FRIDAY, MARCH 9, 2018
Last two picture shows standing: A few weeks ago, we were struck by a peculiar phenomenon.
The Shape of Water had been showered with 13 Oscar nominations, one of the largest numbers ever. But mainstream critics had placed it on very few top ten lists.
At the Washington Post, The Shape of Water didn't make Ann Hornaday's list of the year's ten best. At the New York Times, it didn't make A. O. Scott's top ten list—and Manohla Dargis didn't include it in her list of the year's forty best films!
To peruse all lists, click here. (Scott included The Shape of Water along his eleven honorable mentions.)
As it turned out, this phenomenon was observed wherever mainstream lists were displayed—except in Los Angeles, where The Shape of Water appeared on the bulk of top ten lists.
This week, we watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—the film which was, by most accounts, the next-to-last picture show standing. When we checked, we were surprised to see that Three Billboards appeared on even fewer top ten lists than The Shape of Water.
By most accounts, Three Billboards shaped up as this year's runner-up for Best Picture Oscar. It actually won the Golden Globe for Best Drama.
How little love did it get from mainstream critics? Let's take a look at the record:
At the Washington Post, Three Billboards didn't make Hornaday's top ten list. At the New York Times, it didn't make Scott's list of 21, or Dargis' list of last year's top forty.
How did it do elsewhere? At the Los Angeles Times, three different critics published top ten lists. Three Billboards didn't appear on any of the lists.
The AP published two top ten lists. It didn't make either one.
It did make USA Today's top ten list—indeed, it was ranked number 2. It made the Wall Street Journal's unranked top ten list, failed to post at the Chicago Tribune or the Christian Science Monitor.
In sum, of those dozen newspaper lists, Three Billboards made the top ten on just two. Nor did matters improve at other mainstream publications.
Three Billboards didn't make the cut at either Time or Newsweek. It didn't make The New Yorker's list of the year's top 35 films.
It failed to make the cut at Vanity Fair, Esquire, Vogue or New York magazine (two lists). It missed the cut at Slate and Salon—and at Vox, The Daily Beast and the (New York) Observer.
It failed to make either of the two lists at NPR. It missed the cut at CBS News and at the BBC.
The Atlantic rated Three Billboards as the year's third best film; Rolling Stone placed it at number 4. But of the 31 mainstream lists we checked, Three Billboards made the top ten on only four lists. That seems like an amazingly poor showing, given the love the film apparently got from within the Tinseltown guild—and from the Hollywood foreign press, which awards the Golden Globes.
Why did the last two picture shows standing do so poorly among mainstream (American) critics? We'll guess the answer has to do with the way these films relied on stereotypes which sometimes rose to the level of the creation of Monster.
(The Shape of Water's reliance on "stereotype" was mentioned by several critics. We'd say the film is more aptly said to have relied on the longing for Monster.)
Just for the record, no—this doesn't happen every year. Last year, Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar—and it appeared on virtually every mainstream top ten list, often at number 1, the highest ranking possible.
To peruse those lists, click here.
Insiders said the Oscar race came down to The Shape of Billboards. Mainstream critics withheld their love from these two films.
We'll leave you with two questions:
First, why do you think the mainstream critics didn't much love these films? But also, why hasn't this surprising pattern been discussed?
In answering that final question, please consider the way big business works, including the newspaper business. Given the shape of the newspaper business, there will sometimes be certain facts which may tend to disappear.