The Academy Awards’ bold decision to double the field to ten picture nominees instead of five was a surprise. Yet whether the move will succeed and benefit the film industry as a whole remains to be seen, writes Conor Dignam, editor of Screen International.
Good news: the chances of getting your film nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards doubled this week. Bad news: if you are nominated, you’ll be on a list with nine other films - and the value of the nomination has, for some, been diminished.
“We must also hope that moving to 10 nominees means greater opportunities for documentaries, foreign-language films and independent films”
The industry was left wondering this week whether or not this was a positive move, after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ampas) decided 10 features will now battle it out in the Best Picture category.
Those who welcomed the move believe it is a much-needed shot in the arm for the film industry, with plenty of upside for film-makers. Producers Guild of America president Marshall Herskovitz, a former nominee for Traffic, said he didn’t think it devalued the nominees list and that there were years when more than five films could easily justify their place on the shortlist. He, like many other producers, will see it as an opportunity.
The ‘bad news’ camp think it will take some of the shine off the Oscar when it comes to a best picture nomination - and has probably been forced on the Academy by greedy network TV executives who want to boost audiences for the live awards show.
One source told Screen this was all about finding new ways to attract audiences to the ABC broadcast. Certainly the average audience of 32 million viewers across the three-hour show was down this year to its lowest level -falling even below the 33 million who watched back in 2003. But that’s still a massive audience by any standards, attracting premium advertising revenue for spots around the awards for ABC’s primetime coverage.
ABC’s executives might have talked about how more popular box-office hits can make it into the show, but the real pressure for this change is far more likely to have come from within the industry itself. Academy members have a tendency to reject some excellent films each year, often because they are too ‘commercial’, or come from a genre which is not regarded as sufficiently important to win a Best Picture nomination.
That is not to quibble with the nominations for last year. Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader,Slumdog Millionaireand The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button all made their own case for inclusion. They are also all the kind of ‘serious’ and ‘worthy’ films that Academy members seem comfortable putting into the Best Picture category.
But other candidates could have included The Dark Knight, a critical and commercial success that one suspects didn¹t make the cut because it was based on a comic-book character; along with the likes of Wall-E, a delightful film but animation historically doesn’t make it in to the Best Picture category.
Add in Doubt, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Wrestler - all of which failed to make the cut - and you still have an impressive shortlist. We must also hope that moving to 10 nominees means greater opportunities for documentaries, foreign-language films and independent films. The hope is that a longer list of nominees will better reflect the range of outstanding films made each year, and watched by audiences around the world.
And, most importantly, a nomination will help all those films in terms of box office and marketing, and support the film industry at a difficult time.
The success or failure of the move will depend on the films that make it on to the nominees list. This is a bold experiment. Let’s hope Academy voters are equally bold in their choices.