Film: Can ‘best’ = ‘most popular’?

Interesting stat in today’s New York Times: The last four winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Departed,” “Crash,” and “Million Dollar Baby”) combined didn’t bring in the box office money of 2003’s winner “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Yes, it’s already Oscar season–the time of year when “prestige” films pack the release schedule. But the Times sees something changing this time around. This year, it seems, Hollywood studios are going back to pushing some of their more popular films as potential Oscar winners. These include “Wall-E” (which could be the first Best Picture nominated animated film since “Beauty and the Beast”), “The Dark Knight,” and “Iron Man.”

Does this feel like a push to sell out to the moneymakers and drive up ratings? Certainly Batman vs. the cute robot would attract more eyeballs than last year’s low-viewership match-up between “No Country for Old Men” vs. “There Will Be Blood.”

Or have the best films so far this year just so happen to also be the biggest at the box office?  

Looking backwards, is it embarrassing that popular hits “Titanic” and “The Greatest Show on Earth” won Best Picture (and “Ghost” and “Love Story” were nominated)? Or are these justly rewarded films that happened to bring in lots of money?   

Your thoughts?

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