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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Who's the loser in the latest Oscar best picture shake-up?

James_franco After spending two years promoting its effort to enlarge the best picture field to 10 nominees, the motion picture academy finally has acknowledged the obvious--there aren't ever, ever, never-ever going to be 10 serious best picture nominees. The new system, announced Tuesday  night, requires that a film receive at least 5% of the first place votes in the first round of balloting to receive a best picture nomination.

The academy, which usually treats its voting records with CIA-like secrecy, actually admitted that a study it commissioned had determined that if the new 5% rule had been in effect between 2001 and 2008, there would never have been a year when 10 films made the cutoff. Some years there would have been as few as five nominees; other years six, seven, eight or nine. But never 10.

Let's face it. The best picture race is a wonderful marketing tool for films that need the extra Oscar boost to draw adult audiences into the theaters. Studios spend like drunken sailors all fall to nab a best picture nomination, because it often results in a significant box-office bump for an art-house or specialty division picture that otherwise wouldn't be on most moviegoers' radar screens. But having covered the Oscars for way too many years, I can assure you that the vast majority of the best picture nominees are also-rans from the moment the nominations are made public.

The 2011 Oscars were a two-movie horse race between "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network"
from the start. There were only two films in serious contention in 2010--"The Hurt Locker" vs. "Avatar." In 2009, there wasn't a real race at all--"Slumdog Millionaire" was an obvious winner months before the nominations were even announced. "No Country for Old Men" was a consensus pick early on, with only a smattering of competition from "Juno." In 2007, "The Departed" pulled away from the field early on. There was a lively horse race in 2006, but it was always between two films--"Crash" and "Brokeback Mountain." Ditto for 2005, which had a two-movie rivalry--"Million Dollar Baby" vs. "The Aviator."

I could go on, but you get the point. By the time the academy announces its best picture nominees, the field is already pretty well separated into one or two serious contenders--and a host of films that are happy just to hear their names called out, knowing that having that "best picture nominee" label on their ads will give them some juice with reluctant moviegoers. So what the academy has done won't really have any  major impact on the best picture race, simply on the number of films that might benefit from the Oscar pedigree.

Who does it hurt the most? No one knows for sure, but I'd guess that the smaller indie films are the ones most likely to be left out, since they are the ones that have the biggest uphill struggle to persuade Oscar voters to watch their screeners. The academy wouldn't reveal how many films received more than 5% of first-place best picture votes in 2011 or 2010, the two years that have featured ten nominees. But under the new rule, I'd bet that there might have only been eight 2011 best picture nominees, with "127 Hours" and "Winter's Bone" not making the cut. In 2010, there might have only been seven nominees, with "An Education," "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" and "District 9" not receiving enough first-place votes.

Even if it turned out that some of the big, successful studio films were left out--like "The Blind Side" or "Inception"--it would hardly be a disaster, since those films didn't need the best picture stamp of approval anyway, having already made their money in the marketplace long before the nominations were announced. If anyone tells you this will hurt a deserving film, please advise them to take a chill pill. It's simply the academy's way of thinning out the pack, pushing aside a couple of also-rans and helping its members focus on the real priority in Oscar life, which is reading all of the breathless media speculation about who's up and who's down.

Come Feb. 26, when someone opens the best picture envelope, there will still only be one winner's name inside.



-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: James Franco, left, with Anne Hathaway, the co-hosts of the 83rd Academy Awards. Credit: Bob D'Amico/ABC

Comments () | Archives (3)

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It will hurt ABC, it will hurt the TV viewers, it will add to the downward spiral of the Oscars. Using the Oscars as an advert just means people won't even skip it on Tivo - they just won't watch it in the first place. If nobody watches, and if nobody cares, how does that help next year's WINTER'S BONE?

The Oscars need to be relevant again, important again. The only way to do that is go back to basics: *Only* studio release films. The Indie films already have their own awards - the Spirits. Or maybe split Best Picture into a third categorey - Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Picture, Best Independent Picture. That way, the movies the TV audience cares about get in the race, and the show will be watched, and the awards will mean something.

@ Bill
The awards will mean something if only "studio" releases are nominated for Best Pic. That's the biggest bout of baloney I've read today. So we would be looking at TRANSFORMERS 3 for Best Pic? That's really going to improve the quality of the awards.

I agree WINTER'S BONE didn't belong on there, if only because I didn't care for the film. But where do you draw the line of what's indie and what's studio? Does Focus Features and Fox Searchlight count as indie or studio? Where do BLACK SWAN and TREE OF LIFE fall?

The "Best" films of the year should compete for Best Pic, and the new 5% rule will help weed out the WINTER'S BONE type films that don't belong there.

I don't get why having some movies that are just happy to be nominated for Best Picture is such a bad thing. This is kind of like saying that the NBA is going to stop announcing Third Team and Second Team All NBA players because none of them have a chance to be MVP. Pau Gasol was happy to be Second Team All NBA this year even though he had no chance to be MVP.


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