Poor Hugh Jackman. Assuming he’s asked to host next year’s Oscars awards, he’ll have to sing and dance his way through 10 films nominated for best picture. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that the number of nominees for best picture will be expanded from five to 10 films. The Academy noticed that ratings went up when the ceremony producers paid more attention to films that weren’t nominated for best picture but were popular with filmgoers.
As Michael Cieply points out, between 1931 and 1943 the Academy generally nominated 10 films for best picture. There’s nothing magical about five nominees. Five seemed about the right number when Hollywood’s output fell below 100 films a year during the 1970s. Production levels are now around 300 per year.
The Oscars will now be like the NBA playoffs, which were expanded so that more cities had a rooting interest in the playoffs. The worry is that that the larger number of nominees will dilute the value of a best picture nomination, which has been in decline recently. The Academy argues that a wider variety of films will be nominated–films like Wall-E and The Dark Knight and, who knows, maybe a Judd Apatow comedy.
How this expanded shortlist of best pictures will work out is anyone’s guess. One clue may be the best foreign language film category. Here five nominees seem like too many considering the small number of people who have actually seen the films. Most years only one or two foreign films make any impact on the broader American consciousness. Consequently, this category is generally considered to be the hardest to predict. No one predicted Departures would win in 2009, primarily because no one in the US had seen it. Surprises can be good sometimes, especially if they bring attention to worthwhile films–like Departures. Generally, though, surprises are not good. Remember when Crash won over Brokeback Mountain?
The problem with the best picture category isn’t that too few films are nominated. Instead, the problem is that the same kind of film is nominated. Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Reader were all well-crafted, generally (The Reader aside) noble films–and artistically timid affairs. They seemed made to be nominated rather than to be enjoyed. Only Slumdog Millionaire had any verve and daring. Slumdog‘s triumph aside, in the past variety has only revealed the narrowness of the Academy.