Saturday, June 27, 2009

Five Plus Five Still Equals One Winner

Much ado has been made the past few days of AMPAS' decision to up the number of films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar from five to ten. Many have discussed the possible benefit for films like The Dark Knight, Star Trek, WALL*E, and Up. Others worry about the economic toll it will take on studios forced to produce more For Your Consideration campaigns (though that's more needless whining than anything else). Some have even responded with little more than a shrug of the shoulders, seemingly indicating a "who cares?" attitude about the change.

Personally, I have two opinions.

The first comes from a desire to see Oscar recognize more than the standard awards-bait fare. Last year, deserving movies like Rachel Getting Married, Doubt, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the aforementioned WALL*E, and yes, even the dramatically overhyped Knight were passed over in favor of the Ron Howard halftruth-ridden Frost/Nixon, mediocre Holocaust flick The Reader, and the epic disaster that was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (Note that I left Milk out; though the movie wasn't my cup of tea, I do think it probably deserved its spot in the Top Five.) Yet Ron Howard, the Holocaust, and epics are standard-bearers for the Academy, and a shaky camera-filmed character portrait like Rachel, a play-on-screen like Doubt, or the equivalent of a comedic powder keg like Vicky.

Such ignorance isn't new, either. Two years ago, Juno was the only heartwarming movie in a batch of grim, dark pieces. The year before that, both Dreamgirls and The Devil Wears Prada were left out in the cold in favor of The Letters of Iwo Jima, a somewhat surprising fifth nominee. Still, boasting foreign film cred, plus the Eastwood factor, it really shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

With ten nominees, such films become harder to ignore. That's the advantage. Still, no matter how many movies you nominate, there can only be one winner. The other films, as Heidi Klum would say, will be "out." (They would leave the runway, but they're movies. They don't have legs.)

That's where the problem lies. Some would argue that by expanding the field, the Academy is simply making the voting process more difficult for an already-apathetic voting body. As such, they are more likely to vote for the biggest name on the ballot. The Hangover for Best Picture, anyone?

The point of this system should not be to help honor unworthy films given a chance by strange circumstance, but find the singular best movie and give it the highest distinction in the land of film. This move arguably doesn't do anything to help advance that cause, only hinder the process getting there.

In the end, five plus five still equals one winner.

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