Thursday, June 25, 2009

The 11% Solution

If you heard that a political candidate was supported by 11% of the electorate, would that impress you? If 11% of people chose a particular toothpaste, would you change your buying habits?

How about if 11% of the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected a film as Best Picture. Should it win?

Well now it could.

The Academy has decided to expand the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten. The Academy has been unenthusiastic about nominating films that do the best box office. The Best Picture nominees are films that only a minority of movie goers have seen. As a result, the Oscar telecast suffers in the ratings as few people watching know the films being considered. By expanding the number of nominations to ten, the studios hope that films that gross more than $100 million have a chance to get a Best Picture nomination.

The public doesn't know how many votes a Best Picture winner receives. The numbers are as closely guarded as the votes in an Iranian election. Right now, it's possible that the winner receives 21% of the vote, which is still pretty flimsy. Doubling the number of nominees makes it less likely that a majority of the voters will choose the same film.

Will this be good for animated features? I suppose that with 10 slots, it's more likely that an animated film will get a Best Picture nomination. You can be sure that Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks will lobby hard for the chance. However, the Academy voters have already shown their indifference to animation the same way they've shown their indifference to big box office. We'll have to see what the Academy nominates next year. While the studios are hoping for more mainstream nominations, the Academy may not cooperate. Even if it does, splitting the votes among more films is liable to produce a result that nobody is happy with.


Michael Sporn said...

Well said, Mark. The press releases kept mentioning 1939's ten Best Picture nominees. All of those ten were better than any of the five nominated last year. The 1939 group deserved to be among 10. In 2008, I had a hard time coming up with a top five, and my favored top three weren't included.

In the end, it really doesn't matter. The great films will live on regardless of the Oscar.

Paul Reiter said...

Interesting post Mark, but I believe that we will not see any nominations for animated film for best picture as long as the animated feature one remains for reasons you stated.

Ten nominations isn't going to change anything. The Academy is basically a marketing campaign that brings increased revenue and something extra to put on the DVD cover for the films.

Mike put it best, the best films will live regardless of the Oscars. This is proven in the films of people like Hitchcock and the animated films of Walt Disney, who won few Oscars for those pieces of work. While some Oscar winners have into the obscure abyss of overated junk.

Thad said...

Given what a joke the Oscars are, and always have been, does this really matter?

Pete Emslie said...

I heard this news this morning about the expanded nominations and I think it's a terrible idea. Again, I think it all relates to what I was describing in my previous post regarding the increasingly fragmented audiences, each one becoming more isolated from the rest.

The types of movies being made today are skewed towards one of the following main groups: 1) The mainstream moviegoers who like the big, loud, populist movies with all the special effects taking priority. Or 2) The moviegoers with more elitist tastes, who prefer their movies with little or no special effects, but rather are more about the human condition, stressing characterization and intelligent dialogue. In recent years the chasm has widened between these two types of audiences, with the result that the latter type of film has usually been more widely recognized come Oscar time. Even the release schedules reflect this, with the more serious films being released in the fall and winter months to keep them fresh in the minds of the Academy's voting members.

For the record, I am definitely more in that second category myself, as I've come to increasingly loathe most of the summertime releases over the last twenty years or so. Yet it wasn't always this way. If you look at the Best Picture Oscar winners from the past, they definitely were films that cast a wider net, appealing to a far greater percentage of moviegoers in their day. The Oscar winners back then could be both big, splashy Hollywood blockbusters AND intelligent, sophisticated pictures at the same time - it wasn't necessarily an either/or situation. Also, there was more variety in the genre of the winning films. A Best Picture winner could be an epic like Ben Hur or Lawrence of Arabia, a splashy musical like Gigi or An American in Paris, or films as diverse as Casablanca and The Apartment.

Even though I steer towards the films that still get Best Picture nominations these days, I too resent the narrowness of that field. I find that most of the films deemed Oscar worthy these days are pretty dark and melancholy in theme, and I'd far prefer to see more movies being made like the aforementioned titles of the past, striving for more genuine entertainment. (Doesn't anyone want to show JOY in films anymore?) But I certainly don't want to see the Oscars start to get shanghaied by the big, populist summer crap like The Dark Knight, etc. just because it has a bigger audience as determined by box office receipts. But, by opening up the range of Best Picture contenders from 5 to 10, I'm afraid that we're going to see a transition to the populist films winning awards, narrowing the audience for intelligent fare even more, leading to less intelligent films getting greenlit.

By the way, no apologies from me regarding calling The Dark Knight crap... :)

Nick Hendriks said...

This is certainly an interesting topic, as I think there are a few potential motivations for the change. Some have been covered here, but today I heard another that I feel is likely.
Simply put, people will spend more money on a movie that has an Academy Award nomination. By increasing the number of films with nominations, the film industry can justify increasing prices on twice as many DVDs, while expecting an increase in demand. This seems especially likely with the economy in its current state.

Pete, you may want to take my thoughts with a grain of salt, as I loved the Dark Knight. Though in my defence, I loved Lawrence of Arabia, too. To each his own, right?

Nick Hendriks said...

My apologies, Mr Reiter did mention the same point I just made. Sorry!

Martin Juneau said...

I start to feel that the Academy Awards ceremony now is a big fat joke. Did i wrong? And why the biggest pictures of the year was nominated instead to the indepedent films who can make curosity to average joes?

So why now i blame the Best Animated feature nomination because only Disney and Dreamworks can win and no the indepedent filmmakers. This is maybe the biggest joke ever since in this ceremony. Even in Cannes, we don't do shit like that.

JPilot said...

It is telling that the ratings of a television special about the Motion Picture industry academy awards are more important than rewarding the creators of great motion pictures. Therefore they must include films that have made huge box office numbers in order to have sponsors hocking cars, food and detergent during a one evening telecast so that the ceremony's broadcast itself can bring in a profit.

Hey, the economy is bad, maybe Jack Nicholson can wear an Oxi Clean T-Shirt when the camera cuts to him.

JPilot said...

I posted the previous reply before learning of the passing of Billy Mays, spokesperson for Oxi-Clean.

Anonymous said...

If rewarding creators of fine films is the idea then seeking better ratings for the ceremony is a valid goal. It's not the statue they want, it's the recognition of as many people as possible. If all they wanted was recognition in the industry they'd hold a quiet dinner to give the trophies out, like they did in 1929 or run one of those "Congratualtions" ads in Variety.

They real trophy they want is the eyeballs watching them get the trophy; and not Jon Stewart-hosting level eyeballs but Johnny Carson or Bob Hope-hosting, all-of-humanity-watching eyeballs.

It's not even about quality, it's just the junior high idea of calling someone "winner".