Thursday, August 27, 2009

2010 Oscars: 10 Best Picture Nominees

2010 Oscars: 10 Best Picture Nominees

Obviously by now this is old news. For those of you who haven't heard, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a couple of months ago that for next year's Academy Awards, there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture, instead of the usual five. Ten films was the norm back in the '30s and '40s; one year even had 12 nominees. This is massive news that has sparked a lot of controversy about the Academy's reasons for doing this. I wanted to throw my opinion out there, and some of you may be surprised: I think it's a good idea.
Let me start with my theory as to why the Academy did this. Clearly it was no easy decision to make: the Best Picture Oscar is a massive award that elevates the careers of everyone involved in the production and is remembered for decades afterward. Some would argue that a film with that award will never be forgotten. But viewership for the Academy Awards telecast has been steadily declining in the past few years, and ABC was giving them grief that they had to raise their ratings or they might pull the plug. They decided the best way to get people to watch was if popular films- that the average moviegoer has likely seen- are nominated. The Academy made some profound mistakes in the nominations last year, especially in the Best Picture category. The Dark Knight turned out to be the second-largest film of all time, and was universally hailed as the greatest comic book movie of all time. Despite Heath Ledger's eventual posthumous win for Best Supporting Actor, the film failed to get nominated for any other major award: namely, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director- Christopher Nolan, and the coveted Best Picture. WALL-E was also hailed as one of the best films of the year, was a huge hit, and is considered an instant classic, and not just among animated movies. But the Academy has a long bias against "cartoons" and naturally did not nominate it for the top prize. (It did win for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.) I think that if they had implemented the 10-nominee rule last year, both The Dark Knight and WALL-E would have been nominated for Best Picture. Sadly, they got viciously booted out by traditional (and lower-quality) fare like The Reader and Frost/Nixon.
I see the usual 5-nominee list as a basic formula: there are usually four dramas and one comedy, the latter usually an indie. The average moviegoer has heard of two or three of the nominees, and has seen one. Only one or two of the nominees are considered hits at the box office, but all are loved by critics. Doesn't exactly sound exciting, huh? Being nominated for Best Picture will usually boost the box office gross of the films, but not by much. People won't go see a film they don't want to see just because it's nominated.
The new 10-nominee rule will change this formula, and I think for the better. It's possible the old formula will stay true: that eight of the films will be dramas and two will be indie comedies, that the average moviegoer has only heard of four or five of the nominees, and only three or four didn't flop at the box office. I don't think this will happen, and I'll get back to this later. I think that the move to ten nominees is a serious push to get more commercial films nominated. The new formula will be something like this: five will be dramas, two will be indie comedies, two will be action films, and one will be animated. (I do not have an official prediction at this time. Ask me again in January.)
Already two films have come out this summer that I think will take the place of would-be nominees The Dark Knight and WALL-E: Star Trek and Up. Star Trek will surely be an uphill battle: it's an epic sci-fi film directed mainly to teenagers and young adults, but was almost universally hailed by critics as a superb action film with heart and humor in addition to its eye-popping special effects. Big-time director J.J. Abrams will propel the film through awards season, but first it has to jump through a lot of hurdles. Up, as expected, is being hailed as another Pixar masterpiece and will surely be campaigning heavily this awards season. Only one animated film has been nominated for Best Picture before (Beauty and the Beast), and giving another "cartoon" a shot at Hollywood's top prize would surely boost ratings.

Another potential long-shot is Avatar, another sci-fi epic coming out in December that is headlined by James Cameron and is already a shoo-in for the Best Visual Effects Oscar. The prescence of Cameron at the helm and the fact that the film is a surefire hit will help propel the film through awards season, but the Academy has a thing against genre films (basically, anything that's not clear-cut dramas).
Like I said before, I think having ten nominees is a good thing. I think it will give some worthy films a shot at the award that otherwise wouldn't even have been considered and will increase viewership astronomically. Now, I also think that this plan could backfire: that the Academy simply use the five extra slots to nominate more dramatic crap that no one cares about except for the all-powerful critics. This would be very unfortunate, but I think that this is unlikely because it would nullify the whole point of the new rule.
Finally, let me address one of the chief arguments against this move: that it is simply a publicity stunt to nominate movies that have made a lot of money. First of all, so what if it's a publicity stunt? The Academy is kind of dying; it needs a boost. These naysayers also don't seem to understand that hundreds of eligible films are submitted to the Academy every year, and they have to sift through all the muck to get to the best ones. Being in the top 10 is still a great achievement and nothing to be scoffed at. The Academy won't nominate Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for Best Picture just because it made an obscene amount of money; it still needs to be a quality film.
And, the final argument that they seem to forget is the simple truth that the end result is still exactly the same: as usual, there will be only one winner for Best Picture. Whether that eventual winner is a popular film that many people have seen and love, or whether it's a piece of crap arthouse project is entirely in the Academy's hands and will be decided exactly as it always has been.
Nothing can change that.

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