Best Pictures

June 26, 2009

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This week, the Academy decided to feature ten, not five, Best Picture nominees. Furthermore, the show is not expected to be lengthened – it’s already quite long – which means that some of the “lesser” categories, like the shorts, makeup, art direction, sound mixing, and so on, will probably be eliminated altogether from the broadcast.

This announcement taps into the perceived vs. actual nature of the Best Picture award. The Oscar goes to the producers, ostensibly for being able to pull the thing off, and therefore has more to do with the whole package and a little less to do with the individual quality of the acting, storytelling, directing, and so on. It’s the only award for which all members of the Academy may nominate and vote.

But I have a hunch that people who watch the Academy Awards to see their favorite movie win typically aren’t thinking of the whole package. Instead, they loved the movie for its story and the way it made them feel. And that’s why Slumdog Millionaire was a popular winner – it wasn’t the best film of the year, but it was the one that a great number of people people liked watching (and in all fairness, it had to be pretty hard to produce, with the language and cultural barriers). In a year of more excellent but more depressing films, Slumdog was something a little different.

But do you think ten American pictures are produced each year that actually deserve the nomination? The Academy’s president, Sid Ganis, remarked that “having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize.” I wonder about that; a film with a great story but mediocre directing/acting/younameit should not be nominated for Best Picture just because people liked it. Does this allow for more “pretty good” films – movies that don’t have the whole package – to make it into that slot?

Obviously, this is an economic decision on the part of the Academy. Last year’s Oscars were widely considered to have short-shrifted The Dark Knight; personally, I might have added The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married, Doubt, WALL-E and Revolutionary Road to that list. (I also would have left The Reader off entirely.) Allowing more films to be in contention for the top spot could, theoretically, result in more viewers.

On the bright side, this pretty much guarantees that Pixar will get their first Best Picture nomination this year, unless something goes horribly wrong.

What do you think? Should the Academy have kept it to five nominations? Are there enough movies each year produced by American companies that are worthy to fill those ten slots? And if you could add five nominees to last year’s slate, what would they be?