A Return to 10 Best Picture Nominees
In a surprising move, the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that its next awards ceremony will feature 10 nominees for Best Picture instead of the usual 5. This is a return to how things once were, decades ago, when comedies and musicals were frequently honored alongside more staid dramatic fare. The ceremony honoring 1943 films, when Casablanca took home the trophy, was the last time the Oscars included more than 5 nominees. That particular year saw lighter films like Heaven Can Wait and The More the Merrier as Best Picture nominees. Such lack of snobbery was especially common when the additional slots had to be filled in that category. I’d hope that the current expansion will yield a similarly diverse line-up, though I’d also be the first to moan about the lack of worthy comedy vehicles each year.
With the most recent crop of Best Picture nominees easily qualifying as the worst I’ve seen in recent years – none of them really made any significantly positive impression on me – this decision could not have come at a better time. Surely a similar expansion last year would have let The Dark Knight and Wall-E into the party, two fine films with deeply populist support in contrast to the unexciting lot the voters selected. The sagging television ratings and general lack of interest probably caused this little experiment. You can imagine the collective groans among the people trying to put on a successful television program when those nominees were announced and now that little problem may be fixed. Without having any idea about the quality of this year’s Oscar bait, I’d still think the (mostly) beloved Up, with its over $200 million in domestic box office so far, will become a major player at the end of the year, unlikely to win Best Picture but now definitely looking good for a nomination.
So, win-win, right? The Academy is basically admitting that its membership lacks good enough taste or judgement to truly pick the five best films of any year, and the compromise is to double the field with the hope that more quality films will sneak their way into the running. I’m not at all confident that my favorite film of 2009, whatever that ends up being, will be honored, but I am more hopeful about the situation. It certainly paves the way for a foreign language picture to be included or something small and acclaimed but not embraced by the public. The other thing this new wrinkle does is give five more movies the chance to be marketed as Best Picture nominees, a sure increase in box office or DVD sales and overall interest. That’s the cynical reality. The only negative I can really see would be the effect on Oscar purists assuming there are any of those left. It’s a corrupt publicity game and I think most of us realize that. If the loyalists haven’t been turned off through the repeatedly dubious decisions the Academy has made over the years, I doubt this will have much of an impact on them.