent to see Gravity (big-screen spectacle) and trepidatious to grapple with 12 Years a Slave (“tough medicine” historicism). Many Americans won’t even have a choice to try the “touch medicine” this weekend, due to the film’s limited opening. Thus, if you ask an Oklahoman if (s)he’s seeing 12 Years a Slave, the answer could be “No. I’d like to, but the film isn’t opening within 800 miles of me.” Apparently, if you ask an Academy member the same question, (s)he may reply, “I’m just not in the right frame of mind to watch that one yet” or “It’s not a Sunday night kind of movie” or “I’ve read all about the Civil War and slavery…I don’t need to see a movie repeating what I already know.” At least, these are three of the answers given in Whipp’s article as to why certain members skipped the screening.
Now the question has to be asked (and I’m doing my best Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler here): “Really!?!” You’re a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 12 Years a Slave is being touted as the frontrunner for many of your (prestigious?) awards. It’s a free screening, so all you have to do is make it to the auditorium on time. Unlike other Americans, you don’t even have to make sure you have the money in your bank account for the ticket. Really? “It’s not a Sunday night movie?” As opposed to a Wednesday brunch movie? “I don’t need to see a movie repeating what I already know?” I suppose the same logic could apply to your sixth-grade science book on outer space; guess there’s no need to see Gravity now!
These Academy members possess an elementary school understanding of art, where films operate in a purely denotative register, as if Roger Ebert’s famous “it’s not what a movie is about; it’s how it’s about it” never happened. Armond White stated in 2010 that “there should be no film critics younger than 30,” due to a suggested lack of knowledge on art and life. Clearly, as demonstrated by these Oscar voters, age has very little to do with aptitude; rather, White’s suggested knowledge comes from respecting new works of art enough (not to mention performing member duties) to approach them with honesty and without bias. Yet, what can an onlooker do if these adults insist on approaching the matter like children? What is one to make of Sasha Stone writing that “Gravity has received high praise from almost all of the major critics and is set to make a lot of cash at the box office?” These insights confirm Martin Scorsese’s worst fears, as stated in a previous column: art and box office become aligned, integrity and civility are disposed of. The 2014 Academy Awards are on Sunday, March 2nd. Maybe I’ll go for a long walk instead of tuning in—you know, “It’s just not a Sunday night kind of awards show.”
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. Gravity: $37.6 -13%
2. Carrie: $24.6 -NEW
3. Captain Phillips: $17.4 -42%
4. Escape Plan: $10.1 NEW
5. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: $9.8 -29%
6. The Fifth Estate: $3.4 NEW
7. Prisoners: $2.4 -33%
8. Insidious: Chapter 2: $2.1 -23%
9. Runner Runner: $2 -48%
10. 12 Years a Slave: $1.6 NEW