Monday, June 29, 2009

And the Oscar goes to...Meet the Spartans' Hangover

That's the concern, anyway, from some people I've seen tweeting about AMPAS' decision to extend the Best Picture Oscar pool to ten nominees instead of five. Reaction is mixed, I'm seeing. Some praise the Academy's move with the hopes that deserving movies that don't necessarily fit the Oscar mold (*cough* The Dark Knight) will finally get a shot at the big prize, while others aren't exactly looking forward to seeing Oscar night turn into Oscar morning when the ceremony is extended. Mind you, the plan is to expand one category, not all of them, and thankfully that won't require more musical numbers.

Take note, movie lovers, this isn't exactly a radical change. Take a look at the Best Picture nominees for 1939:

Gone with the Wind
The Wizard of OZ
Dark Victory
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Love Affair
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Of Mice and Men
Wuthering Heights

Hell of a lineup there. As late as 1943 you saw more than five films make the cut. Granted, look at the films made in that time. Could you go back in time and actually whittle away titles to meet the current standard of five nominees? These days, it may seen we're hard pressed to come up with five titles at all, much less ten, for the big prize. Consider, too, the avenues of promotion used now for movies. The 1930s and 1940s produced their share of crap films, too - they just didn't have MySpace or Twitter to help ingrain them in the memories of filmgoers. This is why we can look back to last year and think of Epic Movie and Scary Movie 12 and Lesbian Eskimo Movie and wonder what the Academy is smoking if they'll let any of those wastes of celluloid though the gate.

They won't, I'm sure of it. As a movie fan and Oscar trivia ho', I applaud this decision. Some proponents note this as a step into modernization for the Academy, but I see it as an opportunity to truly give quality, underachieving films their due. It's not uncommon for films to receive a boost at the box office after nominations and wins are doled out, and if critics' award associations can generate top ten lists, why not AMPAS?

Here's what I think we'll see in the future:

Recognition of quality animation: Yes, there's a Best Animated Film category, but I don't think there's anything in the rules that says a movie can't final in this and Best Picture. Foreign films have vied for Best Foreign and Best Picture before (Life is Beautiful for one), so this opens the door wider. I'll be shocked if UP doesn't make the top ten this year. It was better than most live action movies I've seen.

Recognition of minority filmmakers: John Singleton was the first African-American director to receive an Oscar nomination, but Boyz N the Hood did not get a Picture nod. Perhaps under these new rules, we'll see the also-rans helmed by minority and female directors pop up more often. If only the Academy would re-evaluate the Best Director category...I still think this award should be given in tandem with Best Picture.

More foreign films: Foreign countries are only allowed to submit one movie for the Best Foreign Film category. Think about the output of countries like France, Italy, Japan, etc. and decide if you want to be the one who makes that choice. This expansion may allow for higher visibility of good foreign language movies and move them from the art house to the megaplex.

Acknowledgement of change in the industry: We've seen a bit of it already - a nomination for Brokeback Mountain, the Lord of the Rings finale as the first ever fantasy film to win. Critics argue that when it comes to nominations, the Academy plays it safe. Now there is opportunity for wiggle room and to acknowledge that a good film doesn't necessarily have to be a dry historical drama.

Recognition of quality comedy: For years people have lobbyed for a category for comedy films, or at least a comedy performance statue. Funny films make the cut, yes, but's rare, and can anybody actually remember the last film that won? Forrest Gump might be a stretch, because it had weepy moments. There are great filmmakers who specialize in the genre - they should be recognized, too.

Here is what I'd like to see in the future for the Academy:

The tandem Picture/Director trophy: See above.

Recognition of voice actors in acting categories: Not everybody phones it in, and face it - animation is a growing force in the industry. With it comes actors who breathe life into characters. We don't have to see their faces to know they're deserving.

Return of the child actor award: The Academy used to give a special award to exceptional child actors over the years, then quit the practice when they folded child actors into competitive categories. Yet how many do we actually see make the cut? I'm not saying give Hannah Montana an award, but celebrate the talent of those who make the most out of challenging roles.

Bring back Hugh Jackman next year: Seriously.

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