Thursday, January 14, 2016

Theory Thursday: The Best Picture Field Should Go Back to 5 or 10

Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Oscar nominations are coming out today.
Theory: The Oscar Best Picture category should go back to 5 (or stick with 10).

Every year, The Academy Awards are announced - and it is one of my favorite days. I enjoy waking up early, staking a seat out on the couch, and hearing those names be announced live for the first time. This year proved to be no exception as I was surprised by the lack of Carol in Best Picture, and the overwhelming presence of Mad Max: Fury Road. There's no denying that there's thrills and disappointments that come with every year. I am even relieved to see one of the most diverse years for cinema since 2013 (last year was made almost exclusively for indie darlings). However, there's one thing that has started to really irk me a bit. Basically, I am tired of the way that the Best Picture race has been set up. 

The general evolution is one that has repetitively been mentioned on The Oscar Buzz. For several decades, the Best Picture race was dwindled down to 5 nominees. It was a surefire way to keep things succinct. The early years were a little more problematic. While the categories would be less distinct, jumping from 5 nominees between 1929 and 1931 to double digits until 1944, the Best Picture field was always a mess - even landing 12 nominees in 1934 and 1935. There was something simple and to the point about 5 nominees that managed to last for over 60 years until 2008. It was the year that many believe that The Dark Knight was snubbed from Best Picture, replaced with more droll prestige pictures. In 2009, the category was expanded to 10 to include this. In 2011 (only two years after the change), the category changed yet again to the sliding scale 5-10 nominees. Since then, the year's nominees have featured 9 (2012), 9 (2013), 8 (2014), and 8 (2015). 

The one thing that should be mentioned is that The Academy have been very keen on being seen as progressive. They reward films that they feel serve as socially responsible tools for learning and understanding. There is something that is immediately backwards about not even known how many nominees are going to appear in any given year. It wasn't too long ago that The Oscars even considered changing the category back to the single digits due to the inconsistencies. As one could guess, nothing came about it, and now Oscar prognosticators are forced to guess just how many nominees will appear in any given year. It's a fun game, but I'd like to think that The Academy would stick to a strict formula. After all, the acting fields are predominantly the same year after year, and there hasn't been a major need to change that - even with complaints about racial diversity. It's a relief in a sense. 

Of course, acting fields differ from Best Picture solely because there can be a great movie without great acting. In some cases, the film simply has great direction. Nobody could argue that The Tree of Life was more of a visceral experience than a centerpiece of acting; yet it fully deserved its Best Picture nomination in 2011. Film is a subjective and very artistic medium, so there's reasons to believe that anything could be worthy of the category. So in a sense, as vast as cinema has become, it makes sense to have 10 nominees every year. The category should be as what it was intended to be when the category shifted in 2009: a reflection of diversity in subject and genre. 5 nominees arguably can't do this, but 10 can.

So, I am extremely conflicted about what direction my Theory Thursday should go. In general, I want something uniform, much like the other categories that are nominated. It may seem like a dumb comparison, especially as I have expressed how I like that The Academy wants to progress and reflect the changing times. However, that doesn't mean that I cannot think that there should be literal equal representation in the categories. There are five actors, five directors, five screenplays. Why are we so willing to shift around all of the Best Picture nominees on such a regular basis? To some extent, the randomness of the final tally the past two years feels like a direct commentary on how there were 9 nominees two years in a row. That feels like self awareness, even if the stats show that it's merely a voting pattern.

There's no clear answer, because I know that I'll fight to go the other way once the other way disappoints. For the sake of argument, I want to argue that we lock in with 10. Considering that there's a handful of films per year that many think are snubbed from the category anyways, it's not like it's impossible to fill in any of those gaps. If one wants to recognize diversity, then recognize it properly. Don't go around picking random numbers just to succumb to the voting pattern. I may be underselling the stats that go into voting, but I still think that it's still plausible that things could pan out.

And if you cannot get 10 solid Best Picture nominees? Then it couldn't have been that great of a year in film. The alternative is to go back to 5, which seems succinct but even more controversial largely due to how interesting 2015's nominees are this year. How could Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian coexist in that category otherwise? It would be a loss, but it would definitely help to keep things uniform. This all could just be an argument for an O.C.D. that only I have, but I feel that it is an apt argument for the sake of The Academy's professionalism. Is it so bad to want uniformed nominees so that every year we can properly judge that these were the 5/10 best films of that year? No one year is without its high points. So please, just put it at a set amount and agree to have that many every year. Otherwise, you just begin to look silly.

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