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Some Oscar hopefuls aren't up to the gold standards of their past

January 30, 2010 |  9:00 am

SherlockHolmes5Story In Sunday's Los Angeles Times Calendar section, freelance writer Stephen Farber compares the quality of this year's Oscar contenders with similar works from the past. Farber is a critic for the Hollywood Reporter and the Daily Beast:

Box office revenues are sky high, and this year's Oscar race is expanding to 10 best picture nominees for the first time since 1943, a move that has stimulated reams of breathless commentary. Some pundits might be tempted to conclude that the movie business is healthier than ever.

Take a closer look. The quality of movies has not kept pace with the soaring grosses, to put it mildly. Many critics have cast a skeptical eye at the releases of 2009. For example, in a recent article lamenting the paltry offerings in the fall awards season, Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern attacked the "compromised, bloated and misshapen" movies of the season.

Even when these new movies are adapted from highbrow literary works, they cry out for better writing. Older movies were smart to employ many novelists and playwrights who honed their craft in other art forms. Perhaps today's producers need to cast a wider net in luring more gifted writers to try their hand at screenwriting. These 21st century film technicians are more wizardly than ever, but the art of graceful, light-fingered storytelling has been lost on the road to a 3-D, digitized Oz.

FilmComparePromo Consider 10 high-profile movies -- all eagerly anticipated, some likely to be in the Oscar race when nominations are announced Tuesday -- that are strikingly reminiscent of better movies from the past. In some instances these new pictures pale in comparison to classics from Hollywood's golden age. But in other cases, today's movies falter when placed against films from just a few years ago.

For an in-depth look at our 10 comparisons, click the photo of "Nine's" Kate Hudson and "Chicago's" Catherine Zeta-Jones on the right.

Photos: Top, Robert Downey Jr., left, and Jude Law in "Sherlock Holmes." Credit: Warner Bros. Bottom, Kate Hudson, left, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Credits: Weinstein Company and AFP.