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.