The Oscars Only Need Five Best Picture Nominees

By  · Published on March 5th, 2015


Although this year’s Acadamy Aawrds might be but a distant, dim, sparkling, drunk memory – they happened less than two weeks ago, forever in Hollywood time – more drama might be on the horizon for next year’s Oscars and beyond. The Hollywood Reporter, as ever, reports that the Academy might be considering returning to a Best Picture category that only has room for five nominees, effectively going back on their six-year-old plan to expand the category out to a maximum of ten possible nominees. Why such a rollback? Well, probably because the reasoning behind the expansion simply hasn’t worked, and going back to five nominees is actually an obvious choice that should have happened years ago.

THR reminds us why the Academy bloated out the Best Picture category back in 2009, writing: “the Academy moved away from its long-term rule of having five nominees (though it had chosen 10 in its earlier years), following the omission of The Dark Knight from the previous year’s lineup. That film’s exclusion from the best picture nominees led many to argue in favor of throwing a bigger net that would lift ratings and also satisfy popular audiences hungry for the Academy to acknowledge films with a wider appeal.” Generally speaking, the idea behind the expansion was to provide room for different films – not Oscar bait – to earn a glitzy Best Picture nomination, thus pushing more mainstream-minded viewers to watch the awards show, boosting its ratings.

This was a flawed idea from the start.

Essentially, this is an idea that sounds good on paper – “nominate blockbusters, make regular people watch show, everyone wins” – that doesn’t even remotely translate to the real world. The truth is, not everyone wins, because those blockbusters or films with “wider appeal” or non-arthouse pictures or however you want to classify them were never actually going to win Best Picture. Even if they did get nominated – which they didn’t – the existing Academy was never going to elect a superhero movie or a robot movie or an S&M sex movie or whathaveyou as their Best Picture. Weirdly, that didn’t even really matter, because no one even expected those kinds of film to win, adding them to the nominees list was literally conceived of as a concession.

It didn’t even work to that end, however, because as THR notes, “rather than add blockbusters to the mix, Academy voters have simply opted for more art-house films. All of this year’s nominees, with the exception of Sniper, were specialty releases, including the eventual winner, Birdman, from Fox Searchlight Pictures.” Moreover, a little THR number-crunching reveals that this problem is indicative of nearly every year that the Academy has included more than five nominees:

“An analysis of the total box office of the nominees shows a marked slide over the past six years, indicating the extent to which the current strategy has failed to bring popular films into play. In 2010, the first year that the number of best picture nominees expanded to ten, those films, which included Avatar, brought in a total of $4.7 billion worldwide; this year, their box office tally just prior to the Oscars was a mere $999.5 million, according to Rentrak. Over the six years, the cumulative grosses of the best picture nominees have seen a steady slide, as voters have increasingly favored art-house films.”

Instead of finding a home to laud unexpected entries and to lure Joe Moviegoer to watch the show in hopes that their favorite movie of the year would win, the Oscars instead opted to use the Best Picture category as a dumping ground for also-rans, bestowing Best Picture noms on films that didn’t make it in other categories, particularly Best Director. And, let’s be clear, this was an insult, a way to subvert snub talk, and a cop-out. Instead of hailing non-“Oscar” picks, the category made room for films that very much deserved to be nominated there and elsewhere, just because that’s where they had room.

Think back to 2013, when Ben Affleck missed out on a Best Director nod for Argo, but still saw the film win Best Picture. Even better, think back to just this year, when Ava DuVernay was terribly snubbed in the Best Director category as well, even as her Selma earned a Best Picture nomination (just to clarify, even if the category was down to five, Selma completely deserved to be included, it was just striking that a talent like DuVernay had been otherwise left out). The plan didn’t work, and it somehow made other snubs that much more cutting.

Yet, since the nomination limit change, a number of unexpected choices have snuck in, including District 9, Up, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, Amour, Her, Nebraska, Whiplash, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. That’s wonderful. It would be even more wonderful if any of them could ever have a chance to win, nomination cap or not.

Related Topics: