This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made a couple of announcements that will, perhaps, shape the future of the Oscars. A couple of years ago, the Academy decided to go back to its roots and expand the Best Picture category from five nominated films to 10. The idea was that this move would help improve the telecast’s ratings by allowing films with a wider viewership and fan-base have a better shot at grabbing a nomination. (There was a bit of an Internet uproar when high-grossing films like The Dark Knight and Wall-E were snubbed from the Best Picture race in 2009.)
During the 1998 ceremony, ratings were huge because most people had seen Titanic, the one film that stood a shot at scoring big that night—and it did. The film had such a large following that those fans were glued to their TV screens to watch Titanic‘s smooth sailing towards the Best Picture prize. Since then, arguably no nominated film has achieved the same level of interest (except for, maybe, Avatar), and the Oscars’ lagging ratings have reflected this. Now, the vast majority of nominated films are indie darlings that don’t have the same type of national or international distribution as their big-budget counterparts. So what does this mean? Fewer eyeballs. Fewer people watch the films that are nominated, and if they’re not familiar with the films that are nominated, there’s no good reason to tune into the Oscars. (And fashion is not a good reason.)
So this week, the Academy announced it is amending the two-year-old 10 nominee “rule” in the Best Picture category. Upon its re-implementation two years ago, someone had to know that nominated films The Blind Side and District 9 stood absolutely no chance of winning the award. So here’s the question: if the point of expanding the category is to increase interest by recognizing more types of movies, is the Academy doing those nominated films any favors when it’s abundantly clear from the get-go that they stand no chance of winning? In that case, isn’t the recognition more of a “pity nomination,” and who wants that?
So the new rule: rather than a fixed set of 10 nominees, the Best Picture race will feature between five and 10 nominated films, and no one will know how many films will ultimately be nominated until they are announced in January. And that number can change each year. Point being, if a film doesn’t deserve a nomination, it won’t get one. Period. (Click here for more information on the specifics of this new rule, as well as new decisions made on other categories, including Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects.)
This is a wise move on the part of the Academy because it heightens the sense of competition among only the most viable films. Only the worthy will get to compete for the top prize, and so that award’s luster sparkles even more greatly, because it’s worth more. The winning film will enjoy knowing it beat out only the most worthy. This move also recognizes that in any given year, there can be more than five films deserving of a nomination. This still leaves the door open for the Dark Knights and Wall-Es, but doesn’t automatically honor them because of their popularity. In the end, quality is king. If Wall-E gets nominated, it knows it’s because it’s a great film, not because it grossed hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Academy’s second announcement this week is its annual invitation of new members into its voting ranks. This year, it’s evident that the Academy is trying to appeal to a younger audience with invitations extended to actors Ellen Page, Jennifer Lawrence, Rooney Mara, Mia Wasikowska, Beyoncé Knowles, Jesse Eisenberg, and Russell Brand, among several others. (Click here for a list of all 178 invitees.) There’s something to be said about offering automatic membership into the elite organization to past Oscar winners and nominees (though I don’t believe this is a current practice), but I’m a bit surprised by some of these selections, as I don’t feel all invitees are necessarily worthy yet of this honor. Rooney Mara? She’s a talented actress, but she’s barely established. (Let’s talk again after David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens this December.)
It’s great the Academy is opening its doors to younger members with (perhaps) a fresher perspective, but this honor should be reserved for the established and most worthy (just like the Best Picture-nominated films). There are plenty of young talents who have proven themselves in more than just a couple of movies. Invite them, and let the others wait it out a few years. But hey, that’s just me.