The big news for this year’s Academy Awards is that the Oscars have gotten, well, bigger. Starting this year, there will be 10 feature films nominated in the Best Picture category. While it might have been wise to separate them into Comedy and Drama categories (as the Golden Globes do), it’s still nice to see more films getting the chance at Oscar glory.
Some have complained that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is just bowing to popularity, allowing bigger budget films (like Avatar) into the fold in the hopes that more viewers will tune in to the Academy Awards broadcast. To which I say: So freakin’ what? The purpose of the Academy is promote film. The more movies it promotes, the better. Yes, years that feature box office champs in top Oscar categories (like 1997’s Titanic or 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) do result in bigger television viewership. But it’s hard to argue that those films were undeserving of their Best Picture wins simply because they were successful films. In the 1997 race, for example, Titanic holds up far better than fellow Best Picture nominees Good Will Hunting and As Good As It Gets.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards its little golden men to the films that its members deem the most deserving films of the year. A film’s financial success (Best Picture nominee Avatar has made more than $666 million and counting) or failure (fellow nom A Serious Man pulled in less than $10 million) shouldn’t be a factor come award time.
And it’s not like the move to increase the Oscar pool is unprecedented. In the early days of the Academy Awards, it was common to nominate more than five films in the Best Picture category. In 1935, for example, there were a dozen nominees! (Mutiny on the Bounty, Captain Blood, David Copperfield, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Les Miserables, Ruggles of Red Gap and Top Hat among them.) It wasn’t until after the 1943 Academy Awards that the nominees for Best Picture were officially limited to just five.
There has been speculation, of course, that this move will simply open the floodgates to handing out more Oscar statues to popular crapola like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Out of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture back in 1943, Casablanca emerged as Best Picture. Not too shabby, eh? See, there’s still only one Best Picture statue. No matter how many films are nominated, it will still go to the year’s best picture (as decided by the members of AMPAS, anyway).
When you look at it, this year’s list of the top 10 contenders is a fine lot: a mix of popular, independent, epic and small-scale. There are science-fiction films, dramas, comedies, biopics, animated films, action flicks. It’s as good a snapshot of the 2009 box office as you could hope for, really. These are 10 very different, but very high-quality films. With luck, the 82nd Annual Academy Awards will attract the attentions of cineastes and casual film viewers alike—all coming together over their sincere love of film. So what if some are rooting for An Education, while others are rooting for The Blind Side? At least they’ve all been invited to the party.