Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Double Down On Oscar

Oscar has decided to expand their best picture nominations from five to ten for the first time since 1943.

Initially I was hesitant about this. Some years it's hard enough to dredge up five worthy nominees let alone 10 (ahem, 2008). But fortunately the Academy has made the switch during what is shaping up to be one of the best years of the decade. I can already pick 10 great contenders off the top of my head:

1. The Road (John Hillcoat)
2. Nine (Rob Marshall)
3. Public Enemies (Michael Mann)
4. A Serious Man (Coens)
5. Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
6. The Informant (Soderbergh)
7. Shutter Island (Scorsese)
8. Avatar (James Cameron)
9. Invictus (Clint Eastwood)
10. The wild card that pops up from nowhere and becomes movie gold.

When you think about it, ten nominees is not much different from what the Golden Globes does every year with its drama and comedy categories. In fact, for most of Oscar's first decade it had ten best picture nominees, with a record 12 in 1935.

However, apart from the occasional dud year, I can foresee a few problems. One is that the number of director nominees will remain the same. As far as the two categories correlate, this could automatically highlight the more worthy best picture nominees while revealing the rest as token. The whole exercise could simply become a pathetic gesture. As one commentator somewhat controversially noted, it turns the Oscars into the Special Olympics!

In this light, I can see the expanded category being used as an excuse to nominate more studio blockbusters (such as The Dark Knight) so as to attract a larger audience share. This may not initially be a problem but could later turn Oscar into an even more populist award than it already is.

The benefit of increased recognition could also backfire. In a bid to give each best picture contender its token set of nominations, other worthy films could be squeezed out of the remaining categories. Or the Academy could simply ditch the formula that the film with the most nominations wins best picture...

Of course, all of this pales beside the fact that five more best picture nominees will mean a longer and even more masturbatory award show than ever thought possible.

Update

Nikki Finke is violently against it. She makes the same point I do that this will only lead to more studio nominations as opposed to independent films. But she also reports the change was the direct result of pressure on the Academy from the studios.

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