Not since Casablanca won the Best Picture Oscar on March 2, 1944, a mere 65 years ago, has the Academy nominated ten films in its top category. Last week’s announcement of Oscar’s return to ten Best Picture contenders has aroused much discussion, which must have been the overall intention, actually getting people to talk about the telecast (aside from simply complaining about how hopelessly bad it is). I think this is just the kind of stunt that may be a shot in the arm for the tired old Oscars, something that isn’t wearily familiar. The best moments of last February’s Oscars were the surprising appearances of five former Oscar winners presenting each of the acting awards, a never-before brainstorm that worked beautifully. Perhaps next year’s show will also be able to benefit from a novelty (at least for the TV-age Oscars), that of ten best-pic nominees. But won’t that also bog the show down, with five more movies to pay attention to?
For those who think that ten nominees will pollute the system, all I can say is, “Are you kidding me?” The Oscars have only marginally been about rewarding the year’s best. They were (and are) first and foremost a promotional device, and then a self-congratulatory means for the industry to decide each year how it would like to represent itself to the world (often as a vessel of high-minded values, sensitivities, and diversity). It would take a lot more than five additional nominees to alter the “integrity” of a glamorous party festooned with gold trinkets.
Many feel that this all stems from the omission of The Dark Knight from the most recent slate of Best Picture selections, since it was last year’s one blockbuster which actually went into the race’s run-up with some momentum. (I thought it was just about the most unpleasurable summer movie I have ever seen, aside from Heath Ledger’s great performance, and was glad to see it snubbed.) But do people really choose not to watch the Oscars when something like The Dark Knight isn’t included? You either are an Oscar watcher or you aren’t. Anyway, the impulse behind the change is to include more movies seen by the general public, instead of making Oscar night a telethon for independent movies. But, seriously, when was the last time you thought to yourself, “Oh, if only they could nominate five more movies!” I usually can’t come up with five. Yes, if this were 1939, a year in which they conceivably could have nominated 25 movies, or perhaps 1941, 1946, 1950, or 1962, but they don’t make ten great movies a year nowadays and haven’t for decades! So, what can we look forward to next year? Nominations for Star Trek and The Hangover? But is this really any more ludicrous than Best Picture of the Year going to Forrest Gump, Crash , Titanic, or Million Dollar Baby? And Slumdog Millionaire ain’t exactly On the Waterfront. Is this really a process that can be ”tainted”?
So, now we will have five decoy nominees sneaking in among the “real” nominees. Add five blockbusters, fine, but be careful you don’t end up merely with five more movies nobody saw. Then what? On to 15?
Then came word that Best Song will only be awarded if there are any songs deemed good enough to warrant having nominees at all, making Best Song an occasional award. Why beat a dead horse? This award should have been dropped entirely somewhere around 1970. It was a category first instituted in 1934 when the Academy realized that Broadway’s greatest composers were also doing great work in Hollywood, adding to the Great American Songbook, something that went on for the next twenty years or so. It was an award that stemmed from the phenomenal output of songs from original movie musicals, a genre that died by the end of the fifties. Yet the award crept on. Yes, there have been some great Oscar-winning tunes in the last forty years, just not enough of them to warrant a Best Song category at this late date. Put it out of its misery. And then we never have to hear another one of them sung on the telecast!!!
And what’s this about presenting honorary Oscars in November? Movie legends will not be given their moment on the main broadcast? Can this be true? Is this to make room for those clips from the additional picture nominees?
Go ahead, Academy, do what you feel you must to give a dead awards show a jolt, even if the odds are heavily against next year’s winner being another Casablanca.