Analysis: Oscars takes a risky, but potentially slamdunk gamble with 10 nominees

06.24.09 8 years ago

Paramount Pictures

I have to confess, I’d heard about this potential change from five to 10 best picture nominees a few weeks ago, but my source was too close to the situation for me to reveal.  But having had time to dwell on the move, I think some of the initial rush to judgements of “worst idea ever” or “now the show will be six hours long” are a little short sighted.  Certainly, this is a dramatic change for the Oscars and will affect many aspects of the movie industry, but the positives certainly outweigh the negatives.  Let’s take a look shall we?


*It creates two horse races instead of one.  The first in the nominating process, the second during the final voting period.  The former always exists in some form, but now it’s really broadening the field.  The latter has had little drama over the past decade with 2007’s “The Departed” surprise win being the most intriguing competition during that time.  With 10 nominees, you need less votes to win (it’s not a 50% majority after all) so many years it “could” be a crapshoot.  That’s not to say there won’t be universal pics like “Titanic” or “Slumdog Millionaire” that dominate the field, but tension will fill the Kodak Theater like never before.

*It gives guys a rooting interest in the Oscars.  Yes, I said it.  What straight guy outside of the 310/323 area code really cares about the Oscars? Honestly, not that many.  And after “The Dark Knight” was dissed for a nod this past year, even more had a bitter taste in their mouth about the whole process.  In theory, this means pictures like “The Bourne Supremacy,” “Star Trek” or even comedies such as “Borat,” “Knocked Up” or “Superbad” can get the recognition they deserve.  Will that  get guys interested in the whole process? You bet.

*It may save The Los Angeles Times and the print editions of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter from obscurity.  Well, maybe for a year or two.  With the two-tier horse race nature of the campaign, many studios are going to be pressured by producers and actors to spend on ads for films they would have done quick one off’s before.  Remember the jokes you used to hear about For Your Consideration ads for films such as “The General’s Daughter” or “I Am Legend”?  The creatives behind those films won’t be happy without some major promotion in this new scenario.  This potentially means more ads which equals more revenue for the LAT’s Envelope, and both trades whose lifeblood depends on award season ads to stay afloat.  (It will only stop the bleeding for awhile, however.  In the long run, print is going to go away. It’s only a matter of time.)

*For studios, it allows the brand of “best picture nominee” to expand to more titles beyond the theatrical window.  This ads value not just for DVD, but cable, video on demand and international releases.  So, for those saying the studios “pushed” for this, that’s not true at all, but they aren’t complaining in this aspect.


*Instead of broadening the race, the older-skewing members of the Academy come up with a field that resembles the Independent Spirit Awards or the National Board of Review.  That would not make the Academy leadership, ABC nor the American public happy.

*Could it dilute the value of the “Best Picture” brand?  Certainly not for the winner, but for the nominees?  Possibly, but that hasn’t stopped every Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture from putting either the Comedy/Musical or Drama categories in as small as possible text in their advertising campaigns.  And as any studio marketing executive will tell you, the reason the Globes carry any weight at all is their ability to drive box office.

*Animated films such as “Ponyo” or “Up” still get shafted from the big race.  This would be a huge blunder by the collective Academy.  If it occurs, don’t be surprised if they eliminate the best animated feature film category next time around.

*In theory, yes, the change does potentially make the Oscar show’s runtime a tad longer, but that’s a worst case scenario.  Look for whomever produces this year’s edition to just make some cuts somewhere else.  Perhaps only one musical number this year?

Now, in hindsight, the reason for this change was clearly spurred by both “The Dark Knight,” “Gran Torino” and “WALL-E,” two of the most critically acclaimed films of 2008, not making last year’s final five.  Plus, other popular films such as “Walk the Line,” “Dreamgirls,” “Hairspray” and “Ratatouille” also missed on getting their proper due (debate that if you will).   Does this mean films such as “Star Trek,” “Avatar,” “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” (don’t laugh) or “Where the Wild Things Are” really have a shot at a nod?  All unclear.  But, boy, is it going to be fun finding out.

Look for a rundown of the 20 top best picture candidates later today.  You may be surprised who makes the list.

Are you on board with the change?  Share your thoughts below.

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