When the Academy Award nominations were announced last Tuesday, two Christian-influenced films, Up and The Blind Side, surprised industry watchers by making the cut in the best picture category. Pixar's animated blockbuster Up was written and directed by Pete Docter, a professing believer who moved adult audiences to tears with his tender themes of sacrifice and commitment in marriage. Though not produced by Christians, The Blind Side tells the true story of a Christian family that adopts a homeless African-American teenager and helps him develop his athletic talent.
What separates this pair of movies from typical Oscar contenders isn't just their faith- and family-honoring content, it's also their popularity. Whereas none of last year's best picture nominees earned a spot in the top 10 for box office returns, both The Blind Side and Up can claim that achievement for this year. They ranked eighth and fifth, respectively, in 2009 box office earnings. As the Los Angeles Times noted, "They are precisely the kinds of movies hardly ever nominated for the best-picture Oscar."
Apparently even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was shocked that its voters chose The Blind Side as one of the 10 films for the night's biggest horse race. While announcing the nominees last week, they were unable to officially acknowledge the film's three producers because the vetting process hadn't been completed, suggesting that the Academy didn't expect it to be a contender.
That snafu notwithstanding, Oscar producers say they see the two films' nominations as gifts and hope they will draw more viewers to the award broadcast, which in recent years has seen a steady decline in ratings. "We've actually spent the last three-and-a-half or four months planning for disaster if we had 10 art films," said Oscar telecast producer Bill Mechanic at a press conference. His co-producer Adam Shankman added, "I was blindsided by The Blind Side. But that's a good thing."
However, some are speculating that if the best picture category hadn't been expanded to include 10 films instead of the usual five, it's unlikely either crowd-pleaser would be competing. And many doubt their chances of winning because neither Pete Docter nor The Blind Side director John Lee Hancock were honored with a best director nod, traditionally a bad sign. Making the odds worse for The Blind Side, it was passed over for best screenplay, as well. As Los Angeles Times' entertainment expert Patrick Goldstein said, "As virtually every breathless Oscar prognosticator will tell you, there are only four movies that have even a remote chance of winning best picture, and all four of them---Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Up in the Air---would've made the final cut anyway, regardless of whether the academy had five or 10 best picture nominees this year."