OFF THE CARPET: The more the merrier?

Posted by · 10:18 am · June 29th, 2009

OscarsThe Academy dropped a bombshell announcement mid-week, leaving a mixture of cheers and jeers as well as a number of questions that will be answered slowly but surely as a new Oscar season approaches.

The chief complaint from those who took umbrage with the decision to open the Best Picture category to 10 nominations is the further dilution of prestige.  What is a nomination worth if it is shared with dubious contenders that wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in a traditional field of five?

Others felt the change instantly relegated the medium’s most cherished prize to yet another top 10 list, hardly distinguished in the increasingly dense fray that is the film awards season.

Those who championed the bold move found comfort in the idea, however hypothetical, that the category could now find room for under-appreciated gems from the indie circuit, or better yet, avoid the unfortunate case of AMPAS members ignoring the intersection of art and commerce (i.e. the Best Picture snubs of “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E”).

The “bubble” virtually eliminated, Oscar’s sandbox just got a lot bigger, so what’s the harm in allowing as many kids to play as possible?

I tend to fall in the former category.  The move is troublesome in that it has a whiff of thoughtlessness, a knee-jerk, reactionary decision and perhaps merely a chance to create a larger advertising opportunity for the organization’s telecast.  And I ask this: What will Pixar’s first Best Picture nomination really mean with an asterisk next to it?

Furthermore, I’m not sold that quality work will win out in the hunt for the extra slots.  Sometimes near Best Picture nods for films like “Gran Torino” are too close for comfort, especially when films like “The Reader” and “Munich” are already sliding in as it is, but that could extend to fare universally considered trite or disposable but nonetheless financially successful.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesAdditionally, and perhaps more self-serving, given that everyone seems to have the race narrowed down to seven or eight titles by the time the Academy announces its nominees every year, the excitement of the Best Picture race as we knew it could be gone forever.

But those are the surface issues.  There are two specific concerns, however, that seem to be lost in the shuffle.

The first regards awards budgets, which are set in advance of the season.  Another load of money doesn’t just arrive on studios’ doorsteps now that there are five more slots to fill.  Now that multiple films are in play, everyone’s pie didn’t get bigger — the slices just got smaller.  Those who like the idea of 10 nods and are hoping against hope for a “Lovely Bones” nomination come January will have to square themselves with the fact that Peter Jackson and company will now be sharing that pool of campaign dollars with “Star Trek,” for better or worse.

In a nutshell, if the move to 10 means diminished assets for selling quality product to the Academy, shouldn’t that be read as a loss for everyone involved?

The second issue concerns the Academy’s voting process.  A preferential voting system is fine for a swift ballot that need only feature five films per category, but with 10 slots to fill in the Best Picture line-up, do you really expect AMPAS members to take the order of the list all that seriously?

And I imagine something will have to be done to address the concern that now one merely needs something like 600 people on board to get a film in the line-up.  How many members do you think these blockbuster films, which keep studios in business, employee?  Block voting will surely thrive.

Exiting Oscar president Sid GanisAnd so at the end of the day, I think the case is plainly made that a 10-nominee structure for the Best Picture category waters down not only the meaning of the award, but the thrill of hunting it and, perhaps most unfortunately, the payoff of being in the mix.

What does this mean for crazy people like me who like to predict how this zany dance will turn out each year?  The field is much bigger now, to be sure.  The relation of the other races to the Best Picture category’s nominees won’t change significantly, but surely the overlap of Best Picture and Best Director nominees will be read by most as “the real five.”

Mostly it’ll just mean more coverage.  The industry seems pointed toward Oscar most of the year as it is, but now every blip on the film history radar will register “Oscar potential.”  That means aesthetic, impact, critical opinion and, yes, box office.  While some might read that as thorough consideration, I tend to think of it as numbing saturation.

Who wants an Oscar nomination when it doesn’t feel like anything?

