Tuesday, September 22, 2009


For months, I've kept my big mouth shut, but now it's time to open up and say, "Ugh!" Ladies and gentlemen of the Academy, listen up: Increasing the number of Best Picture nominees from five to 10 is the dumbest move the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has made since giving Roberto Benigni an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Life Is Beautiful. And now the Producers Guild of America has followed suit. What's next? Ten best actress nominees? Twenty best supporting actor nominees, because, well, the movies are filled with great actors in supporting roles?

Hell, why stop there? Why not nominate every film, every actor, so no one will feel left out, and pick five winners in each category? Spread the wealth!

First, I feel the need to make a very important point: I've never cared much about the Best Picture race. Aside from the acting races and occasionally, the directing, screenplay and original song races, I could sleep through the entire Oscar ceremony, and I wouldn't miss a thing.

That said, part of what makes an Oscar nomination so special is that it's so hard to get one. Unlike the Grammys, which has more than twice as many awards as they can fit into a 12-hour telecast (yes, an exaggeration, but not by much), the Oscars only have four categories for performers. And although, only five tracks a year are eligible for the "coveted" Record of the Year Grammy, it's near impossible to recall what made the shortlist one or two months after the fact in any given year. Quick, name the five 2009 nominees! Now, the winner! (Answer: "Chasing Pavements" by Adele, "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay, "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis, "Paper Planes" by M.I.A. and the winner "Please Read The Letter" by Robert Plant and Alison Kraus). Imagine if NARAS were to up the number of nominees to 10. "I Got A Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas would probably be a shoo-in -- if it isn't already.

It's already hard enough for the Academy to come up with five truly remarkable films every year, which means that occasionally, whatevers like Chocolat and Finding Neverland sneak in. (And please don't read anything into the fact the Johnny Depp stars in both.) Which is perhaps why they narrowed it from 10 to 5 in the mid 1940s. What will happen when they have to fill 10 spaces again? Especially, in a slow year like this one, when Oscar-predicting pundits are having a rough time coming up with five likely nominees in all of the major categories. Not only will the Academy decrease the prestige of it own award ("Academy Award nominee" carries more weight than any other meant-to-impress modifier except for, of course, "Academy Award winner"), but it will ultimately stink up its own awards show.

And let's not forget that part of the Oscar fun is discussing the movies and performances that are snubbed every year, like Doubt and Gran Torino this past year. Expanding the playing field means that egregious snubs might largely become a thing of the past, and the Oscars will lose much of its post-nominations watercooler cachet.

Suddenly, things are looking a lot better for Precious, the drama that has been collecting pre-release raves all year and Oscar predictions for costar Mo'Nique (see above photo). Its difficult subject matters (teenage pregnancy, child abuse, incest) might have left it out of the running. Now I suspect that it has an excellent shot. Still, I shudder to think of the films that would have entered the running in previous years had the Academy opened up the race years ago. More comedies. More blockbusters. Definitely The Dark Knight. Knocked Up? Sure it was a rare quality comedy, but what makes the occasional dark horse entry like The Full Monty so special is that comedy makes for such an anomaly as a Best Picture nominee. If there are two or three every year, it becomes less noteworthy.

If they are going to expand the list from five to 10, perhaps they should consider dropping Best Animated Film and Best Foreign Language Film and working those contenders into the Best Picture contest. Otherwise, each year up to 18 different pictures will have the distinction of being called an "Oscar-nominated film," which would make it only slightly more impressive than winning a Grammy for Best Polka Recording.

Somebody, stop the madness before it starts.
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