A More Crowded Oscar Race

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Posted June 25, 2009 by Kristian Lin in Blotch

For more than 60 years, five films have been nominated each year for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Yesterday, the Academy announced that there will be 10 next year. This isn’t unprecedented; the Oscar race had 10 entrants in the 1930s and ’40s. Hollywood did that so that all the major studios would have at least one film in the race. That rationale wasn’t good enough, so the field eventually shrunk back to five.

This seems like a good idea at first blush. After all, there are usually more than five good movies made every year. Serious dramas tend to dominate the proceedings, so maybe an increased field gives room for intelligent well-made blockbuster thrillers, comedies, and foreign films. (If there’d been 10 slots this past year, I’m pretty sure The Dark Knight — the film that everyone is citing in reporting on this story — would have made the cut.) It seems reasonable to expect that more movies in the mix will increase the chatter about the Oscars and boost ratings for the TV telecast. Maybe the studios’ campaigns for Oscar nominations won’t be so crass and grubby, either, with Best Picture nods becoming easier to get.

On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that this will work. The main reason that the Academy doesn’t release vote totals is that we’d all learn how few votes it takes to swing an Oscar race. Increasing the field would mean a movie could snag a Best Picture nod with even fewer votes. Plus, who says this will change voting habits? Oscar voters (and film critics, too) tend to ignore comedies when they’re putting together their lists of the best movies, for various reasons that elude me. Even when blockbusters strike a chord with the public, Hollywood doesn’t get much charge out of validating the public’s taste. They’d much rather tell you about small out-of-the-way pictures that you haven’t seen, and while this is an admirable impulse, it seems to point away from having blockbusters in the field. Won’t we get more movies of the same type in the field? If last year’s Best Picture race had also included Doubt and Revolutionary Road, would that have made the Oscars more alluring to ordinary moviegoers? As for the Oscar campaigns, moving the ceremony to a month earlier was supposed to alleviate that problem, and it only made the problem worse.

I guess we won’t know how this works out until next February, when the initial nominations come in. In the meantime, here’s some analysis from the Risky Biz blog, with this follow-up. (I don’t think The Hangover will barely miss the Best Picture cut, by the way.) Hollywood Reporter also explores the ramifications, with some anonymous studio execs wondering if this is the best idea. Movieline lists studios that look to benefit from this.


2 Comments


  1.  
    Cole

    Many interesting points Kristian. The thing for me is I don’t watch the Oscars because they 1) don’t represent my taste and 2) I really don’t feel like I need a group’s decision to validate my own opinions.

    Ever since Jim Carrey got snubbed for a nom for “Man On the Moon” and “Saving Private Ryan” lost to “Shakespeare in Love”, I’ve cared less and less what the Oscars do. Dubious decisions go way back for them, from “L.A. Confidential” losing to “Titanic” to “Citizen Kane” getting a paltry one award to Hitchcock to Kubrick to O’Toole getting snubbed. If they’re missing things that obvious why would I be interested? (This also brings up the whole hindsight argument, but I’ll stay out of that). And of course, like you said everyone else is pointing out, “The Dark Knight”. And I doubt I’ll be seeing some of my favorite movies this year, like “Outlander” and “Star Trek” getting any “respectable” noms, not to mention serious Oscar stuff like ‘Babel” and “Lost In Translation” made me want to kill myself just to escape the theater from their boredom and pretentiousness (only my opinion; I can totally understand how others relate to those two movies.).

    So seriously I don’t understand why anyone needs the Oscars to tell them what they should think is good or care what they think. Follow your own path and make your own decisions about what’s good and what’s not. Also, this is mostly just me ranting at the idea of others telling me what kind of taste to have, which of course is all in my head in the first place.

    As for how it’ll work I think it will have some effect of bringing in more viewers, if the Academy uses the extra nomination slots to nominate things it usually doesn’t, like “Star Trek” or…damn, “Dark Knight”‘s the only other obvious example I can think of (both of which have a 95% and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes).

    I’d also like to see the Academy get rid of the obligatory “Best Animated Feature” category so movies like “Wall-E” and “Spirited Away” can get the Best Picture nods they deserve (and will you look at that, we have “Up” and a new Miyazaki movie, “Ponyo” coming out this year).

    I guess bottom line for me, a good example of a disenfranchised Oscar voter, is that the expanded number of nominees may help my interest a little, but Oscar voting record being what it is, that may mean I’ll at most flip the TV onto the awards once or twice instead of not at all.




  2.  
    Kristian

    Cole, I feel for you. Every year we all see Oscar nominations go to movies and performances we feel are undeserving, while actors and films deemed worthy go begging. These decisions are made by committee (so are critics’ awards and review-gathering services like Rotten Tomatoes), and as such they frequently move toward consensus rather than make room for something off the wall that might or might not be genius.

    The standard argument goes that we can’t ignore the Oscars because they affect the box-office of nominated films, but given the dismal numbers for “Frost/Nixon” and “The Reader,” I’m not sure how much water that argument holds any more. It’s easy to say that they’re irrelevant because their choices are often wrong, but the truth is no other awards organization has had enough consistent good taste to challenge them, not the Golden Globes, not the BAFTAs, not the Cannes festival’s Golden Palm. And human nature seems hardwired to not simply appreciate good movies as they come, but to compare them and give awards to the best.

    The best idea I’ve heard about this was in a piece on Television Without Pity today: The Oscars should hold a nominating round in July as well as the end of the year to prevent the logjam of awards contenders that crops up every December. Serious dramas competing with the blockbusters for space in the multiplexes in June and July? I say bring it on.





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