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→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

29 responses so far

  • 1 6-29-2009 at 10:31 am

    Jordan Raup said...

    Great article. I agree that it is a completely stupid move. Why can’t they just pick 5 great films from the start instead of having crap like The Reader in there?

  • 2 6-29-2009 at 11:11 am

    John said...

    I don’t really understand what the big deal is.

    So it’s 10 and not 5. The broadcast will not be much longer, if at all.

    Soooooo many people bit*h every year for weeks and weeks on end that their favorites were shut out of the Top 5.

    There were 10 nominees for many years, years ago. And that’s with far fewer films being released. And I have no doubt that films such as The Dark Knight, Wall-E, Zodiac, Into the Wild, Children of Men, Pans Labyrinth, etc. etc. .. the list goes on …. would have been top 10 nominees making the race MUCH more exciting.

    I’m very pleased with the rule change.

  • 3 6-29-2009 at 11:18 am

    Greg Thompson said...

    Imagine the outcry if the AMPAS manages to nominate films like Precious, Bright Star, and An Education OVER the likes of Up and Avatar. I don’t expect that to happen. Then again, I also expected TDK to be nominated last year.

    My current picks for BP

    1. Avatar
    2. Up
    3. Public Enemies
    4. Funny People
    5. The Lovely Bones
    6. Invictus
    7. Nine
    8. Shutter Island
    9. Precious
    10. The Hurt Locker

  • 4 6-29-2009 at 11:20 am

    bbats said...

    movieline voiced the best picture best director concern to Sid Ganis in an interview day after the election. Did you read that?

  • 5 6-29-2009 at 11:32 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    John: There were 10 nominees for a 10-year stretch back when the industry cranked out exponentially fewer films.

    bbats: Yes, I did. And I agree with their concern.

  • 6 6-29-2009 at 11:33 am

    red_wine said...

    I agree with everything, infact the nominees might be all over the place, since the members might think Nine is already gonna be nominated, let me put my No.1 as something else. The 600 block thing reinforces that shit will likely get in.

    The Hurt Locker is the 2nd best reviewed film of the year after Up, so it should have strong critical support.

    I wonder why you rank Shutter Island so low, Scorsese sure has lots of fanboys in the academy(and everywhere else), and regardless of the quality of the movie(it will atleast be decent), with 10, it will almost certainly be in if they wanna fill the 10 slots with big names.

    And as much as I love Eastwood, I don’t think his movie gets an automatic pass like Nine, it will atleast have to be very good and chances are it might not be. Eastwood’s Oscar friendliness is exaggerated these days. Sure he got 3 films ‘in’ this decade, but all of them got in because they were excellent and deserving, he has missed 3 films this decade too.

    The same with Amelia, I love Nair but the film looks so woefully mediocre and standard issue that it will atleast have to be very good.

    The Lovely Bones seems to me something like Revolutionary Road, many people will think “oh my god, masterpiece” but will receive a general ‘meh’ from critics.

  • 7 6-29-2009 at 11:36 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Judging by that trailer, Shutter is so genre-laden that I’d rather wait and see what happens first. That’s not to say the film isn’t an absolute must see for me, because it is. And yes, The Departed was obviously genre as well. Long ways off. These predictions mean nothing for now.

  • 8 6-29-2009 at 12:26 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    if this means WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE has a shot at best picture I

  • 9 6-29-2009 at 12:26 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    am all for it, though i understand the concern

  • 10 6-29-2009 at 12:35 pm

    Roark17 said...

    I agree about the pixar asterisk thing…it would only feel undiminished if Up get a BP nom along with Doctor earning a director nod…but if it doesnt get a directing nod i’ll just be looked at as one of the “lucky 5”.

    In terms of Lovely Bones chances, it kinda cancels each other out w/ them having to share funds but the field expanding to 10. I doubt it’ll lose too much of its campaign, i mean it was delayed almost a year just so the studio could win awards with it, i dont see them abandoning it too much.

