I’m not sure yet how I feel about the expanded field of Best Picture nominees for this year’s Academy Awards.
On the one hand, I realize this is nothing new from a historical perspective. The top Oscar category was similarly sized for a dozen years in the early days of the awards, from 1931 to 1943. It wasn’t until the 17th series of honors, in 1944, that the Best Picture field was trimmed to its more familiar five. So, in a way, this year’s 10 nominated films represent a return to Oscar’s glorious past.
I also acknowledge that the larger number of nominated films permits the Academy to spotlight smaller, less-viewed pictures that merit wider appreciation, such as the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man and the Nick Hornby-scripted An Education. There’s something to be said for Oscar not making its usual schizophrenic divide between the big-budget spectacular and the more intimate arthouse picture. The rising nomination tsunami is sufficiently voluminous to lift twice as many boats.
And, thankfully, there’s no longer the ghettoization of genre films (i.e., the sci-fi allegory District 9) or animated features (i.e., Disney/Pixar’s marvelous Up, only the second animated film in 82 years to vie for Best Picture) to the technical categories. Now, these films can stand alongside the “big boys” when the year’s top motion picture achievements are saluted.
Still, however, I find myself looking at the list of nominated films in much the same vein as I review the field for the Kentucky Derby every May. In truth, there are only a handful of horses in the race with genuine winning potential. All the rest are merely there to fill out the Racing Form. No one seriously looks at the ten Oscar-nominated pictures and believes that more than three or four of them have even a prayer of hauling down the big prize. The rest are like coaches of color getting token Rooney Rule interviews for an NFL head coaching position, when the team has already decided to hire a white guy.
Some might opine that a token nomination is better than none. Maybe they’re right.
In the end, the nominees will have to puzzle that out for themselves.