I didn't do too badly in my Oscar predictions. At the last minute, I went sentimental and predicted Mickey Rourke over Sean Penn, which was a bad idea, given that the Oscars were all business and duty this week, with no room for anything sentimental or personal. The other big mistake I made was to predict The Dark Knight (55 screens) as a winner in most of its eight categories. Everyone in the free world saw the film and no one can deny that its achievements in these categories were ground-breaking in some cases, and superb in all cases. But the Academy dutifully chose The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for these awards.
I have yet to meet very many people who actually like Benjamin Button, so I think there are two factors at stake. One is the concept in which the movie that employed the most people subsequently gets the most Oscar votes. The other factor states that only a certain type of movie actually gets to win. Benjamin Button is an Oscar movie through-and-through. It's long, first of all, and has a high-class literary pedigree (F. Scott Fitzgerald). It has obvious award bait in all the categories, not only in acting, cinematography, editing and music, but also the lower categories like makeup, visual effects and sound that usually go to summer blockbusters.
So, unlike better movies like Frost/Nixon (381 screens) or Doubt (400 screens), it racks up a higher number of nominations, and thus grabs all the headlines. It has a Titanic-like romance and a Forrest Gump-like structure, so it makes viewers think of Oscars even while watching it. And if that's not enough, it takes place during Hurricane Katrina, so viewers feel like it has something important to say about society. (If all of these factors had wrapped up into a cohesive package, we might have had something.)
Now, I apologize if you're sick of the hype, but The Dark Knight was a truly superior film in almost every way; I was especially impressed by the complex editing and the ground-breaking score. (See my review for more details.) It was a summer blockbuster with a huge amount of hype, but even that would only account for about a $300 million gross; it made $550 million because people actually connected with the film; it spoke to people and made them feel that perhaps they weren't alone in some of the darkest, most troubled times they've ever faced. But the Academy balked at such a nominee; Christopher Nolan took a comic book and made Shakespeare out of it, but the Academy could only see the comic book, and thus it was not worthy.
The Oscars are always betting against history; the ultimate idea is to write in stone the names of the greatest works of art for future generations. But how to choose these films when they're only a couple of months old? How will they age? No one can say, but we can look to one of The Dark Knight's ancestors, Blade Runner, for an example. It was nominated for two Oscars and lost both, and now it's considered one of the best films of that decade, if not the best. The Oscars may seem powerful in determining how these things will turn out, but things turn out the way they do with or without them.