Friday, February 5, 2010

What If The Ten Nominees Rule Came Ten Years Ago.....

There was a fascinating article in USA Today on Friday explaining how the new Best Picture rules could shake things up. I won't go into detail, but they had a valid point. What else is interesting, in particular, were the comments of director Jane Campion (The Piano, Bright Star) who doesn't seem to like the idea of 10 Best Picture nominees. She claimed that it was the major studios who pushed for it since "their movies weren't getting nominated." She also seemed to feel that it somehow diminished the award itself.

I'm not quite sure what beef Ms. Campion has with the studios. They seemed to go out of their way to get her latest film, Bright Star, seen. In theaters, the film was distributed by Warner Bros. In the U.S., the DVD is being distributed by Sony and, in the U.K., by Fox. That's three different studios shelling out money to get her $8 million film seen. (The film grossed $4 million in the U.S.) She might consider that it was a collaborative effort of several studios just so her movie could get out there. It's not like the studios thought there was a huge demand for a movie about John Keats. She had a story to tell. They did what they could to get an audience to see it. And her little movie's whopping ONE nomination (Costumes) makes it seem a little bitter.

Another thing she should consider is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is its own entity and does not answer to the studios. If the major studios had any say whatsoever, this rule would've gone into effect back in 1996 when the one Best Picture nominee from a major studio was Jerry Maguire. While the argument is valid that having more than 5 nominees allows for more audience friendly films to make the cut, I think they were more likely trying to avoid the discussion that an important film got snubbed and thus, the argument that the Academy is too high brow for the general public. Expanding to ten nominees, in a way, shows how close the more mainstream movie get to being legitimate contenders without showing how many votes each one got. Hence, why "The Dark Knight Rule" went into effect.

When the nominations were announced last year, there was genuine shock among Oscar enthusiasts that The Dark Knight failed to be nominated for Best Picture. It was considered a "sure thing" and a possible contender to win. In particular, I was quite shocked when The Reader was nominated for Picture and Director over Christopher Nolan's masterpiece that set a new standard for the superhero genre. The Reader, which isn't a bad film, didn't resonate with many people and just doesn't stand out in my mind.

But what The Dark Knight Rule has eliminated is the "who got snubbed?" discussion. There has been little talk at all about ANY film that got left out of the Best Picture race. The only film that jumps out to me was the Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy or Musical, The Hangover. Is The Hangover typical Academy material? Hardly. But it is a well made film from an artistic standpoint. Watch the technical aspects of the film and you'll see it is beautifully shot and edited very well, has a nice score and notice how much the costumes tell about each character. The writing is outstanding and even Mike Tyson gives a good performance. But you don't hear anyone crying foul over its snub. In fact, the articles I've read about this year's snubs fail to mention a single one involving Best Picture.

Which brings up the point of this posting: What if they'd made this rule ten years ago? What would the ten nominees have been? What complaints could have been avoided?

Well, I set some ground rules. It will happen eventually, I'm sure, but this year, there weren't any movies nominated for Best Picture as its only nomination. Every film had at least ONE other nomination in one of the other eight major categories. So, the first rule I set was that each of the "bottom five" had to be nominated in at least one other category of the "Big Eight", OR be the winner in another best film category (Animated, Foreign or Documentary.) After that, I noted the presence of a particular film in other categories. The more nominations, the greater the likelihood that a film "just missed" being one of the Best Picture nominees. Basically, I tried to take my own opinion of a film out of the picture and chose movies that looked like they had the nominations that normally go along with Best Picture. So let's see how the first decade of the new millenium could have looked like.

*=Was actually nominated

**=Best Picture Winner

And the Best Picture nominees for 2000 Could Have Been.....

Almost Famous
Billy Elliot
Cast Away
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon*
Erin Brockovich*
The Wonder Boys

2000 was considered a bad slate of Best Picture nominees. But tack on the "The Other Five" and, all of a sudden, that's not such a bad group of films after all. In a group like that, it's hard to imagine a movie like Gladiator even winning. See the difference having ten nominations would've have made when looking back?

