The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has, in its infinite wisdom, decided to double the number of Best Picture nominations to 10. This is presumably their response to their completely moronic snubbing of the sublime Dark Knight for a nom last year, but more accurately a response to the plummeting ratings the Oscar telecasts are experiencing.
Of course, the reason Dark Knight didn’t garner a nomination wasn’t because there were five better movies (in fact, I think there were zero better films last year), it’s the the Academy is a batch of snobs who like to pretend that Hollywood still makes five great and/or important films every year. They don’t.
Frankly, most of the time the five nominations contain at least a couple of ‘huhs?’ as the Academy diligently works to nominate films sans any tawdy consideration of whether anyone was interested in seeing them or not. In fact, that understates it: The Dark Knight snubbing indicates that they currently hold it against a film if Joe Public was actually buying tickets to see it.
The studios aren’t happy about the change. An Oscar already means less than it ever did at the box office, and now they’re diluting it even more, and by some large multiple. Adding five more Frost/Nixons, The Readers and Milks is hardly going to earn the eventual prizewinner more glory.
It should be noted that back in the ’30s, the Academy regularly nominated a large slate of films, sometimes as many as a dozen. Of course, Hollywood made a lot more movies back in then. And oh yeah, a lot more great and iconic ones. When Gone With the Wind won the 1939 statuette, it beat The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninochka, Of Mice and Men, and Wuthering Heights.
The 11th and last nominee that year was the now largely forgotten Love Affair. That means that out of 11 nominees, 10 are still considered beloved classics seventy years later. (And there were several other all-time classics made that year, such as Destry Rides Again, Charles Laughton’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Rules of the Game, The Roaring Twenties, The Women, Young Mr. Lincoln and Gunga Din, that didn’t even get nominated.) Whether anybody will still be revering even a single film nominated by the Academy in the last four or five years remains to such an extent more than a bit doubtful.
There was a time when Hollywood made great films that also had mass appeal. Dark Knight was a rare modern example of that, which made the Academy passing over it all the more retarded. In the entire 2000s so far, only four nominees (of 40 films) were big hits. Of those, three were the individual chapters of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the other was 2000′s Gladiator, made nearly a decade ago now).
Let’s look back at the ’70s: Patton, Love Story, Airport, The French Connection, Fiddler on the Roof, The Godfather, Cabaret, The Sting, The Exorcist, Godfather II, Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, Jaws, Rocky, Network, Star Wars. And those are just the monster hits.
Note I’m not saying that popularity should be enough to earn an Oscar nomination, and yes, Towering Inferno, for instance, looks a bit silly as a Best Picture nomination. The larger point is, though, that Hollywood once made great films that also appealed to mass audiences. Now that seems to happen, at best, once or twice a decade.
Nominating five more weak sisters every year certainly isn’t going to change that.