Monday, June 29, 2009

The Best Picture Field Expands to 10 Nominees: Pros and Cons

Well, I definitely didn't expect to be talking about next year's Oscars this early that's for sure. In what has to be considered fairly shocking news, last week outgoing Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis announced that the 82nd Academy Awards will feature 10 Best Picture nominees instead of 5, ending a six decade long tradition. The goal is to get the Oscars to return to its old Hollywood roots, harkening back to 1939 when Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach all competed for Best Picture or in 1943 when Casablanca beat out nine other nominees to win the big prize. Why do I have the feeling 2009 won't be that kind of year? Just a guess. In other words, it's a rare admission of guilt from the Academy that the the voting body don't have a clue what they're doing and are completely out of touch with the mainstream moviegoing public.

We knew the 2008 Oscar contenders were bad, but apparently they were so bad that even the Academy President felt the need to apologize for it. I thought 3 of the 5 Best Picture contenders last year were worthy, but in a field so weak, that's not much of an accomplishment. It's also unforgivable to nominate safe highbrow fare no one went to see when better options were available. Now that viewers have fled the Oscar presentation in droves (despite a much livelier telecast this year) and studios have lost money, they're finally taking some action. But does expanding the number of nominees for Best Picture solve that problem? I guess it depends who you ask. Like any proposed solution, there are good and bad aspects to consider.


- At least they did SOMETHING and finally acknowledged there's a serious problem here in how the public views the Oscars. A change was desperately needed and long overdue. It's a first step.

-With 10 nominees the focus now shifts from what will be nominated to WHAT WILL WIN. It's a more open race now. The eventual winner is now legitimately in doubt for once.

- With more films nominated the studios stand to make more money. Good for them I guess.

- Score another one for The Dark Knight. It's snub was so awful that the Academy is not only apologizing for it, but are revamping their Best Picture nomination policy. Even Ganis admitted in the press conference that we wouldn't be having this discussion if Nolan's film had made it in ("I would not be telling you the truth if I said the words 'Dark Knight' did not come up"). The irony here is that in not getting nominated the film has earned an honor higher than that. Its legacy is sealed.

- A chance for mainstream, more crowd pleasing fare to sneak in. You know, movies PEOPLE ACTUALLY GO TO SEE. The idea of Star Trek or The Hangover getting a Best Picture nod isn't so far fetched anymore. Could a Judd Apatow comedy be nominated? It's actually a real possibility.

- Animated and foreign films that have been unfairly pushed off to the sidelines in their own categories now stand a much better chance of picking up a nomination. Pixar fans can rejoice.

-Smaller, independent films that are dark horses or considered "on the bubble" (like last year's Rachel Getting Married and The Wrestler) now can potentially get some much needed attention and recognition.

- More people may watch the broadcast now that they have a vested interest in seeing if their favorite movie wins. That also translates into more box office dollars.

-Since anything can happen now, THIS MOVIE is officially in play as a contender (sorry, just couldn't resist).

-With more nominees the chances of the Academy choosing one of their usual stuffy selections like Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, or Crash as the winner is minimized.

-The Academy may finally be forced to look further back than October in selecting the nominees for a change.

-It shakes things up. Just think how much more interesting the nominations could be.

- Here's an idea: Instead of increasing the number of nominees, how about actually PICKING THE RIGHT 5 FILMS for a change. The problem has nothing to do with the number of slots, but the people voting. This doesn't address the issue.

-There were barely 5 great films in '08 and now they're going to try and find 10. Good luck. And if they couldn't even get those 5 right just imagine the damage they could do now. Don't be shocked when you see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Paul Blart: Mall Cop among the nominees next year. This could turn the Oscars into The People's Choice or MTV Movie Awards.

-It's just a shallow attempt to drive up ratings and rake in cash.

- The Best Picture Oscar is devalued having this many films competing for it. A win now means nothing.

- For Zodiac, Into the Wild, The Dark Knight and tons of other films unfairly snubbed from the past six decades, it's too late.

- Just imagine how long the show will be NOW.

- There are still only 5 Best Director nominees which means the other 5 nominees for Best Picture could just be window dressing.

- Why 10? Isn't doubling the nominees a bit of an overreaction? 6 or 7 seems like it would have been perfect.

- The number has changed but the voters' tastes probably haven't. They could use the extra five slots to reward more films like The Reader.

- Instead of voters reaching back in the year to consider more titles, studios could try to cram more releases into the October-December window in hopes of getting a nomination. If you thought last season was bad this one could turn into a living hell.

-The Best Animated and Foreign Film categories still exist so voters can still shut those out, regardless of how many more slots there are to fill. This means the debate as to whether Up will be nominated is set to get even more heated (shoot me now please).

-With more films competing for a nomination studios will have to spend more money on promotion and campaigning. Given we're in a recession, I'm sure they're thrilled about that, especially if they don't see a return on their investment.

- What does it say about the Academy and their decision making skills through the years that such drastic changes were necessary?

The final tally is 13 to 12 with the cons coming out on top. A close call. As of now, I think it's a boneheaded move that minimizes the award. Based on their history, I don't trust the voters to pick the most deserving films and this doesn't change that, no matter how many they nominate. But what we really should do is reserve judgment until around October and November when we have a clearer picture of the Oscar landscape. All I know right now is that it's going to be a very intriguing (if not horrifying) morning when they announce the Best Picture nominees--ALL 10 OF THEM.

1 comment:

Ben K said...

Great article! I was stunned at their decision to do this, but I think its a more positive than negative development. This is assuming of course that there will actually be 10 movies worth nominating for Best Picture this year (it hasn't been a great year so far). At the very least, it could ease up some of the competition for the award even if the campaigning for it remains no different (thank you Harvey Weinstein). My hope is that this will open up chances for movies that otherwise would barely make the cut. In the end, we'll just have to wait and see how this all turns out.