  • 11 6-29-2009 at 1:02 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Well at least now we have a decent tiebreaking category for our Oscar pools!

  • 12 6-29-2009 at 1:16 pm

    Kyle said...

    I’m ok with the move to 10. Though if it was my call, I would’ve eliminated the animated film category which serves the purpose of a day care center to keep worthy animated films from any consideration for the big prize.

  • 13 6-29-2009 at 1:16 pm

    SophieLL said...

    I think it’s a bit soon fo Oscars predictions because though Cannes Film Festival was over, others FFestivals will take place: Venice, Berlin, Rome… I add a few movies create buzz but can deceive you, like (it seems) Public ennemies with mixed reviews. But anyway it’s very funny to imagine what will be the next oscar winners. enjoy!!

  • 14 6-29-2009 at 1:24 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Well, Sophie, that never stopped us before. :)

  • 15 6-29-2009 at 2:12 pm

    j said...

    I’m guessing Bigelow being one of the top five for what some would call the “real” BP category now has to do w/the 91 Metacritic reflecting critical consensus, given that on an average year that would put the film in the top 3 (or tied as). But at the Spirits, the only 2 noms were acting, and both lost, which makes me feel a bit iffy; then again, maybe Spirits have no correlation w/Oscars. Also, I’m dubious that the Academy would be progressive enough to increase the # of female nominations by 67% in one year. But Bigelow would be better than a nom for Nair for that film starring…that woman. Especially given that Lee Daniels would be the second black directing nom. There’s been four Asian directing noms…should be five, since Ang Lee was nommed for DGA, Globe, & Bafta for Sense & Sensibility. The only other one to pick up those 3 was the much-more-Hollywood Mel Gibson. Whatever. Oh, Lone Scherfig is a female, too. Though what if the Academy decides to nominate the five white men in your top ten?

    Interesting to see what movies have jumped in and out of your top ten, esp Bones & Up vs. Shutter (down 11) & Enemies (down 4).

    Meryl lead, eh? Yay that you feel Audrey still is viable. It’d be interesting if Saoirse got her 2nd nom. 3rd-youngest Lead Actor or Actress nom, and youngest 2-time nominee…it’d totally get people rumbling about if she’d be the next Winslet. Her next film is apparently w/4-time nominee Ed Harris & 6-time nominee Peter Weir. Good that Cruz moved down; I don’t expect a lead & supporting nom, but I’m feeling a double Nine sup. I’d totally support Julia & Chanel as BP noms just because I adore Streep & Tautou.

    Sup Actor still looks boring. Mr. Fox in front of Ponyo? Well, maybe there’ll be five noms after all.

  • 16 6-29-2009 at 2:21 pm

    PJ said...

    I have a hunch this is the girl power year.
    Remember the time (back in 2002) when they decided “all of a sudden” to open the door to african american actors in the top leading categories? Well, this year is the female directors turn. So I’m convinced all four female directed projects (Hurt Locker, An Education, Amelia and Bright Star) will make it in the top-10.
    As for the directing category the safest bets are Jane Campion (already a nominee with a decent comeback) and Kathryn Bigelow (critical praise and Cameron history perhaps?).

    So why am I writing this since you already predicted them Kris? I don’t know, it’s my first comment here and I’m really excited!!!!

  • 17 6-29-2009 at 2:28 pm

    John said...

    5 seemed restricting (especially with so many undeserving ones in recent years). 10 sounds a little desperate, but I’m still not against it.

    Why don’t they just do a no-less-than 3 nominees rule for all categories.

    If 3 actresses are pooling the most votes in the early rounds of voting, have it be 3 nominees.

    If there are 8 actresses seeming to be competetive, have there be 8 nominees. And so on, for each category.

    I think there’d be lots of “3’s only” nominations per category, and probably a few 6,7,8’s, etc.

  • 18 6-29-2009 at 2:28 pm

    AdamL said...

