Saturday, June 18, 2011

Oscar Schizophrenia

Based on a study of the last ten years of the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences have decided to change their format yet again.  Just when the misguided idea of a top ten Best Picture line-up was starting to jell with the obsessives, a new ruling now states that their can be anywhere from five to ten nominees for Best Picture.  There's a nugget of wisdom behind this latest change, as now it's required for each nominee to earn five percent of #1 ballots in order to receive a nomination, thinking of course that with ten automatically each year, a few "lesser than" choices will slip through the cracks.  And I suppose there's the added spectacle of having to wait until nomination day to know just how films will be nominated for Best Picture.  The new ruling was formed from a study of the last decade of Oscar balloting that seemed to indicate that there were more than five "mathematically" movies that deemed worthy of the highest cinematic honor, but also with the ten that has been in the last two years of the ceremony, there might be less than ten.  Oh, what I wouldn't give to spend a couple of hours looking at their statistics...really, if any of my readers work for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, I can absolutely be trusted; just an hour...I promise.

The question is why?  Why the sudden change a mere two years after the top ten was reinstated?  And this is what worries me, for it feels after eighty-three years the Academy is unsure of itself and feels a need to respond to every criticism.  This is an institution that's supposed the highest film accolade in the land, deeply rooted in tradition, and loved or hated, the Academy sets the standard...why the sudden flaky growing pains.  Is it a response to last years line-up, or something bigger.  Last years nominees were:
  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King's Speech
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter's Bone
All in all a respectable line-up...not my top ten, but it's the Academy's top ten.  And actually a nice group of films, all which were respected both critically and commercially in their own rights.  There's hardly a feeling with last years top ten that there's an embarrassment in the mix (the winner on the other hand!), nor a major cause for an entire overhaul.  Last years ceremony was a muddled mess of execution, rightfully critically lambasted, but it hardly seems fit to undo something that the Academy fought so hard to do two years ago.

When the initial change occurred two years ago, there was instant criticism that it was a mere ratings ploy, a chance to get some blockbusters back in the mix, and unfairly or not it must have been seen a response to the snub of The Dark Knight the year before.  The Academy countered that the top ten would open slots to a more eclectic selection of films, with the hopeful inclusion of independent, animated, foreign and documentary movies.  And while two years may or may not be a big enough time-span to truly see that pan out, there's a nice sentiment (even only if was for press purposes) to that idea.  But the idea of now going for a short lived format to a seemingly anything goes format seems even a bit more desperate, like the Academy is willing to jettison nearly anything now to impress it's detractors...for example the animated feature category now can have from two to five nominees each year, having to pass the "quality" litmus test of its members.

The strange thing is that the Academy, even back when there were only five Best Picture nominees, still nominated the same type of Academy-based movies.  Widening or shortening the list still won't account for taste.  Perhaps The Blind Side (2009) wouldn't have received a Best Picture nomination without ten that so much better or worse than Frost\Nixon (2008) or Chocolat (2000) receiving one with only five slots?  And perhaps a wonderful, if hard-to-sell indie like Winter's Bone (2010) wouldn't have made it in last year without the cushion, would it now?

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