With the announcement of the Academy Awards nominees this morning (who knew?), particularly in the newly-expanded (ten, up from five) list of Best Picture nominees, one thing is now apparent: The Academy Award is no longer an award; it’s a certificate of appreciation; and the show itself is no longer about competition, but recognition. It’s a pity that David Letterman doesn’t host this show anymore, because the Best Picture race is now little more than one of his Top Ten lists.*
*Yes, I know that back in the early days of the Oscars the Best Picture list was larger – as many as twelve movies some years. Of course, that was also in the days when you had movies such as Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz, and Stagecoach getting nominations in the same year. Maybe it’s a little different now, I don’t know. You be the judge.
For example, there are some nice movies on that list. A few thrills, a few laughs, a good investment of your entertainment dollar. But in all honesty, is there any way that District 9 or The Blind Side can be considered serious contenders to win? No. Avitar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, maybe Up as an upset special. Those are the serious contenders, and I think everyone knows it.
But that’s not the point for the rest of these movies. Now they can bill themselves as “Best Picture Nominees” and be happy with their share of Oscar-night glory. A little cachet, some nice horn tooting, and bragging rights for the people involved. (“I worked on a Best Picture nominee!”)
This isn’t to suggest that every movie nominated in past years was a serious contender to win. There were years when you had the feeling the Academy had to scramble to come up with even five nominees. And there were other times when the outcome was pretty much assured even before the nominations were announced.
But still, despite all the talk about “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” you had the idea that there was competition involved, that something delightfully unexpected could happen. (See: Chariots of Fire.) True, the Academy was recognizing the best of the year – however you want to define “best” – but it was more than that. There was the drama of the unknown, the idea that until that envelope was opened you really didn’t know who was going to win. Of course, they don’t even say “The winner is” anymore, so what can you expect?
In recent years the Academy has gotten the rap – justified, in many cases – that Best Picture nominees had become a collection of “important,” art-house “films” with portentous, often highly political and/or sexual themes. The box-office gross of the five movies combined often failed to add up to that of the highest-grossing movies of the year individually. The announcement of the nominees was frequently received with a collective shrug from a movie-going public who either hadn’t heard of the nominated movies or had heard enough about them to know that they didn’t want to see them.
However, in expanding the list of nominated films from five to ten, the Academy has acknowledged that their goal is not to open up the award to greater competition, but to give more movies a chance to be recognized publicly. I thought that’s what the end-of-year lists from Time and People and Entertainment Weekly were all about.
We all knew the Oscars had become a sham, but then Hollywood used to be in the business of creating dreams. The fact that these watered-down nominations are now a pat on the head means the studios can’t even do that anymore.