Why the Academy shouldn’t go back to five Best Picture nominees

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One of the most fiercely debated subjects when it comes to the Oscars, aside from the actual films and performances in contention, is what the Academy should do with the size of their Best Picture slates. Recently, rumors have been swirling that AMPAS members have been considering again adjusting the potential lineup, perhaps even going back to having five nominees in Picture. I know there are plenty of fans out there who back that idea, while there are plenty more who want Oscar to go back to a straight ten. I certainly know which one I prefer, but I don’t agree that either idea beats the sliding scale that we currently have. Personally, I feel that going back to five would be a big mistake. In fact, I want them to do the exact opposite.

Why do I say that? Well, I truly believe that a bigger group of Best Picture nominees leads to better selections. There’s a ripple effect that I’ll discuss in the next paragraph, but when more films are in contention, it creates a better group overall. Especially when there was a guaranteed ten, you knew that voters were looking at their favorite movies of the year and keeping their minds open about what they traditionally thought a Best Picture nominee should be. That got us District 9 in a lineup, for example. I also reject the notion that it led to poor choices. If The Blind Side and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close are the worst nominees in an expanded field, we’re still doing pretty well. They’re weaker nominees, but far from bad ones. The Academy has plenty of history with ten nominees, if not quite as much as it does with five. It’s just the sliding scale that’s new and not well liked. If Oscar goes back to five, it runs the risk of diluting the overall field, in a way I’m not sure they’re even considering.

For example, the biggest issue with going back to five is how much it would impact the smaller contenders. Look at just this past year and consider the case of Whiplash. If there were only five spots, I doubt it gets a big campaign coming out of Sundance like it did, leading to perhaps only J.K. Simmons getting in, if that. No nomination for Best Picture. It definitely doesn’t overcome category confusion to show up in Best Adapted Screenplay. The technical nominations/wins? Forget about it. Yes, the most recent winner in a top tech category like Best Film Editing probably isn’t even in the conversation. That’s one big reason not to go back to five. We need more nominees like Whiplash, not less.

As such, I’m a proponent of returning to a locked field of ten nominees, with voters having ten spots to fill on their Oscar ballots. When we had that kind of a requirement for a few years, presumably in response to The Dark Knight getting snubbed, we wound up with a pair of animated films (Toy Story 3 and Up), two science fiction movies (Avatar and the aforementioned District 9), as well as esoteric fare like A Serious Man and even a bigger nominee like Black Swan. It opened the field to all types, and that sort of inclusion is exactly what I want with the Academy Awards. Winning an Oscar isn’t diluted at all by that. In fact, I’d argue that it makes it even bigger of a deal, since the movie emerging victorious would have officially beaten back a wider range of film. My opinion might be in the minority, but I sincerely believe that it’s the right way to go for the members of the Academy when they vote on Best Picture.

Mainly, I just want the Academy to pick a format and stick with it. Right now, we’ve seen five nominees, ten nominees, nine nominees, and eight nominees in the span of under a decade. That’s just too much variety. Oscar voters should have a clearer choice to make. As mentioned above, I’m a proponent of giving them more spaces to pick the films, since it leads to better nominees, but the whole current format of between five and ten seems like a placeholder. They either need to put it into place permanently, or make a long lasting change. If they were to go back to a straight ten, that would be the best solution in my eyes.

Stay tuned to see if any changes to Best Picture voting emerge this year!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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