Oscar Doubles Its Best Picture Pleasure

By Jeff Pfeifferoscar

In an announcement today, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Sid Ganis stated that the 82nd Academy Awards, which will be held March 7 of next year (and broadcast on ABC once again), will have 10 feature films vying in the Best Picture category — twice the usual five we have been accustomed to for over half a century.

“After more than six decades,” said Ganis, “the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year. The final outcome, of course, will be the same — one Best Picture winner — but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009.”

For you purists who argue against such changes (and who may still be against the addition of the wild card in baseball) and who believe this is a cynical move related to business … well, it likely is a business move. A film’s audience is usually boosted by a Best Picture nominee, and if Hollywood can get people going out to twice as many movies in January-March as they have been, they’re going to try.

But in this case the move is also not without historical precedent. In Oscar’s early days, the Best Picture category regularly offered more than five nominees. There were nine times when the category featured 10 contenders (the 16th awards ceremony in 1943 was the last to feature a field of that size, with Casablanca coming out on top). In 1931 and ’32 there were eight nominees, and in 1934 and ’35 there were 12 nominees.

Of course, it’s easy to have 10 nominees in a year like 1939, for example, when you have the likes of Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Love Affair, Of Mice and Men and Goodbye, Mr. Chips hitting theaters within a 12-month span. There have been some years, especially recently, when it seems like it may have been hard to fill out five. Hopefully in those cases the aura of the nomination and the award will not be diminished by putting in dubious titles to stretch it out to 10. I know they’ll never get crazy enough to put something like Transformers 2 there just to fill space, but when we start talking about those movies that walk the fine line between being just good as opposed to great, that’s where the award’s legitimacy may eventually come into question. Perhaps they should just leave the category open. Instead of simply saying, “We’re going to have 10 nominees,” wait until the year in question is over, then determine the titles that might qualify. You might end up with five, maybe 10, maybe eight, who knows?

Ganis added that, “Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize. I can’t wait to see what the list of 10 looks like when the nominees are announced in February.”

Neither can I.

What do you think? Good or bad to expand the nominations to 10? Any films you’ve seen so far that you think could be nominated?