The Who2 Blog

Best Picture Oscar: Hooray for 10 Nominees!

Whatever happens at the Oscars tonight, having 10 best picture nominees is already a huge win. It’s such a relief.  It’s SO much more fun.

Adding five movies doesn’t really dilute the field, first of all.  417 movies were released in the U.S. in 2009, so with 10 total nominees we’re still above the 97th percentile.

What we gain is color, unpredictability, and that all-American theme of plucky underdogs getting their shot at the big prize. 

And what we really gain is fun.  The five-film limit always led voters to winnow the field to “important” movies, quite possibly leaving out the movies they actually enjoyed most.  Jump back 10 years and look at the Oscar lineup for best picture:

American Beauty  (winner)
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense

Ugh. Not much life there.

Well-made movies and “weighty” movies, sure. The Sixth Sense had a wow ending, at least. But when the themes of your other nominees are middle-class ennui, abortion, death row, and tobacco industry corruption, you’ve got a soporific lineup.

But!  Suppose we could go back and add five more films from that same year. Now your Oscar nominees for the best picture of 1999 are:

American Beauty
The Matrix
The Cider House Rules
The Blair Witch Project
The Green Mile
Three Kings
The Insider
Being John Malkovich
The Sixth Sense
Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo

Just kidding about Deuce Bigalow.  But you get the picture: Suddenly it’s a great year at the movies. Suddenly you can root for a picture you really liked instead of a ponderous flick that was “heavy” enough to qualify.

With that lineup, does anyone really think American Beauty takes the prize? I don’t. I bet it’s Being John Malkovich. Because with such a range of nominees, I bet voters think, “Which movie just really blew me away this year?”

You could argue that’s not a fitting way to choose the best picture.  But don’t tell me that the expanded list isn’t a lot more fun.

For proof, do the same experiment in reverse: imagine only five nominees this year.  The result would probably look like this:

The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

District 9 and Up In the Air are just the kinds of movies that got left out in the past. District 9 because it’s too independent, too “out there” (and maybe too violent), and Up in the Air because because voters knew they could reward it with nominations for screenplay and supporting actress instead.

Well, darn it, it’s more fun with those movies in there. And they deserve it.

So: well done, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences! Good call!

(Note: If The Blind Side wins, I take back this entire opinion.)

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