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Oscars Double Number of Best Picture Nominees in Hopes of Catching Good Films…

Well, admitting that there’s a problem is the first step. The Academy announced today that next year (in a return to vintage Hollywood tradition) there would be ten nominees for Best Picture. The shadow of the snub of The Dark Knight looms large in the announcement, and though it isn’t explicitly stated in the statement, several commentators have inferred it. While it’s being pitched as some sort of vintage return to form, it’s hard not to see it as an attempt by the Academy to cast a much wider net when it comes to nominees. I agree with the sentiment, but the jury’s still out on the method.

Looking good for an 81-year-old...

Looking good for an 81-year-old...

The Academy is right to realise it has a problem on its hands. There’s no way it’s reviving a tradition last used in 1943 for kicks. It wants to avoid ticking off film buffs by nominating sub-par dreck (The Reader was this year’s example) instead of what are generally considered to be stronger films (last year’s examples would be Wall-E, The Wrestler, Gran Torino, The Dark Knight and even Iron Man or Vicky Christina Barcelona). However, my problem with this approach is that it doesn’t really deal with the problem. Those out-of-touch choices like The Reader are still going to make the final cut because of the way the Academy is structured, but it’ll just be alongside some more popularist choices. I’m not sure I’ll be happier with seven out of ten being good films than I was with four out of five.

I’ve written on the Academy’s problems elsewhere (in the Trinity Film Review – a publication well worth consulting for any Irish film buffs out there, it’s published twice yearly), but I’ll recap here because it’s pertinent. The Academy can be split into two constinuencies – the old ‘established’ members drawn mostly from classic American cinema (Ernest Borgnine and Tony Curtis are generally considered to embody this demographic); and young ‘arthouse’ international and independent members (like offering a place to Adrianna Barazza – who? – and shunning Ellen Page). There seems to be no room for popular young entertainers in the institution any more.

The gradual impact that this admissions policy is having on nominations can be seen over time. Older voters would have strongly championed conventional choices like The Reader, Frost/Nixon and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, with the more independent and fringe members voting for Slumdog Millionaire and Milk. There’s a very common folk theory (as voting details are never published), that it was the old fogies who managed to veto a Best Picture Oscar for Brokeback Mountain (though I’d suggest it was just the weaker contender). If the Academy is acknowledging that its taste is moving away from that of the mainstream – and it is, one need only look at classic popular and critically successful winners and nominees like The Godfather, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and Jaws, for example, to see that there was a time when the Academy embraced popular taste – then I would suggest that it needs to seriously look at its admissions policies. Then there’s the method they use to count nominations, which has also raised some eyebrows.

More nominations does mean a better chance of a popular film or two sneaking into the lineup – but it also makes the snub even bigger if the film doesn’t make it, and it also means a better chance of a less than stellar film sneaking in under the radar. The Reader didn’t deserve a place among the ten finest films of last year; it also didn’t deserve a place among the ten. I’d also be reluctant to believe that this will herald a return to the glory days of Hollywood’s most exclusive institution embracing popular tastes – there’s already rumour and gossip about Star Trek and Up making the shortlist, which I honestly don’t see happening (but would like to). In short, I’m going to remain skeptical until we have a chance to adequately review the first list of nominees, which might serve as a beacon of which way this is going to go.

I’ll also be looking at the potential nominees on a much wider field some time in the coming weeks. It’s never too early.

5 Responses

  1. […] to Cut Honorary Awards from Telecast… By Darren I’m going to give the expansion of the Best Picture category the benefit of the doubt and I don’t really care about the Original Song rules, to be […]

  2. […] Oscars attempted to rejuvenate the formula. I don’t care about the Best Original Song, I’ve mixed feelings about the doubling of the Best Picture field and I don’t like cutting the Honorary […]

  3. […] Academy might actually be serious about changing things. I was indifferent about the expansion of the Best Picture category, and a bit miffed about the demotion of the Honorary Awards to an event outside the regular show, […]

  4. […] news that the Best Picture category would expand to ten films was met with a wide variety of reactions. Even then, some smart mathmaticians or number nuts were […]

  5. […] over the snub of The Dark Knight demonstrated this – and I said then and I say now that widening the number of nominees will not change that, only the gradual changing of the demographics of the Academy can move the Oscars back in touch […]

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