It’s not a happy day in Movieville, at least for some. Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences surrendered to the big studios. They expanded the list of Best Picture nominees from five to ten.
This you can call “The Batman Effect.” It stems from Warner Bros. abandoning all reason and trying ‘ and failing– to get “The Dark Knight” nominated for Best Picture. They went so crazy for this idea that they all but ignored Clint Eastwood’s fine “Gran Torino,” which should have gained a spot in the top five.
The rule of thumb has been for the last thirty years: blockbusters, movies based on comic books, and cartoons, not to mention sci-fi, are not Oscar worthy material. The unwritten law in Oscar land was, if you made hundreds of millions of dollars, that was reward in itself. Sometimes, a blockbuster sneaked, in, like “Lord of the Rings.” But for the last fifteen years or so, indie pictures, movies of merit with artistic integrity, vied for Oscar nominations.
These films rarely came from the big studios. And the studios didn’t like it. This past year, 20th Century Fox was upstaged by its own Fox Searchlight, which won the Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire.” In recent years, Miramax took Disney’s steam, Paramount Vantage (now deceased) did the same to big P, Focus clobbered parent Universal, and so on.
What to do? Remember a few years ago the big studios tried to stop screeners being sent to Oscar voters? The idea was that, without screeners, voters wouldn’t see the indie films. It didn’t work, and the screeners all went out.
Now what? The studios have forced the Academy to expand the list of Best Picture nominees to ten from five. If that had been the last year, “The Dark Knight” ‘ a bad, convoluted film that made scads of money ‘ would have neen nominated.
This means that this year, along with five or six well crafted Oscar-obvious films, we’re going to have some fun movies that are no more worthy of a nomination than “Dark Knight.” I’m sure the Paramount art department has already got posters ready for “Star Trek,” Fox is laying out the “Avatar” campaign as we speak, etc. I’ve no doubt the Warners marketing people are high fiving each other with grandiose expectations for “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.”
Look, it’s not going to happen. Academy voters are smarter than that. And this isn’t the Golden Globes we’re talking about. Indeed, I’m afraid the Academy has done nothing here but imitate the reviled Globes. The Academy did not expand any of the acting categories, for example. They couldn’t: those four or five extra movies don’t include award winning performances. (Chris Pine as Captain Kirk for Best Actor? No way.)
So the new expansion is simply a commercial bid to include blockbusters with the real Oscar fare. That way, on Oscar night, maybe more movie fans will tune in. This should be interesting. My guess is, it will last one season. One season of “Twilight: the New Moon” and “Zombieland” up against, say, “Precious,” “Nine,” “Shutter Island,” “Amelia,” and “The Lovely Bones” and that should bring everyone back to their senses, tout suite.