    I’m not wild about the rule change either but you seem to be worrying about things that may not happen or may be happening already anyway. Whether AMPAS members take their lists seriously now is already in question, I don’t think 10 BP nominees makes these concerns any more concerning!

    You always hear these things from Tom O’Neal about AMPAS guys voting for actresses cause they like them, despite not having seen their film, or dismissing Brokeback Mountain as a gay film so avoiding it, etc… Shit happens already and no doubt more shit will keep happening and dreadful films will still be nominated, and fanboy wankathons that everyone goes crazy for like The Dark Knight will still get snubbed (apologies to fanboys everywhere but you get the idea) and people will still bitch because their absolute favourite film of the year is left off the list.

    I bet we’ll realise it doesn’t change things half as much as you fear it will.

  • 19 6-29-2009 at 2:39 pm

    Average Joe said...

    Just a quick comment on your Emily Mortimer prediction. If the screenplay is similar to the book, her role is more like a cameo than a supporting turn. She’d have to pull a Viola Davis or Beatrice Straight, but without the strong material to work with.

  • 20 6-29-2009 at 3:04 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’ve heard the role is more substantial in the film but that category baffles me regardless, for now.

  • 21 6-29-2009 at 3:38 pm

    Jesse said...

    Kristopher: Very surprised that Shutter Island hasn’t cracked the top 10. Any reason why? Scorsese and Leo have been 3 for 3.

  • 22 6-29-2009 at 4:15 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    About the Best Picture/Best Director issue (ie. using Director to determine which are the “real” BP nominees), isn’t it possible that there could still be the occasional ‘lone director’ nominee, even with 10 Best Picture candidates?

    I’m not convinced that films like “Three Colors: Red” or “Vera Drake” would have made the top 10 in their respective years, even with accompanying Director nods.

  • 23 6-29-2009 at 4:58 pm

    Average Joe said...

    Only directors vote for the directing nominations while everybody can choose the film nominees, correct? In that case, it’s possible we’ll still get lone directors.

    That’s what I most dislike about the ten best pic nominee change; the fact that it might kill the lone director spot.

  • 24 6-29-2009 at 5:23 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    That is indeed correct, Joe.

    In truth, a ‘lone director’ spot often goes to the film that most likely just missed the Best Pic list (“Diving Bell,” “The Truman Show,” “Thelma and Louise”), but I love it when the directors’ branch throws up a real auteur wildcard like Lynch (twice) or Leigh or Almodovar.

    There hasn’t been enough of that daring lately — the 5/5 Picture-Director match was, for me, the most depressing thing about this year’s awards.

  • 25 6-29-2009 at 6:11 pm

    Kate said...

    My 10 BP
    1. The Lovely Bones
    2. Up
    3. Nine
    4. The Hurt Locker
    5. Precious
    6. Invictus
    7. Shutter Island
    8. Avatar
    9. Bright Star
    10. Public Enemies

  • 26 6-30-2009 at 1:19 am

    Glenn said...

    I’m still not sure about having ten nominees and probably won’t be until we see what Oscar gives us.

    I gotta say though – if the Academy sees fit nominate “Bright Star”, “Amelia”, “The Hurt Locker” and “An Education” (or even just three – hell, let’s just say two) and not one of those films receives a best director nomination there’ll be bigger things for the Academy to worry about.

  • 27 6-30-2009 at 11:36 pm

    Douglas said...

    Any Reason Ponyo was bumped out for Fantastic Mr. Fox?
    Just curious.

  • 28 6-30-2009 at 11:39 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Because I honestly don’t think the branch is going to see it as top-tier Miyazaki. Even die-hards consider it lesser work. And Searchlight has big plans for Fantastic.

  • 29 7-13-2009 at 3:12 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    You know, if Universal pushes hard enough, I think Bruno could be a contender for Best Costume Design. It’s the bread and butter of a lot of the film’s humor and is virtually assured a win in the Contemporary section of the Costume Design Guild.