Will Having 10 Best-Picture Nominees Diminish Oscar?

At the ripe old age of 82, Oscar could do with a face-lift now and then. But Jane Campion, among other voters, has reservations about the latest makeover of Hollywood's most coveted prize.

The New Zealand-born filmmaker, one of only three female directors ever nominated for an Academy Award, can't comprehend why the best-picture list of nominees was expanded from five to 10 slots for the first time since 1943, when Casablanca took home the statuette.

"I've heard it's because of the major studios," says the screenplay winner for 1993's The Piano, whose hopes this year are pinned on her period romance Bright Star. "None of their movies are being chosen."

Campion isn't the only one of the 6,000 or so academy members who was taken aback when the switch was unveiled in June.

"I think it dilutes the exclusivity of it," says Willem Dafoe, a two-time acting nominee. "You know, some years there might not be that many movies that deserve it. I just worry it lowers the bar a little bit."

Or, as Frost/Nixon actor Michael Sheen, who joined the academy in 2007, puts it: "The more films you have, the less special it becomes."

It's all an experiment, assures Tom Sherak, newly appointed president of the 6,000-member Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The decision was made by the 43 members of the board of governors.

The supersizing of the best-picture category was suggested during a postmortem with Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, producers of this year's ceremony, which boosted viewership from the previous year by 13%.

Still, considering the 2008 edition – when No Country for Old Men claimed the best-picture trophy – was the least-watched show ever, the increase was only a mild improvement. Which is why, to continue to draw more eyes, the academy would like Oscar to find room for more popcorn-type films in its diet.

"All the critics' 10-best lists have 10 films," Sherak says, explaining the logic behind the move for the March 7 ceremony. "And there have been 10 nominees in the past. Maybe it would create more interest and allow us to have more fun. Maybe a comedy or a blockbuster would be nominated. The board felt it was an idea that should be tried."

Making it easier for films such as last year's superhero smash The Dark Knight to be recognized doesn't sit well with Campion.

"It's not a popularity contest," she says. "That is box office. We have that. The Oscars should be something else. Whose decision was it? Why didn't we vote on it? Let it be a challenge for these studios rather than just expect to see Batman on the list."

To some, it feels like cheating

And what happens if, instead of a more eclectic mix of contenders, the academy simply chooses 10 small films? "Then 10 small films will be nominated," he says. "The bottom line is, we want to find ways of doing things that people are interested in. We want to do what is good for the show. If it doesn't work, we'll change it."

One voter who enthusiastically supports the five extra finalists is John Lasseter, the big cheese of animation at Pixar and Disney as well as the secretary of the board of governors. Considering the only animated feature to ever make the best-picture cut was 1991's Beauty and the Beast, he's delighted that movies like Pixar's summer hit Up– which earned ecstatic reviews – will have an easier chance of sneaking in.

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