When More is Less
Lost in a flurry of uncanny celebrity deaths a couple months ago was news that effects anyone who loves movies.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced a major change in how the Oscars are done. Now rather than five Best Picture nominees there will be ten. This is a pretty transparent attempt to boost TV ratings of the Oscar telecast. It’s also a big mistake.
For one thing, the Academy had to scrape to find five decent films to nominate for Best Picture last year. How do they expect to find ten worthy films?
Now, granted, eight months into this year it already appears like the quality of films is much better. I can think of a few deserving candidates for Best Picture already. However, having said that, I believe this move will have unforeseen detrimental effects on not only the credibility of the Oscars, but possibly the ratings of the telecast, which is what prompted the move in the first place.
First of all, I think it’s fairly obvious that when twice as many films are nominated, being a Best Picture Nominee means a lot less.
Secondly, as this interesting article states the new voting process is rather complicated, and requires voters to rank all ten of the films that are nominated in order of preference from one to ten. Will these voters even get to see ten films? Probably not. Will they rely more on hearsay? Probably. Will they put a film they hate at ten, one they love at one and randomly fill in the other spots? Who knows? Theoretically, a film that gets a massive amount of second place votes could beat out one that gets a lot of first place votes, but is polarizing or controversial (as are most great films, I might add).
So you can see the likely scenario: “And the Oscar goes to…the film that most people thought was second best.” Wonderful.
The thinking behind all this was that films that are popular favorites like last year’s THE DARK KNIGHT get snubbed every year, and less people watch the broadcast every year because they don’t have a rooting interest in any of the films nominated.
That’s one way of looking at it. Another is that ratings have declined because the broadcast is long and boring. Now we have ten films we have to spotlight before they open the dang envelope? Whah? Hunh?
Or an additional thought is part of the purpose of the Oscars is to draw attention to movies that much of the movie-loving populace would never see if they didn’t receive awards. Last year’s winner SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE being a good example.
Besides, ratings were up last year with five of the least successful films in terms of box office receipts nominated in many years. This would suggest perhaps that one of many reasons people watch the Oscars is to learn about films they intend to see, not only to root for what they’ve seen. If this weren’t true million dollar campaigns for Oscar gold wouldn’t be waged every year, because they simply wouldn’t be worth it.
This change is a concession to commerce at a time in film history where the movie’s position as art form is more vulnerable than ever. Does the Academy make mistakes? Sure, they do, but their purpose isn’t to accurately call the Best Picture every year any more than it is to get a network one night of great ratings. Their purpose in my mind is to celebrate and protect a great art form. Blurring the distinction between great and good isn’t the best way to do that.