The Academy Awards are getting too much — too much attention, too much snubbing, and especially, too many best picture nominees. Ever since the Oscars’ first ceremony in 1929, the awards ceremony usually limited its best picture nominees to five slots. In 2011, the Academy switched from five best picture slots to a maximum of 10 after their successful 2010 season where they nominated 10 best picture nominees for the first time since 1944.
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The Academy has described the change for a number of reasons. One of the biggest is to recognize a wider net of films. A lot of controversy was sparked in 2008 after The Dark Knight and WALL-E both went unrecognized by the Academy in the Best Picture category. Host Hugh Jackman even hilariously mentioned it in his opening monologue:
“How come comic book movies never get nominated? How can a billion dollars be unsophisticated?”
Now, the Academy is considering reverting back to five best picture nominees, according to The Hollywood Reporter. I think they should, especially with these three facts in mind.
1. They Aren't Using All Of Their Slots
After the Academy’s 2010 run, they changed their rules to fill all 10 slots on their Best Picture nominees. This worked for the 2011 ceremony because they had huge blockbuster hits on their hands including Inception, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, and the best picture winner The King’s Speech. 2012 however, was a significantly lackluster year because the Academy had difficulty filling even nine of their slots (as demonstrated by the strange inclusion of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). Thus, the rule was changed again to a minimum of five nominees or a maximum of 10.
“In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies... A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number."
Former executive director Bruce Davis (via Deadline).
This idea is deeply flawed. What Academy voters feel is a best picture contender is not the same as what moviegoing audiences feel is a best picture contender. For instance, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was simultaneously the highest-reviewed and the highest-grossing picture of 2011, yet it only got nominated in three technical categories. Tree of Life was polarizing in both its reviews and box office, yet it somehow also got nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The problem isn’t that Tree of Life and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close were both nominated. The problem is that they were nominated for Best Picture and Harry Potter and A Separation were not, despite the open slots that the Academy left unfulfilled.
This has become a recurring trend for the Academy ever since 2011. They have not filled the maximum capacity of their best picture slots. Not once. Not nominating The Avengers in 2013; not nominating Rush in 2014; not nominating Gone Girl or Interstellar in 2015. Don’t even get me started on last year when they had that ridiculous #OscarsSoWhite controversy. There were multiple films from the year that demonstrated both outstanding storytelling and equal representation, including Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They had open slots, yet they decided not to use them.
Every year, the Academy had every opportunity to recognize films that not only they love, but that we love. For one reason or another, they’re choosing not to do so. Since this is the case, why are they even bothering to have 10 best picture slots? All they’re doing is scrapping a potential nominee and testing our patience.
2. Viewers Usually Haven't Heard Of Half The Nominees
I recently met up with a friend of mine at a local bar. We were talking about the Oscars. Circling his hand around the rims of his glass, he laughed and said “I can’t get into these awards, man. I haven’t even heard of half of these nominees.”
This is a bigger problem than you might expect. From a look back at the box office records from the past six years — only four best picture nominees made it into the top 10 highest-grossing films of any given year. Those nominees are Toy Story 3, Inception, Gravity and The Martian.
Think about that for a second. Six years. Over 60 best picture nominees. Yet, the majority of moviegoing audiences have only seen four of them. How messed up is that?
Now to be fair, money doesn’t translate for quality (just look at Transformers: Age of Extinction which, unbelievably, was the highest grossing movie of 2014). What it does translate for is viewership, and in this case, the figures don’t lie: Moviegoers just haven’t seen most of the best picture nominees in recent years.
This can be tied into the decrease in ratings and viewership of Oscar ceremonies overall. Since the 1970s, viewership has been consistent with either 40 million views or 24 percent of all homes. Both of those numbers have been on the decline since the Academy started proposing changes in the best picture category. Last year’s ceremony garnering 34 million views and 19 percent of all homes, according to Nielsen ratings.
I’m not criticizing the Academy for nominating smaller movies, but I am criticizing them for not nominating larger ones. For their ceremonies, most Best Picture nominees do not break the $100 million mark at the box office. Moonlight barely broke $20 million this year. That lack of connection with viewers is hurting them, and the fact that they continue not to fill their slots with well-known movies is working against both the Academy and their viewers.
3. Snubbing Is Still Going On
Here is the most frustrating thing about the best picture nominees. The growth of nominee slots was created to honor more outstanding work from the year. Yet, despite this growth, movies are still getting snubbed at the Oscar ceremony. And not just in the Best Picture category, but even in the smaller categories as well.
Don’t believe me? Look at this quick-hit list of this year’s snubs and see what I’m talking about.
- Captain America: Civil War: Zero nominations
- Patriots Day: Zero nominations
- Deadpool: Zero nominations
- Don’t Breathe: Zero nominations
- A Monster Calls: Zero nominations
The fact that these were not nominated for Best Picture in itself is not frustrating. It’s the fact that none of them were nominated for Best Actor, Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Makeup, Costume Design, Visual Effects, or any of the other technical categories. It is simply outrageous to not recognize the outstanding work those filmmakers have done this year.
I wish I could say that snubbing was only specific to this year, but it isn’t. Every year, multiple movies get snubbed in categories that they are more than deserving in. The Dark Knight Rises: zero nominations in 2013. Rush: zero nominations in 2014. The Fault In Our Stars: zero nominations in 2015. Beasts of No Nation: zero nominations in 2016. I could go on and on.
My point being: Widening the Best Picture pool isn’t going to change the irresponsible snubbing the Academy commits every year. Forget Best Picture, movies get skipped over every year for awards and recognition they deserve. If you’re not going to recognize them at all, why even bother casting a wider net in the first place?
The Academy Awards are biased; there’s no changing that. However, if they’re going to be biased, at least they can be biased with five nominees instead of almost 10. Then they can save us some runtime and we can all go to bed sooner.
Do you think the Academy should revert back to five best picture nominees? Let us know in the comments below!