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Oscar season has begun in earnest. But how will the Academy find ten good nominees out of this year's tiny slate of releases?
There are a lot of regrettable movies that have been chosen as nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards over the years. Bad movies. Horrible movies. Movies that cause you great anger because they are so breathtakingly awful. Sometimes, these movies even manage to win it all (coughCrashcough). Up until this year, the number of truly bad Best Picture nominees has traditionally been limited to one or two slots every year, usually reserved for films produced by Harvey Weinstein.
But with the news that the Academy has decided to expand the Best Picture category to a stunning TEN nominees, you can expect those regrettable nominees to become much more abundant -- and in a hurry. Because one of the things people haven’t talked about in the wake of that announcement is the fact that Hollywood is now producing fewer movies to cull those ten nominees from. Far fewer, in fact.
Remember, Hollywood had a writers strike two years ago. Given that two years is the average time it takes for a film to be developed, produced, and distributed, that industry-wide shutdown finally manifested itself in the number of releases this year. Case in point: this March article from Variety that detailed the large cutbacks in production of studio films. To the blockquotes:
So far, there are 118 wide release set to open in 2009. That's a 16% drop from the 140 last year…
In October, Paramount said it was winnowing its annual release target from 25 to 20. Sony has quietly reduced its output from 29 titles in 2005 to 20 in 2008. And Disney topper Bob Iger has persuasively argued on behalf of a leaner and meaner distribution slate.
"It's the best thing that could happen to the business," one studio topper says.
It may be sound business policy in a rotten economy, but it could serve to turn the Best Picture nomination process into a laughingstock. Here we have a category that has doubled in size in just one year, a year that also happens to feature a drastically reduced number of films in the wake of labor strife and economic hardship.
One in every 12 films released this year will garner a nomination for Best Picture. Just one year ago, that ratio was 1 in 28. Holy moly. And the nominees from last year were already arguably the weakest batch to come along in a while. I saw Frost/Nixon. It was like being stuck in social studies class.
To give you an idea of what this expanded category will be like, consider that the Golden Globes has 10 Best Picture nominees every year, split into two categories. Here are some of the nominees they’ve come up with: Mamma Mia!, The Phantom Of The Opera, Analyze This, Patch Adams, Green Card. Not a murderer’s row of excellence.
Here are the top ten potential Best Picture nominees for this year, according to Entertainment Weekly: The Hurt Locker, Invictus, The Lovely Bones, Precious, Up In The Air, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Nine, A Serious Man, Up. Now, many of those films could easily be considered worthy of a nomination. I saw The Hurt Locker. It’s beyond awesome. But half of those films haven’t been released yet. And, if you know the Academy, you know any number of worthy films will be snubbed in favor of a movie that blows but has a healthy Oscar marketing budget.
So keep an eye out as we get into this as this Oscar season kicks into high gear with prestigious release after prestigious release. Those ten slots have to be filled, regardless of whatever Hollywood decides to pump out. And there’s a very good chance that the resulting pool of nominees further erodes an awards show that was already in dire need of MORE credibility, and not less.
Drew Magary is the author of Men With Balls: The Professional Athlete’s Handbook and a writer for Deadspin.com.