Tuesday, June 30, 2009
FotM: A Changing Best Picture
The first point I feel that needs to be made is that ten nominees is not a record setting number for the Academy Awards. The record holding year is 1934: there were twelve nominees and It Happened One Night took home the prize. Until 1943 there was not a limit on how many best picture nominees there could be, and it was common to have between five and eight on any given year and there were far less films produced every year then are produced currently.
A great deal of people seem to think that the Academy decided to up the ante to ten films after there was such an outcry that The Dark Knight did not get nominated at the 2009 Oscars and Sid Ganis has quickly come out and denied that Nolan’s masterpiece had anything to do with this decision. I do not think that Ganis is lying. The Academy has gone through a great deal of changes through the years, changes that are sometimes subtle enough that only film aficionados know about them, and sometimes like their most recent announcement – so grand they make the news. The Academy has always been aware that to stay respected and relevant they cannot treat their ceremony with religious reverence and instead need to keep moving with the times and attempt to remain contemporary.
Perhaps the biggest change the Academy ever did to the Oscar ceremony was to switch from being a short awards dinner on the radio to the increasingly lavish gala we now know as television became more and more popular. There was also a time when segregation was a part of the Oscars; eventually, actors, and filmmakers of many races were included when the civil rights movement bore its fruit but no person of color won an Oscar before Hattie McDaniel’s big win for Gone With the Win. There have been the inclusion of new awards categories like Best Make-Up, Costuming, Animated Feature and Production Design.
One of the biggest changes in the Oscar rules in the past few decades was how a film can be advertized while it is trying to be nominated. This has affected screeners, screenings and the trade ads that studios can put out to push their film for nomination. There was a HUGE outcry over this from both sides because a large contingent of the major players were being accused of not only buying their Best Picture nominations but their wins. As usual, everything calmed down after one awards season and no one claims that Miramax or any other studio buys their best picture nominations any longer.
To talk about the Best Picture category itself is to talk about a category that has completely changed format since the first awards ceremony. The Oscars initially covered not a calendar year, but covered almost a school-like schedule (1927-1928, 1928-1929, etc.) and when the awards first began the Best Picture category as we know it did not exist; the category was broken into two separate parts: Most Outstanding Production & Most Artistic Quality of Production. The first film we credit with Best Picture was Wings which actually won the Most Outstanding Production and the film Sunrise is not credited with a Best Picture win but won the Most Artistic Quality of Production. The Best Picture category that we know did not exist until 1962.
With these facts I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s negative reaction to the Academy’s announcement to expand the nominees for Best Picture. I merely want to point out that The Academy Awards have a history of changing and evolving for a variety of reasons and that none of these changes have changed what it means to be a nominee or winner of an Oscar. It is still the single most prestigious award a studio or individual can win. I merely wish to implore you to realize that with the thousands of motion pictures released every year having the top ten films be nominees does not cheapen the honor at all. It does not make it mean less to win the award or be a nominee, but rather points out that the Academy nominees barely scratch the surface of the films that make it to a global market.