Get Oscar nominees to the viewers

Published 7:22 pm Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Academy Awards are Sunday, and how many of this year’s eight best picture nominees have I seen? One.

Now the Oscars is the one awards show I get jazzed up to watch, but several nominated films are far from readily available to movie fans before the awards, especially those of us who live in small towns. But that is a problem that could easily be rectified. It’s time the film industry and Oscars think of creative ways to make the top films of the year more readily available to people not living in major metropolitan areas.

Of this year’s best picture nominations — “American Sniper,” “The Imitation Game,” “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” “Boyhood,” “Selma,” “The Theory of Everything,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Whiplash” — only a few played at Austin’s CineMagic 7.

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I say that not as a criticism of CineMagic 7. Most small-town theaters can’t afford to screen independent films like “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which only screened at a handful of Twin Cities theaters.

Many people want to see the nominated films and just can’t. That’s a problem that could easily be fixed if the studios and Hollywood leaders come together and focus on the fans, especially on making nominated films readily available.

 The wrong approach

The Oscars has long fought to boost ratings and interest in the program. However, some of its changes have been done for the wrong reasons.

The base problem: The Oscars wants to boost interest in the show; however, many people don’t care because many popular mainstream films miss out on nominations, while more obscure films get the nods (Admittedly, this “issue” is negating debate about the quality of these films, which is its own debate).

A few years ago, the best picture category increased to 10 nominations each year, but then quickly switched to a format that allows for five to 10 best picture nominees based on a complex formula (For the sake of all our sanity, I won’t delve into how it works; however, you can read about it here:

In 2009, blogger Nikki Finke outlined the reasoning: “It’s no secret that the studios have grown increasingly frustrated that their mainstream fare — the four-quadrant films, the family-oriented toons, the superhero actioners, and the high-octane thrillers — have not been able to garner enough Best Picture nods in recent years while the art house offerings of the rapidly dwindling specialty divisions and indie prods dominate the process. That, in turn, has hurt the Oscar broadcast ratings as little-seen and often little-known films compete with one another while blockbuster hits are left out of the Academy Awards show.”

While frustrating that this move was more studio than fan driven, you can’t blame the reasoning. However, it hasn’t worked.

The films that garnered the buzz and/or the bucks last year — “Gone Girl,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Interstellar” — missed out on best picture nods.

Without getting into a debate about Oscar snubs, it’s clear many films are still getting left out, so the efforts to appease studios and attract fans hasn’t worked and won’t work.

So instead of arbitrarily tweaking the nomination process, it’s time the Oscars focuses on access — on getting the nominated films to the people.

 Get the films to the people

Some fans lose interest with the nominations: If their favorite film or performance isn’t nominated, they won’t watch or care about the Oscars. I, like many others, simply enjoy watching the most acclaimed films of the year. We enjoy seeing what all the buzz is about and whether we agree with the hype. Many of us want to watch the nominated films, but that’s far from easy. Obviously, we have a hand in that. Our busy schedules of work or family get in the way.

But a significant hurdle is access.

As I mentioned earlier, most of the nominated films weren’t shown at Austin theaters. People living in the Austin area had to travel to Rochester or even the Twin Cities to watch these films in theaters, and driving 40 to 100 miles to watch a movie isn’t something most are eager or able to do on a Friday night.

The lone 2015 nominee I’ve seen is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” but there are two special circumstances: 1. I’m a fan of director Wes Anderson’s other films, and 2. It came out on Blu-ray/DVD last June.

“Boyhood,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Birdman” are also available on Blu-ray/DVD. Like last year, I’m planning to buy or rent a few of the nominees this week for a pre-Oscars binge. However, the other films won’t come out on Blu-ray/DVD until after the Oscars. Others are still making the rounds in theaters. In a frustrating bit of timing, “Whiplash” hits stores on Tuesday.

Why can’t the Oscars and studios make these films more readily available? It’s the 21st Century. Streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime are wildly popular movie/TV options. It’s time the Oscars takes this into account.

Producers behind the Oscars and bigwigs in the film industry should come to an agreement for the Oscar nominated films to be available online before the show. Perhaps this could be done through Netflix, Amazon Prime or any number of sites. Or it could be done for a fee directly through the Academy Awards website. Even if it cost $40 for an account to view all eight best picture nominations, it’d still be cheaper than seeing each in theaters (The average theater ticket price in 2014 was $8.17, so it’d be $65.36 to see all eight, which doesn’t count the cost of popcorn or driving to the Twin Cities to see a limited release film).

It’s farfetched to think each studio would agree to let their films be screened online on one site. However, if one studio starts special online screenings of nominated films, the rest will soon follow.

Want people to watch the Oscars? Help them get invested in the films by having access to watch them before the awards show.

Academy Award nominees

Best picture nominees

• American Sniper

• Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

• Boyhood

• The Grand Budapest Hotel

• The Imitation Game

• Selma

• The Theory of Everything

• Whiplash

Best director

• Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

• Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

• Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

• Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”

• Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Best actor

•Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher” as John Eleuthère du Pont

•Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper” as Chris Kyle

•Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game” as Alan Turing

•Michael Keaton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” as Riggan Thomson / Birdman

•Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything” as Stephen Hawking

Best actress

• Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night” as Sandra Bya

• Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything” as Jane Wilde Hawking

• Julianne Moore, “Still Alice” as Dr. Alice Howland

• Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl” as Amy Elliott-Dunne

• Reese Witherspoon, “Wild” as Cheryl Strayed

Best supporting actor

• Robert Duvall, “The Judge” as Judge Joseph Palmer

• Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood” as Mason Evans, Sr.

• Edward Norton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” as Mike Shiner

• Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher” as Dave Schultz

• J. K. Simmons, “Whiplash” as Terence Fletcher

Best supporting actress

• Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood” as Olivia Evans

• Laura Dern, “Wild as Barbara “Bobbi” Grey

• Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game” as Joan Clarke

• Emma Stone, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” as Sam Thomson

• Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods” as The Witch

See the full nominees at