While the Academy certainly tends to recognise a particular type of film, what’s changed in the past few years is the way those films have been financed and made. As The Big Picture noted yesterday:
“Of this year’s best picture nominees, only two were made at major studios: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” co-financed by Paramount and Warners, with Paramount distributing, and “Frost/Nixon,” which is distributed by Universal Pictures. “Slumdog,” along with “Milk” and “The Reader,” were financed outside the studio system or by specialty companies. More importantly, if you look at the recent best picture winners, they are invariably made by fiercely independent filmmakers who rarely take their cues from the studio system.
The Coen brothers, who directed last year’s winner, “No Country for Old Men,” are so leery of Hollywood that producer Scott Rudin had to cajole them into even coming to town for a few glad-handing events. The same goes for Martin Scorsese, a lifelong New Yorker who directed “The Departed,” the winner in 2007. Paul Haggis, who directed “Crash,” the 2006 winner, lives here, but as a director operates just as far away from the studio system as Scorsese or the Coens. Clint Eastwood, who won in 2005 with “Million Dollar Baby,” is the ultimate outsider, making his movies with the same crew in the same quiet fashion, brooking little interference from any studio suit.
This year’s crop of best picture nominated filmmakers is just as independent, “Frost/Nixon’s” Ron Howard being the only one old-pro studio hand in the bunch. “Benjamin Button’s” David Fincher makes studio films, but just ask any executive who’s tried to persuade the filmmaker to change a frame of film–or cut 15 minutes out of his epic-length films. Fincher is the boss. You could say the same about “The Reader’s” Stephen Daldry or “Milk’s” Gus Van Sant, who have happily operated outside the studio system for most of their careers.
Great movies are not made by committee. They are made by strong-willed filmmakers attracted to unconventional stories. But even more importantly, as you can see in virtually every frame of “Slumdog Millionaire,” they are the product of risk-taking, of the willingness to experiment and the courage to leap into the unknown. The same law applies in politics as in art. In the midst of today’s Obama-mania, people tend to forget what a long shot his presidential gamble was, easily as much of a long shot as the gamble Danny Boyle and his backers took heading off to India to make a movie in the tumultuous, crowded streets of Mumbai. It’s a gamble few of today’s bottom-line movie studios are willing to take, but as today’s Oscar nominations have made very clear, with the risks come the rewards.”