Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oscars Moving to 10 Best Picture Nominees!

The shocking news of the day for all of us Oscar watchers was that the Academy issued a press release saying that this year, for the first time since 1943, the Academy is going to nominate 10 films for the Best Picture Oscar instead of the usual 5. Personally, I think is a great movie on the Academy’s part – one that I have been suggesting for years.

I think in the other categories that five nominees is a good number. Also, I do not think they should change that, because the Oscar stats will get all messed up. How many more nominations would say Katherine Hepburn or Paul Newman or Marlon Brando have gotten had they nominated 10 actors every year instead of five? But for Best Picture, no such concern really exists, and by going to 10 nominations, it allows the Academy to celebrate more films of a wider variety than they have done in years past.

I think the change came this year because of all the grief the Academy took last year for being out of touch by not nominating The Dark Knight and Wall-E. Here were the two most critically acclaimed films of the year that racked up numerous nominations, but both failed to crack the Best Picture line-up because of snobbery pure and simple. The Dark Knight was viewed as nothing more than another superhero movie. Wall-E was stuck in the animation ghetto, which also prevented films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille from getting nominations as well. Last year was by all accounts a weak year in movies, and they still could not find room in the top five for those two films. Instead, they went with The Reader and Frost/Nixon, two very safe choices that received mixed reviews from critics, and general apathy for viewers.

But opening the nominations for best picture up to 10 would not just assure that more blockbusters will get into the mix, although surely Up and Star Trek have a better chance now of cracking the lineup then they did before. It also allows more offbeat films a chance to compete. The Academy is mainly made up of older, more conservative voters, hence why things like Frost/Nixon and The Reader get nominated in the first place. But remember 2005 when all the critics awards ended up coming down between Brokeback Mountain and A History of Violence, and then at the Oscars Violence did not even get nominated? How about other critically adored films this decade like Far From Heaven, The Wrestler, Zodiac, Children of Men, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, American Splendor, Adaptation, About Schmidt, Mulholland Drive, Memento, You Can Count on Me and Almost Famous. All loved by the critics, but none were able to break into the best picture race at the Oscars, perhaps because their subject matter did not quite fit in with what the older members of the Academy liked. At 10 nominations in the Best Picture category, these offbeat films would stand a much better chance at being nominated, and as such, have a better chance to find a wider audience.

And then there is the matter of foreign films and documentaries. You can count the number of foreign films that have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar over the years on two hands, and have some fingers left over. A documentary has never been nominated in the top category. The Academy’s membership is mainly American, so that explains why so few foreign language films make the cut, but sometimes they deserve to. Would The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Pan’s Labyrinth, Cache, Bad Education, City of God, Y Tu Mama Tambien and Amelie have been nominated this decade had they had 10 spots to give out instead of 5? Perhaps, perhaps not, but some of them would have been. Would Bowling for Columbine, An Inconvenient Truth, March of the Penguins or Fahrenheit 9/11 have been able to break through the documentary barrier given the excess spots? Perhaps.

The bottom line as far as I am concerned is that the Oscars should be about awarding the BEST films of the year, regardless of genre and language. Right now the Academy does a good job at nominating one genre – the prestige, American made drama (I know it's weird to say this considering that this year, a British film about life in India won, and the two years before crime dramas won, but my point still holds). And while upping the number of nominees to 10 will likely result in even more of those films getting in (Doubt, for example, would have been a gimme had they had 10 nominees last year), it would also expand the types of films that got in. And that is a good thing.

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