While I’ll leave most of the Oscar analysis and prognostication around here to Neil Turitz and Jeff Sneider, I thought I’d write a series of random Oscar-related pieces over the next couple months. This one is fairly simple and straight-ahead, as the title asks the question that’s been on many minds — both those in the Academy and those following the Oscars from afar.
When the Academy decided in 2009 to expand the Best Picture category from five nominations to ten, they had a fairly good reason to allow more indie fare and more populist films to get into the Oscar race. At the time, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was one of the top grossing and critically-acclaimed films of 2008, and it was left out of the nominations that year in favor of five movies that nobody has thought about since then.
This wasn’t the first time the Academy expanded the BP nominees, because way back in 1931, Best Picture was expanded to eight films, then ten and even twelve. By 1944 and the 17th awards ceremony, the Academy was back down to five Best Pictures and it stayed that way for 65 years.
So the Academy had good reason to expand the Best Picture category, and the decision allowed movies like District 9, The Blind Side and the animated Up to get into the category when they would normally be outliers. After two years at ten, it was decided there instead would be a new system where anywhere between five and ten movies might be nominated for Best Picture. Most years since then, there’s mostly been nine Best Pictures with one year there being eight and another, there were seven nominations.
This has done two things, both of them fairly bad. First of all, it’s forced awards analysts to spend way too much time trying to figure out how many movies might be worth a BP nomination and which ones might be omitted if the Academy only goes with six or seven or eight.
That’s fairly minor compared to the bigger problem, and this is one I’ve heard actual Academy members complain about. Having more than five BP nominations makes the Academy’s top prize seem less special and elite.
To be honest, most people who follow the Oscars closely already know that the five movies with matching directing nominations are more likely to be considered frontrunners in the Best Picture race. This isn’t always true, and there have been times when a movie won Best Picture without a coinciding director nomination (Argo, for example). In recent years, the Academy has frequently split between BP and Director, when at one point, the two went hand-in-hand.
But that brings us to why the Academy needs to reduce the number of BPs back down to five, and much of that has to do not only with those who are voting on the Oscars, but also those who make the films.
A movie getting an Oscar nomination for Best Picture is always considered special, but every year, there are movies that don’t really stand a chance and their inclusion just makes people wonder, “Why is the director of that Best Picture not nominated? Why aren’t more actors from this movie nominated? etc. etc.”
It leads to a lot of confusion for those following the Oscars from the outside, because it makes us wonder what a group of 7,000 plus diverse people in the industry are thinking when they fill out their ballots.
Five nominations simplifies things greatly, plus it also will save air time that’s being spent on promoting all of the nominees equally.
Sure, going back down to five will give less chances of great indies like Lady Bird and The Florida Project getting in, since they’ll be competing with high-profile blockbusters with big studio awards campaign. It’s really those smaller movies that absolutely need and warrant the attention an Oscar nomination can get them. Maybe the money it costs to go to these awards shows can be spent on television commercials to raise awareness, because we’re seeing this year that these movies will get attention with the right push and promotion.
I guess my own personal feeling is that having five Best Pictures each year makes it more of an honor to receive one of them where the current system leaves you wondering why certain movies (like Todd Haynes’ Carol a few years back) have been left out.
Sometimes, change is good, but sometimes, a tradition that’s survived for 65 years has done so for a reason. After eight years of seven to ten BP nominees, maybe it’s time to fall back on a system that works and maybe worry less about inclusion and more about shining a spotlight on the best of the best, which has always been the point and purpose of the Oscars in the first place.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor