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July 14, 2009

The Academy Awards Try To Make Up For "The Dark Knight"

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Lunch_OscarStatue_325 It took Batman to bring the Academy to its knees.  Next year the 82nd annual Academy Awards will have ten Best Picture Nominees.  You know whose fault that is?  Batman's.  Or rather last year's Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," starring Christian Bale and Academy Award winner Heath Ledger. 

Because Academy voters weren't hip enough to nominate the very worthy "Dark Knight" for Best Picture instead of say that hideously overrated "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," the Academy's gone off the deep cinematic end and decided to have ten Best Picture nominees next year.  

Academy President Sid Ganis was quoted in the Academy's press release:

Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize.  I can't wait to see what that list of ten looks like when the nominees are announced in February.

That means instead of just five movies with promotional campaigns that cost millions of dollars, there'll be ten.  Film fanatics who want to see all the Best Picture nominees in the month between the nominations on February 2nd and the awards on March 7th will have to hustle.  Late night talk shows will be inundated with twice the number of filmmakers and stars trying to plug their Oscar-bait.

But don't be fooled, dear movie buffs.   As Julia Boorstin of CNBC's Media Money says, the "Oscar Increase, About the Money, Not the Movies:"

Though this is a throwback to the 1940s, when the Academy often nominated ten films, this isn't at all about history and sentimentality. It's all about revenues and driving eyeballs to watch the event. Over the past few years ratings for the big event have dropped, which means less ad revenue for ABC [DIS 22.70 0.29 (+1.29%) ], which broadcasts the event, and lower broadcast fees for the Academy. The goal here is to get a bigger, broader moviegoing audience interested in the event by including films they've seen. 

The last time a real blockbuster was nominated as Best Picture was "Titanic" and as Ms. Boorstin points out

It's no coincidence that 1998 when Titanic -- the biggest movie of all time-- won best picture, was the year the Oscars had the highest ratings ever.

The more people who are invested in the nominated movies, the higher the ratings for the Oscar telecast.  If the Academy keeps nominating movies that only five people have seen, only those five people and a couple of fashionistas are going to watch.  

"The Dark Knight" to date has made over 1 billion dollars worldwide and is number four on the all time worldwide box office list.  Can you imagine the ratings of this year's ABC Oscar telecast if "The Dark Knight" had been nominated as Best Picture?  They easily would have been through the roof.

So the Academy is thinking, not only will some blockbusters have the chance to get recognized with the newly minted five slots, but some comedies as well.  We all know how allergic the Academy is to comedies.  Even good comedies like, "Four Weddings and a Funeral," or "Austin Powers International Man Of Mystery" or "Thirteen Going On Thirty" or "Night at the Museum."

At first I ragged on the Academy like everyone else, saying this was a bad idea, but I've since changed my mind.  I just think ten nominees is extreme.  Six or eight would have been plenty, but I think they chose the number ten for the shock value alone.  Honestly, it's hard enough for them to pick five decent movies in some years, much less ten. 

Do we really want to see "Year One" nominated as Best Picture?  Or "Scary Movie 7?"  Or "Saw 6?" Okay, those last two I made up, but you get what I mean.

Meredith at Adverbial Warfare had the same thought:

Last weekend, we scanned the movie listings and there was not one single movie that we wanted to see, even at our independent/foreign movie house. We finally settled on Food, Inc., because at least we'd learn something. So, Hollywood, what's going to happen when you're churning out so many crap movies that you can't even muster 10 worthy flicks for the Academy's consideration, and then through a fluke split in the voting, The Hottie and the Nottie is walking away with the golden statue? 

She breaks down the ten nominations this way:

I predict that in the field of 10, there will be 1 animation, 1 action (low-budget), 1 action (big-budget), 1 quirky comedy, 1 movie with a majority non-Caucasian cast, 1 historical drama (WWII), 1 historical drama (non-WWII), 1 drama (Baby Boomer appeal), 1 drama (Gen X appeal), and 1 totally wacked indie with a twisty narrative structure.

Mary at Freedom Eden thinks the whole idea devalues a Best Picture nomination:

If the board believes that having 10 Best Picture nominees will help to avoid controversy and allow for the inclusion of movies popular with the public that are usually overlooked for the more artistic types, then I think it's a cheap stunt.

This move waters down the honor of a Best Picture nomination, such that it is. It's muddying the field.

Delia at Real Delia is concerned about smaller movies getting lost in the shuffle:

I, for one, am saddened by the change. I love these small, iconoclastic Indy films. I fear that if we dilute their influence at the Oscars, we will only further dilute their influence at the cinemas, which is already waning. And that's a real loss.

Sasha Stone of Awards Daily disagrees:

Best means best, whether it is in the Oscar genre or not. This is a way for the Academy to mature and evolve, and thank god they have the good sense to do that. The other option is digging their heels in to prove they've been right all along (it's the pictures that got small). A new world of media means a new Academy; a new audience could mean that we are not honoring "Oscar movies," but great films, plain and simply.

I sort of agree with Ms. Stone, but my other problem?  Let's say you nominated "The Dark Knight" last year in one of those newly minted Best Picture slots.  And suppose Christopher Nolan the writer/director wasn't nominated for either writing or directing because there are still only five slots for those.  How fair would that have been?

The upside though, movies like this year's very good "Star Trek" is getting some Oscar buzz and rightfully so.  

Melissa Silverstein at Women and Hollywood wants to know how this expansion may affect women.  She quotes several women in her post about the change including Gale Ann Hurd, producer of The Terminator, The Abyss and Punisher: War Zone:

I'm delighted the Academy has made this decision - now lesser known indie films, strong dramas or musicals, and even powerful commercial films (like this year's STAR TREK) will receive the recognition they deserve with a nomination

What do you think?  Good idea, bad idea?

Related Links:

My podcast interview with Julia Boorstin from last year about Money and Media.


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