I am not one of those curmudgeonly old-timers (even though I seem to spot more gray in my whiskers daily) who thinks everything, including movies, was better back when.
But I have to say I think the idea of having 10 Best Picture nominees at the Oscars, instead of the normal five, is crazy.
Let's face it: Most years the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has to struggle to come up with five legitimate contenders for the top award. Usually, there's a clear winner, one or two contenders, and a couple of nominees that have no chance of winning.
Padding out the list with five more wannabes is just going to dilute the honor of being nominated for the film industry's top prize.
Let's take the awards just given out a few months ago. "Slumdog Millionaire" was the clear favorite, and ended up winning. "The Reader" was considered the dark horse candidate, with "Benjamin Button" on the outside looking in. "Frost/Nixon" and "Milk" were hangers-on.
Now, I happen to think 2008 was a better-than average movie year. Here was my top 10 list, as published in December:
- Slumdog Millionaire
- The Reader
- Marley & Me
- Iron Man
- Frozen River
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Still, can you see the Academy nominating "Iron Man" and "Marley & Me"? I think not. And "Boy" and "Changeling" had wildly varied critical receptions.
The only possible benefit I can see to this change is if the Academy frees up its stranglehold on letting animated, documentary and foreign language films competing in the Best Picture category, in addition to their own. Even though several animated movies deserved to vie for the top prize in recent years ("Finding Nemo" and "Wall·E," notably), rules and tradition kept them out.
But mostly what I think will happen is that we'll see a whole lot of drek getting Best Picture nominations. It reminds me of 1991, one of the weakest years ever, when "Bugsy" and "Prince of Tides" -- two mediocre dramas -- got nods.
It's true that back in the 1930s and '40s, it was common for there to be up to 10 Best Picture nominations. But let's face it, 2009 is not 1939.
In 1939, you could have gotten to 10 legitimate Best Picture nominations, and kept going. ("Gone with the Wind," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "The Wizard of Oz," "Dark Victory," "Drums Along the Mohawk," "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "Gunga Din," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Love Affair," "Ninotchka," "Of Mice and Men," "Only Angels Have Wings," "Stagecoach," "Wuthering Heights," "Young Mr. Lincoln," "The Rules of the Game.")
For 2009, so far I see two or three Best Picture contenders, and shaky ones at that: "The Soloist," "Up" and "Adventureland." The first and last died at the box office, and had critical receptions that were all over the place. So halfway through the year, that leaves us with one clear Best Picture nominee -- and that's assuming they allow for flexibility in letting animated films compete.
Do you really think we're going to find nine more films this year worthy of a Best Picture nod? I think not.