The 2012 Oscars and How "Best" Almost Never Means "Favorite"
The others? Great films, but none of them will be occupying space on my DVD shelf. It's probably why most of them won't be lasting movies, either. To truly survive the ages, a film needs to be rewatched, shared with others, passed down to our new generations. I think The Hurt Locker is a brilliant film, but I'm not going to watch it again with friends or family, and I'm certainly not going to watch it on a Saturday night with the kids now or in ten years. Most Oscar films are watched because they're Oscar films: People feel obligated to see what all the fuss is about, and when they're over, we often sit in stunned silence, nod our heads with approval, commend the actors on their brilliant performances, and then we watch Fight Club or The Princess Bride again.
Still: I don't care what people say: The Oscars matter. They matter because there's money involved; they matter because they generate millions of news headlines; they matter because the horse race can be entertaining; and they matter because they're often the only reason many people will even see the films being nominated. Whether they're an accurate representation of what's best is anybody's guess, but what is for certain is that they're rarely an accurate representation of what people will be watching five, ten or 30 years from now.
Look: The movie we best remember from 1983 is Return of the Jedi. In 1984, that title belongs to Ghostbusters and Temple of Doom. In 1985, it was Back to the Future. 1986: Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Stand By Me. In 1987 it was Dirty Dancing. In 1988, it was Big and Die Hard. Those are the movies from those years that will be watched and rewatched, that will be fondly remembered, that will be shared with future generations. How many Best Picture nominations do they have combined? Zero (there's a couple of screenplay nominations, one acting nod, and a lot of technical nominations among them). But ask someone under 30 if they've ever seen A Passage to India or Terms of Endearment or Amadeus, and you're more likely than not to get a blank stare.
All of which is to say: Best doesn't mean favorite, and best certainly doesn't mean classic. There's a pretty good chance that audiences will trickle out and see the films that are nominated, and even more may run out and see the Best Picture winner (unless it's Amour), but chances are, most of the nominated films will rarely be spoken of again. We'll be too busy watching The Avengers and Pitch Perfect to give Beasts of the Southern Wild another look.
Below, I've taken the liberty of running down the Best Picture nominations since 2005. Check them out. How many have you seen a second time? Of the nearly 50 films, I've seen about 20 percent of them a second time. And maybe three or four of them might be watched a third time in the future.
Good Night, and Good Luck
Letters to Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
The King's Speech
The Kids Are Alright
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
Tree of Life