Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts On Expanding The Best Picture Oscar Nominees.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is the grand title of the organization best known for the Oscars (they are called the Academy Awards). In their 81+ year history, it's not surprising that they've made a few mistakes.

For example, giving Louise Rainer TWO competitive Oscars (back-to-back no less!) while never giving one to Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Burton, Marlene Dietrich, Claude Raines, Rosalind Russell, Peter O'Toole, Myrna Loy, Albert Finney, Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Carole Lombard, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, William Powell, Rita Hayworth, Buster Keaton, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Fred Astaire, Carole Lombard, Kirk Douglas, and Irene Dunne (who suffered the indignity of losing to Rainer back-to-back, the second time for The Awful Truth no less!).

How the music of 100 Men and a Girl could be considered better than that of Snow White & the Seven Dwarves is a puzzle (which would you whistle while you work?) and why Bernard Herrmann's music for Psycho or Vertigo went WITHOUT a nomination is sheer lunacy. We won't even get into the Saving Private Ryan tap-dance or Bjork's "Bird-Brain" performance.

Now, the Academy has decided to multiply their errors by two. It was announced that there will be 10 Best Picture nominees next year (all other categories will remain at minimum 3, maximum 5). That's TEN. DIEZ. JU. DIX. I think WE'RE the ones getting dissed. This is the daftest, dumbest, destructive idea the Academy has come up with recently.

I suspect the increase came because of the criticism the Academy got when The Dark Knight did not get a Best Picture nomination. There had been speculation that it would, and it did earn seven nominations with two wins. However, because it didn't get one for the Top Prize, certain circles believed the ceremony was now tainted.

I personally feel The Dark Knight is WILDLY overrated and the fanboys were at the forefront of pushing for Best Picture, along with their lackey critics who were convinced it was the Citizen Kane of graphic novel adaptations (some critics I suspect think The Dark Knight is GREATER than Kane, but I digress). In fairness however, perhaps a re-watching of The Dark Knight may temper by views. Now that there will be ten, there will be a greater chance that films like The Dark Knight--popular films that were hits with both critics and the public--will get nominated and perhaps even win.

However, the Academy needs to be careful what it wishes for. With the field opened wider, there will be a greater chance that second-rate films will find their way into the running. All that one will need to get a not-so-good or even a bad film nominated are enough votes and enough muscle & pressure from the studios or companies. If people think Harvey Weinstein stole Best Picture from Saving Private Ryan in favor of Shakespeare in Love, just think what could happen when you get double the shot of getting your flop into the mix.

If you think about how the campaigns for such notorious flops as Doctor Dolittle and Hello, Dolly! got them Best Picture nominations (and how dangerously close they came to actually winning) you will see how this move won't guarantee wins for films like the non-nominated Dark Knight or Dreamgirls. It can't even guarantee them nominations. It will only end up splitting the vote among more films, and the Academy may be in the embarrassing position of ranking something like a Pearl Harbor or GOD HELP US a Transformers alongside Lawrence of Arabia or Schindler's List, Casablanca or The Godfather. For those who hate the idea that Gladiator beat out Traffic or The Greatest Show on Earth won over The Quiet Man, just think what WILL happen when people vote for the most popular film over a smaller film that might be better in terms of quality.

In short, it's a cynical ploy to boost ratings. The idea is with more popular films in the running, more people will watch. There is a certain merit to that thinking: one of the lowest-rated Oscars was when the critically-beloved (but public-rejected) No Country for Old Men won, while one of the highest was when Titanic overwhelmed its competition. However, it might only end up blowing up in the Academy's face. I suspect it will go no longer than this year, five at the most. I think it will bring ratings down in the long run (if it brings them a short-term gain at all).

If the Academy wants to get higher ratings, it would help if Hollywood gets around to making good films that don't insult the audience's intelligence, films that don't cater to 14-year-old boys, and/or films that don't lecture us. It will help if the studios break away from groupthink and aren't afraid to make films that won't break box-office records but will earn them a good reputation. Watchmen was the number one film when it opened, but it came and went fast. Money isn't everything.

Tragically, Hollywood has become too isolated from its audience, and rather than fix the internal problems (overpaid stars, underwritten scripts, lazy formula films, endless pre/sequels), they focus on external matters ranging from "Passion dollars" (catering films to Christians with weak biblical trappings) to enlarging the Best Picture nominees to ten. I have one question for the AMPAS: if you're going to bump up the Best Picture nominees, will you also bring back the traditional "And the winner is..." to replace the "And the Oscar goes to..." or are you more concerned about hurting the non-winners feelings than you are about your reputation?

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