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Oscars show disconnect between art, box office

What's old was new again at the 2012 Academy Awards.
Image: Meryl Streep, Jean Dujardin
Meryl Streep and Jean Dujardin had reasons to celebrate Oscar night.Joel Ryan / AP
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What's old was new again at the 2012 Academy Awards. The Weinstein Company's 'The Artist' — a black and white movie about the "golden age" of film — was the first silent film to be named best picture since 1927. Sweeping the awards with five statuettes each were 'The Artist' and 'Hugo,' Martin Scorcese's 3-D film about the origin of film, from Paramount, which both won five Oscars.

Not only is the whole Oscar celebration an advertisement for the movie business, but the awards singled out two movies that are an advertisement for movies. It's a snake-eating-its-tail-circle that may have left the rest of America confounded, or worse, bored.

Once again, there is a massive disconnect between what's successful at the box office — i.e. appealing to mainstream America — and what wins awards. 'The Artist' has one of the lowest box office tallies for any film to win 'Best Picture' — just $32 million. And 'Hugo,' has grossed less than $70 million in the U.S., though it reportedly cost more than $150 million to make. Both the Weinsteins and Paramount should benefit from a post-Oscar boost. But these are simply not blockbusters.

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The awards ceremony seemed geared to promote the experience of going to a theater: a montage featured actors talking about their first trip to the movies and their all-time favorite films, and popcorn was handed out in the aisles. Cirque de Soleil performers swung over the audience — an experience certainly better experienced in the flesh, rather than at home.

It makes sense that the Academy would want to promote moviegoing — the number of tickets sold in 2011 dropped 4 percent from 2010. But the approach may have only highlighted the fact that watching the ceremony from home was far less exciting than going to the movies or sitting behind celebs in the theater formerly known as the Kodak.

Last year's show drew disappointing ratings despite its attempt to go young, with Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosting. And this year's awards returned to tradition in the extreme. The movie montages featured films from decades ago, and even a sketch about focus groups was in black and white, set in 1939.

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And the fact that the average Academy voter is a 62-year-old white man played itself out in the awards as well: Christopher Plummer won best supporting actor at age 82, the oldest age for a winning actor. The evening's biggest upset was the fact that Meryl Streep, who last won an Oscar in 1983, won best actress instead of Viola Davis.

Twitter was buzzing with jokes and complaints throughout the telecast. I read a number of comments that the jokes on Twitter were funnier than the jokes on the tube. And a couple of fake Twitter accounts popped up — @Angiesright leg and @jlosnipple.

We'll see whether the movie industry's three-hour trailer for itself turned off viewers — we're waiting for the ratings.

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