Other Possibilities: Quills, You Can Count on Me

And the Best Picture nominees for 2001 Could Have Been.....

A Beautiful Mind**
Black Hawk Down
Gosford Park*
In the Bedroom*
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring*
Moulin Rouge*

Not quite the same effect that the extra nominations of 2000 had. But certainly, films like Black Hawk Down, which was also nominated for Best Director, and Amelie, which had the most nominations that year of any film NOT nominated for Best Picture, deserved to be in the same class as those that did get picked.

Other Possibilities: Ali, Monster's Ball

And the Best Picture nominees for 2002 Could Have Been.....

Far from Heaven
Gangs of New York*
The Hours*
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers*
The Pianist*
Road to Perdition
Talk to Her

Once again, a MUCH more well-rounded group. It certainly has the feel of a more wide open Oscar race.

Other Possibilities: About Schmidt, Bowling for Columbine, Catch Me If You Can

And the Best Picture nominees for 2003 Could Have Been.....

City of God
Cold Mountain
Finding Nemo
In America
The Last Samurai
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King**
Lost in Translation*
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World*
Mystic River*

One of the downsides of having just 5 Best Picture nominees is when a relatively weak film slips through the cracks. The all-time greatest example was the nomination of The Towering Inferno for Best Picture in a year that also saw Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny and, the eventual winner, The Godfather Part II nominated. Seabiscuit, while a good film, just didn't feel like it belonged with the rest of the group that was nominated. But when you add the other five, it seems a bit more legit.

Other Possibilities: The Barbarian Invasions, House of Sand and Fog

And the Best Picture nominees for 2004 Could Have Been.....

The Aviator*
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Finding Neverland*
Hotel Rwanda
The Incredibles
Million Dollar Baby**
Vera Drake

Now THAT'S a Best Picture slate! Ten very different films on ten very different subjects. Even the biopics were very different in tone and style. It does go to show what an AMAZING job Pixar does with their films that they would have pulled consecutive Best Picture nominations, even with using the rules for choosing. I do, however, have a hard time believing Closer would have made this list, but it was nominated enough not to presume it wouldn't.

Other Possibilities: The Motorcycle Diaries

And the Best Picture nominees for 2005 Could Have Been.....

Brokeback Mountain*
Cinderella Man
The Constant Gardener
Good Night and Good Luck*
Memoirs of a Geisha
Walk the Line

A more well-rounded race, for sure. The Constant Gardener and Walk the Line had to have come close to getting nominated. In fact, if you had asked me what films were nominated in 2005, I probably would have guessed Walk the Line and not Munich. Cinderella Man and Memoirts of a Geisha, not so much. Syriana is kind of in between.

Other Possibilities: A History of Violence

And the Best Picture nominees for 2006 Could Have Been.....

Blood Diamond
The Departed**
Letters from Iwo Jima*
Little Children
Little Miss Sunshine*
Notes on a Scandal
Pan's Labyrinth
The Queen*

I like that list a lot. And that's assuming other multiple nominees like An Inconvenient Truth or Children of Men didn't sneak in. A very competitive year, for sure.

Other Possibilities: Children of Men, An Inconvenient Truth, United 93

And the Best Picture nominees for 2007 Could Have Been.....

Away from Her
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
Michael Clayton*
No Country for Old Men*
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
There Will Be Blood*

This is one of the years where the ten nominations fail slightly. Not many of the Other Five pulled in more that 2-3 nominations in total. And the five that they did choose were pretty solid. This is definitely one of the years that support the argument of what it would look like if there weren't enough to fill out 10 slots.

Other Possibilities: Away from Her, La Vie en Rose, The Savages

And the Best Picture nominees for 2008 Could Have Been.....

The Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button*
The Dark Knight
The Reader*
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire**

It's easy to write off the ten Best Picture nominee rule as being "The Dark Kinght Rule". But when you consider great films like Doubt (5 noms), Revolutionary Road (3 noms), and Wall-E (6 Noms), along with The Dark Knight (8 noms), one can't help but wonder just how close the voting was last year for Best Picture.

Other Possibilities: The Wrestler

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