Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Ten

Big news in Oscarland: starting this fall, the Academy shortlist for Best Picture will now be expanded to ten nominees instead of the accustomed five. This is the first time that the Best Picture nominees will not comprise of five since 1943 (the year Casablanca won--not a bad choice). Why make this move? Academy president Sid Ganis has been spouting about returning to the Academy's "earlier roots", as if to say, that with five more spots available, there will be room for more traditionally snubbed fare.

It's obviously a reaction to last year's hysteria, when The Dark Knight was discarded for the more traditional (and brutally mediocre) The Reader. The idea here is that with ten nominees, they will not have that same embarrassment of ignoring the populist hit for the bait-y drama. Sure, with this change, there is more of a chance of Up getting a nod (when WALL-E was snubbed, I thought animated would never get a nomination again), but other than a difference of two or three films, the Academy has put itself in a very precocious position, in which they can embarrass themselves two-fold

When the difference is one film, and you add five spots, things can become a little haywire. Let's take a look at the last few years:

1999- One of the most disappointing films, in terms of Oscar. The line-up was American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, and The Sixth Sense. With the exception of Beauty, these were all big studio hits, that nudged out such indie classic fare, such as Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, and Three Kings. If there were ten nominees: would any of those three crack the list? In hindsight, it's easy to say yes, but in reality, the Oscar voters would have probably settled for five more Oscar-bait films to fill out the ballot. Films like The End of the Affair, The Talented Mr. Ripley, or The Hurricane would probably have been in the extra five.

2002- The line-up was Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist. Rather traditional stuff. Seven years later, films like Adaptation, Far From Heaven, About Schmidt, and Punch-Drunk Love have built strong esteem within the film community. If the best picture nominees were ten, I feel Adaptation would have had a good chance to crash the party (with its Meryl Streep/Nic Cage ties), but none of the others would have. Most likely, Frida, Road To Perdition, or maybe even the sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding probably would have grabbed a nom.

2008- The most recent list--the cause of this change. Best Picture nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire. Three pretty good films mixed with two lousy ones. The obvious snubs here were WALL-E and The Dark Knight, but what about the endearing indies The Wrestler or Rachel Getting Married? Not to mention, the comedies In Bruges and Happy-Go-Lucky. With ten, the first two would have definitely slid in, but none of the other four would have had a chance. More likely, the not-well-received, but still traditional Doubt or Gran Torino would have made it in.

My long-winded point is this: having ten available nominations doesn't necessarily open the window for more good films, it just opens the window for more seasonal, bait-y films. Pretty much any film with a serious campaign will have a shot at the list, and that's not what it should be about. We complain when our favorite films don't get nominated, but all that said, it should be hard to get it. Not every lauded film deserves to get special attention, and it stinks to see the Academy botch a stunt like this. This may make a few Dark Knight fans happy, but its those who watch this show annually and take it seriously, that will be disappointed.

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