Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oscar widens the playing field

Big news is coming out of Hollywood today, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announcing that this coming year they will be doubling the number of best picture nominees from 5 to 10.

The NY Times has a great article on the announcement, which brings up many salient points. Of course, one of the biggest factors, as Academy president Sid Ganis admits, was The Dark Knight. During a Q&A following the announcement, Gains said, “I would not be telling you the truth if I said the words ‘Dark Knight’ did not come up.” Not only was the Batman film the biggest hit of the year, but more tellingly it was one of the best reviewed, lauded for its complexity and thematic intelligence. Also, Wall-E was on many critic's lists as the best film of the year, and although it won a Best Animated Feature Oscar, many felt it should have been nominated for best film.

For the last few years, the Oscar Night telecast has been bleeding viewers at an alarming rate. Even a truly irreverent and enjoyable telecast last year failed to significantly turn the tide. Many have blamed the Academy itself. With its largely older membership, it has often been suggested that the members have lost touch with the films of "now" in favour of films evoking older styles. In short, they dismiss films like The Dark Knight in favour of films like The Reader, even though the latter film was little seen and received significantly less acclaim. This was even mocked by Oscar host Hugh Jackman during his opening number, with the star singing "I still haven't seen The Reader" and poking fun at the fact that The Dark Knight wasn't nominated.

In short, many believe that the Oscars were in serious danger of becoming irrelevant.

But would opening the field to 10 help? Certainly, The Dark Knight would have gotten the nomination, as would have Wall-E. That brings us up to seven. What would the other three have been, I wonder? Most likely, The Wrestler and Doubt would have brought it up to nine. and the final spot? I'm thinking that would become the wild card spot. The slot for a film that has no chance, but deserves a shout out. A little film. A film that deserves a bigger audience. Maybe it would have been Frozen River, or Happy-Go-Lucky or (my personal fave) In Bruges. maybe it would even have been a.....gasp.......comedy! It Happened One Night won best picture. A film like that, in past years, wouldn't even get considered. So maybe Tropic Thunder would have taken it.

I think this can only be a good thing. It'll depoliticize the awards a little. It'll make the truly repulsive campaigning less important and it'll open the field up to different kinds of films. That can only help the status of movies in America today.

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