June 16, 2009
Today Sid Ganis, the president of the MPAA, announced that the best picture category at the OSCARS would double up from the current five nominees to the seemingly self indulgent ten. He says it will make the race “more interesting and less cloistered” and may even make room for a “little one” (read: indie) or even (gasp!) a comedy. I’m not convinced his intentions are so pure.
Traditionally, the Acad tends to recognize serious dramas with genre pictures, comedies, movies that are hugely popular at the box office, documentaries, animated movies, and foreign pictures almost always missing the cut.
Take 2008 as a case study. The best picture nominees were Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Frost/Nixon. The big guffaw came when both Wall-E and The Dark Knight were left out of the running. Both were of the best reviewed movies of the year and were, by any stretch of the imagination, better than the shameful, oscar-bait-holocaust-weepie The Reader. But they didn’t get nominated mainly because one made over 500 million at the US box office and the other was a cartoon.
So what does the expansion accomplish? The truth is that the move from five pictures to ten is merely a matter of money. What it does is try and boost box office revenues by giving the hugely profitable “Best Picture Nominee” tag to more movies. I try not to say this with any sort of bitter tone, at least not yet, because it is my hope that they will recognize smaller movies that are of fantastic quality but limited scope, thus giving them a fighting chance at getting seen. Last year movies like “Man On Wire”, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen and one about tight rope walking no less, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”, romanian Christian Mungiu’s verite drama about abortion, Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married”, or even the stark Sundance hit “Ballast”, all got the short end of the stick because of their limited releases and niche appeal.
Hopefully, this action will allow voters to take more risks and truly honor those pics that deserve to be called “Best Picture” regardless of genre, scale, risk, revenue, or appeal. Hopefully. Most likely it will lead to self congratulatory back patting by the purveyors of the mediocre and the status quo. Maybe that’s a little pessimistic of me. Yea for movies!