After The Dark Knight was omitted from the list of Best Pictures nominees at the Academy Awards in 2009, the long-running “five nominees only” rule was adjusted, in deference to the fact that a comic book movie was actually great. The playing field was widened to include first ten films, then up to ten films, depending on the percentage of votes it received in a voting process that didn’t seem that complicated, but befuddled all those people who thought The Blind Side was one of the best films of that year. Well, after years of this mucking around, the Academy is ready to bring the nominees back down to only five movies each year.
The expansion was initially done with the hope that a wider range of films would bring in a bigger audience for the telecast, as well as allow the Academy to recognize some of the commercially successful films with a broader appeal that otherwise might be snubbed in favor of arthouse fare. (Because if there’s one thing the Academy Awards are famous for, it’s rewarding the most challenging and abstract films of the year.) But unfortunately for the Oscars, those damned Academy members decided to double-down on their precious “artistic relevance,” and nominate even more limited releases. Using this year as an example, only American Sniper was a wide release, with all others being specialty division pictures, including eventual winner Birdman. Will no one think of Into The Woods?
The cumulative box office grosses of the Best Picture nominees has decreased markedly over the past six years, going roughly from “all the money” the year Avatar was nominated, to just 12 dollars this year for the two matinee tickets sold in Iowa to an elderly couple curious about Boyhood. Combined with the fact that viewership for the ceremony was down 15 percent this year, some are pushing to again restrict the number to five. They argue that the expansion has watered down the prestige of a nomination, because prior to this change Best Picture only went to perfect films like A Beautiful Mind. They also complain that it has extended the length of the Oscars telecast, because again, it was always smooth sailing and over in twenty minutes prior to this alteration.
Defenders are expected to argue that changing it back would actually erode the audience for the Oscars even further. Oh, and also some bullshit about artistic merit, it’s not a horse race, worthy art should be the goal, blah blah blah. So far the Academy has not yet hit upon the surefire audience-boosting tactic of assassinating the losing nominees live on stage, but presumably that’s forthcoming.