For the past few years, the Oscars have been haunted by the fear that the pictures, to paraphrase Norma Desmond, had gotten small. Or at least that the kind of pictures worthy of Academy Awards no longer operated at a scale demanded by a worldwide broadcast. The box office numbers of best picture nominees seemed to be shrinking as the movie business split in two. At one end was a specialized boutique outfit, at the other a franchise factory geared to the international mass market. Between those poles was a hole where the serious mainstream movies used to be."Lincoln" was awesome, but I'm still reeling from the spectacular "Zero Dark Thirty."
Some time in the past decade or so, the argument goes, Hollywood abandoned the grown-up audience, preferring to chase after adolescent eyeballs with fantasy blockbusters and lowbrow genre fare. Or maybe the discerning public, seduced by cable television and distracted by the Internet, gave up on moviegoing, leaving the multiplexes to the teenage mutant vampire hordes. In any case, the idea that American cinema could define and ennoble the broad middle ground of the culture — a magical place where art intersects with commerce and popularity coexists with prestige — is as dead as the old studio system.
Don’t believe it. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominees Thursday, it dealt a blow to this conventional wisdom. Whether ambitious mainstream moviemaking has been granted a new, long-term lease on life remains to be seen. But the Academy’s choices confirmed that 2012 was not just a strong year for movies, but also for precisely the kind of movies that are supposed to be nearly obsolete.
Look at the list of leading nominees — “Lincoln” and “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Les Misérables,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Amour,” “Life of Pi” and “Django Unchained” — and you will find a dizzying diversity of themes and styles. You may also notice a lot of big-studio releases without a superhero in sight. And, perhaps most remarkably, you will find movies that have already sparked passionate arguments and sold a lot of tickets. It would be hard to say the same about the last two best picture winners, “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech.” Both were charming, nostalgic trifles, and though “The King’s Speech” made a lot of money, it was too safe — too small — to make anybody angry.
Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” leading the pack this year with 12 nominations, is an almost too-perfect example of the kind of movie they supposedly don’t make anymore. Shot on actual film stock in somber light, it tackles weighty historical issues with a blend of gravity and exuberant theatricality that would have done the old moguls proud. But it is much more than a musty period drama, or a puffed-up, dumbed-down history lesson.
I might go see that again. Man, was it good.
Anyway, more of Scott's piece at that top link.