The 86th Annual Academy Awards are almost here, and with it comes the fifth year of the Best Picture nominees list being expanded to a maximum potential of 10 films. But even after quite a few years with this idea in place, it still doesn’t seem natural. After all, there is still only one winner. And while some well-deserving films will be remembered for years, not all of these movies will stay in the minds of viewers years from now.
There have been many reasons given as to why the field was expanded to 10 – honoring deserving films, eliminating snub complaints, boosting the ticket sales of more films due to nominations – but none really seem necessary. Films that deserve love will find it, snubs will always be around no matter how many nominees there are, and Best Picture nominations tend not to have a huge impact on nominees’ ticket sales, especially those that are at the bottom of the list.
And it is typically very obvious to tell which films have been included out of posterity, not because they are true contenders. Even people that don’t follow all the details of the Oscar race can usually pick out which are likely to win and which are not. Did a film like Beasts of the Southern Wild really have a shot at beating Argo in 2012? Most people didn’t think so. Especially Academy voters. That doesn’t mean that those films do not deserve praise, but something like Amour won’t be remembered years from now because it was one of the nine films nominated for Best Picture in 2012.
Speaking of nine, 2014 is the third year in a row where only nine films have been nominated for Best Picture out of the possible 10 slots. Voters can’t seem to find the passion or necessity to fill out all 10 slots on the ballot, so why is this a possibility? Not that there are not 10 films worthy of a Best Picture nomination in any of these years – many have said Inside Llewyn Davis got snubbed real hard. But it seems like there is a lack of excitement surrounding the four extra films that get in under the wire.
Altogether, it feels like a Best Picture nomination carries less weight now more than ever. Sure, winning the award is still a big deal, but being only nominated seems to be forgotten fairly quickly. Remember when Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture in 1991? It became the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture until Up was nominated in 2009. But did you remember that Up was nominated? Probably not, because there were 10 total films in the category that year. If there had been only five and it was still nominated, that would have been huge! Now, that honor feels diminished, just like it did with the nomination for Toy Story 3 in 2010, with neither of these films feeling like true contenders in the race.
And The Nominees Are …
Just looking at the last few years, there are quite a few movies that, if not completed faded from memory themselves, have had their nominations forgotten.
An Education – Something about British people falling in love during the 1960s. Ask your local hipster for more details.
A Serious Man – The Coen Brothers’ awkward tale of Jewish guilt and calamity. One of their quirkiest films and probably the least accessible to general moviegoers and Coen fans alike.
The Blind Side – A feel-good sports movie that’s more well known for some of its acting performances than the quality of the film itself. Lost to The Hurt Locker, a great movie that most have never seen.
District 9 – I love District 9, but looking back over old nominations, I was totally surprised remembering that this made the list in 2009! A well-loved sci-fi film whose nomination was not really taken seriously.
Up in the Air – A comedy-drama centered on a wandering corporate man trying to find his place in the world. Strong performance and writing, but not enough to stir up lasting devotion.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – A solid adaptation and enough emotion to cause discussion, but not nearly good enough to become an alternative to Jonathan Safran Foer’s original novel.
True Grit – The Coens retell one of John Wayne’s most famous films with a very offbeat Jeff Bridges at the center. Enough to keep the Western genre on life support. Not enough to reach the annals of the genre’s classic films.
Then again, there have been forgettable Best Picture nominees since the beginning of these awards. Remember these nominees from the past 20 years? Or ever heard of them in the first place?
The Reader, Babel, Seabiscuit, In the Bedroom, Secrets & Lies, Scent of a Woman, The Prince of Tides, The Godfather Part III
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the category of Best Picture will never be a true barometer of what the best movies in a single year really are. But widening the pool of candidates doesn’t really elevate all the candidates to the same level as the original five, it waters down the prestige of being a Best Picture candidate.
The Academy won’t be changing its mind on the issue any time soon, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t honor great works of art that are not given proper due.