Why aren’t Oscar nominees showing in Saginaw?


When the Oscar nominations were announced last week, I was glad to see people like Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig make history by scoring Best Director nominations. But, really, I had a much more selfish thought: I haven’t seen half the dang films nominated for Best Picture because they never played here in Saginaw (or Bay City and Midland).

This happens every year, and it never ceases to bother me. Yes, I know, I know. This is a #FirstWorldProblems-type of complaint, and there are far more important things to discuss. That’s a perfectly normal response to reading this. But, still, it’d be nice to get a little more variety at the movie theaters around here.

Why don’t we, though?

Back when I worked at Goodrich Quality Theaters years ago, it was the same thing: Some Oscar contenders opened, but many others either never did or got a really small, short run a week before the Oscars aired. I assumed it was the movie studios that ultimately determined what got released where and when. Or maybe the decisions came from the corporate offices of Goodrich and other chains.

But I never really got a clear answer as to how it’s decided which movies play where. It seemed a bit arbitrary then as well as now.

In Saginaw, at least, there are two theaters about a block away from each other: Goodrich Quality 10 GDX and AMC Classic Fashion Square 10 (formerly of Carmike fame). One has “state-of-the-art” quality, I guess. The other one is a drab, crummy-looking building that sucks. Different though they are, both usually get the same movies. That just seems like a wasted opportunity for one of those theaters. Also, why would someone pay to see a movie at an inferior theater when the same movie is playing nearby at a better theater?

There’s also the Court Street Theater. It used to be a second run theater where they’d play a different movie every week for $5. It’s been bought out by somebody else and is in a transition phase. There’s a message that’s been up on the marquee for an eon that simply says, “Get ready Saginaw.” For what? A theater that strictly shows “Transformers” movies in perpetuity? A Yahoo Serious retrospective? A theater that shows “Battlefield Earth” on a constant loop? I’m hoping the answer is “arthouse theater,” but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Now, to somebody’s credit, AMC/Carmike did play last year’s eventual Best Picture winner “Moonlight.” It didn’t stay long, but hey, it still played. Thankfully, though, over the weekend, Saginaw’s finally been allowed the chance to see two more of the Best Picture nominees, “The Shape of Water” and “Darkest Hour.” Huzzah.

The decision to not release certain movies in certain parts of the country is most definitely a financial, bottom-line kind of decision: The big-budget franchise blockbusters, the animated kid’s films, the broad comedies, the generic actions flicks – these are usually the types of movies that bring in the big bucks.

Year after year, these Oscar contenders are more or less supposed to represent the best films Hollywood has to offer – the height of artistic achievement, if you will. But whenever these films get released around here, they just don’t make any money. From a studio’s perspective, they see it as a lost cause. For whatever reason, when these films come out, nobody goes. It could be a lack of proper marketing. People are busy or simply just don’t care.

I mean, is this area deemed such a cultural backwater that certain movies might just be too above people’s heads?

Maybe it’s just that the current slate of nominees this year are too progressive for this area? “Lady Bird” is a coming-of-age film about a young, rebellious woman. Maybe “Call Me By Your Name,” a story about a love affair between two men with a notable age difference set against an Italian backdrop, might be too European? “Phantom Thread,” with Daniel Day-Lewis as a fashion designer in 1950s London, is maybe too elitist-sounding? “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”? You lost people at the title. And then there’s “The Shape of Water,” a film centering on a woman who falls in love with a sea creature. Forget about it.

How many times have you heard somebody criticize Hollywood for its lack of creativity? How many times have you heard someone mention that Hollywood movies are unoriginal and derivative? While that’s true for the most part, there’s that small percentage of films that actually are interesting, creative or original, and about a fraction of that small percentage may trickle down to this area.

But maybe this is no country for Best Picture Oscar nominees. People say they want something new and different, but when the chips are down and there’s a chance to act on that sentiment, the results have been decidedly lackluster.