Oscars expand playing field

On June 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a major change to the best picture category at the annual Oscar ceremonies. For the first time since 1935, the category will expand beyond the usual five nominees — it’ll spotlight 10 movies, all vying for the illustrious best picture nom.

There has been a lot of speculation in the media as to the reasons for the move (or at least there was, until a certain celebrity death took over every column inch of every entertainment publication). The Academy’s press release says they’re just trying “to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize.” The question, then, is which squeezed-out movies will now be in the running?

The best picture category is never going to include everyone’s favourites, even with the expanded scope. Genre fare like The Dark Knight tends to get the shaft, as summer popcorn fare (even exceptionally well-made popcorn fare) is often seen as beneath the Academy’s dignity. Also, animated flicks are sequestered into their own category, even when the picture in question is, in fact, the year’s best movie. If the goal is to include those movies in the list of nominees, it seems like a questionable move — they’re still not likely to win overall and they don’t exactly need the sales boost a nomination can provide.

On the other hand, there are some flicks that could benefit hugely from the change. Profoundly weird, intentionally alienating movies like Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York often have a hard time reaching that critical mass of Academy voters, who usually favour safer, more conventional picks. Ten nominees also make it that much more likely that a hidden gem will sneak through — some low-budget indie without the backing necessary to launch a major Academy Awards campaign might just stand a chance of getting nominated.

Some folks have said that the extra nominations cheapen the award (or at least the nomination), as they’re just diluting the pool of quality films. That’d be assuming that the main value of the Oscar is the prestige, though, which is only partially true. Even ignoring the huge number of film fans who consider the awards irrelevant, there’s no doubt that the ceremony can bring a movie a whole new audience — just look at Slumdog Millionaire. If the new changes can do the same thing for a handful of deserving movies, well, that seems worthwhile in itself.

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