June 25, 2009 / 2:48 AM / 10 years ago

Oscar behind the times with best-pic makeover

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Oscar organizers’ shock announcement Wednesday that they will double the number of best picture nominees to 10 for next year’s Oscar ceremony is both a shrewd marketing move and a questionable policy change.

Most obviously — and hopefully, from the standpoint of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences — it broadens the kind of movies that could get nominated, potentially also broadening the audience for the telecast.

If the assumption was that “The Dark Knight” last year was the sixth best-picture choice and “Iron Man” wasn’t far behind, that would have meant two superhero nominees in the mix (superhero nominees with no chance of winning, but that’s another matter).

Of course if the criteria remain the same, it may just mean that there are more art-house pictures nominated (isn’t art-house what the Oscars are supposed to be about anyway?). Which means that the Academy hasn’t so much democratized with its biggest category as much as it’s given us more specialty movies.

But even assuming that the deeper pool means a different kind of movie gets in, there are still questions about what this does to the campaign process. The move will no doubt be a boon to all those outlets who benefit from Oscar dollars — including The Hollywood Reporter — as studios who normally would have taken out a few token ads and walked away might suddenly thrust themselves into the race.

But by opening up so many opportunities, it will also inject an intensity and cutthroat-ness to studio bids — the exact thing the Academy has worked so hard to stamp out over the past decade. And that’s not even taking into account the curmudgeon argument — namely, if everyone’s a winner (or nominee) is anyone really a winner?

Perhaps the biggest paradox in all this is that the shift comes at a time when it’s least necessary. Five years ago, with nearly a dozen specialty divisions of major studios cranking out scores of worthy movies, there were numerous legitimate contenders that couldn’t squeeze through Oscar’s bottleneck.

But with so many studios out of the awards business, the expansion isn’t needed. The Academy is doubling its slots at the exact moment when English-language awards movies are dwindling. This feels like a university doubling its eligible slots at the exact moment enrollment is down. Industry pundits have already been struggling to list five worthy best-picture contenders.

Anyone have a movie to pitch? The Academy is listening.

Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters

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