Howdy you alls, I know it's been longer than a camel's dong since I last rapped at ya (to borrow the immortal opening gambit of one of my favorite columnists) but I been all busy and shit, rocking, rolling and also whatnot. So anyway, I read William Goldman's "The Big Picture" a little while back. It's a pretty mind-bogglingly useless book cobbled together haphazardly out of similarly lazy and pointless columns Goldman wrote about two intertwined subjects in the 90s: handicapping the Oscars and making wildly inaccurate predictions about various film's box office potential. Part of what makes the book so useless yet strangely addictive is its incredibly short shelf life. Who exactly is hungering in 2005 to re-live half-assed predictions about the box-office potential of, say, "Three Men and a Little Lady" (for the record all of Goldman's anonymous Hollywood heavyweights concur that it can't possibly be anything other than a monster hit)? Historical irony plays a part as well, as when Goldman breathlessly enthuses that Kevin Costner will be able to command thirty or forty million a movie after the runaway success of "Wyatt Earp". So here's my question: why are we, as a society, so fascinated by box office? It seems to be a fairly recent development. Why do people without any financial or personal stake in a film's economic performance seem to care so passionately about what Tom Cruise or Adam Sandler or Julia Roberts' movies will do at the box-office opening week? And why do we care so passionately about the Oscars? My guess (and here comes the part where I attempt to answer my own question) is that it has something to do with our culture's mania for competition, for reducing everything, whether it's politics or movies or literature, into a horse race with clear winners and losers that can be quantified in a fairly concrete fashion (Gladiator won Best Picture so it clearly must be the bestest, etc). Caring about the Oscars or diligently following a film's economic fortunes gives us a rooting interest in movies, makes us feel involved in a way that merely enjoying a film or seeing it over and over again apparently doesn't. Another thing that really struck me about the book was how often movies that make a lot of money or dominate the box office are forgotten while movies that endure and gain additional emotional resonance are ones that flop initially but pick up a devoted and passionate following through the years, movies like "Donnie Darko" or "Office Space" rather than the "Beautiful Minds" or "Good Will Huntings" or "You've Got Mails" of the world. The movies that endure are ones that audiences have to find on their own rather than having them shoved down their throats by studios or the press. So, what do you guys think?

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