The Lost Oscar Plot

Unless the coming months are full of dazzle, the enlarged Best Picture category will be wide open to imports and unlikely contenders.

 

A few years ago the Los Angeles Times ran a series of awards-season podcasts. They weren’t particularly good, and the exercise doesn’t seem to have been repeated.
 
However, one episode I caught aired the idea that the Oscars were becoming too elitist. As laughable as it seemed then, I fear the journalists were closer to the pulse of the business than me and were probably voicing a home truth.
 
The populist decision to enlarge the Best Picture category couldn’t come at a more unsuitable time. The decline of Hollywood’s contribution to serious filmmaking has been well debated and documented, so unless the coming months are full of dazzle I presume this enlarged category will be wide open to imports and unlikely contenders.
 
This may be the year the shortened Oscar season, to which the industry is arguably accustomed, will have bizarre implications.
 
I suppose U.S. indies and foreign language films will have a greater chance — though of course this will cause more confusion with nation-selected entries in the official foreign category. But with the business in bad way the temptation to give a helping hand to struggling and mediocre mainstream films under the studio umbrella could be irresistible.
 
Like most serious film fans I have an ambivalent attitude towards the whole circus. I am delighted that the past few years have brought some unexpected nominations as younger voters influenced some categories. Though AMPAS has not been extending membership invitations too lavishly of late, so I’d guess there’s been an internal backlash against perceived edginess.
 
While it is good, even sentimental to see individuals recognized, this is often marred by Oscars conferred on unsuitable or sub-standard work. Actors are particularly prone to being snubbed in their prime and lionised in their artistic dotage.
 
My principal objection to AMPAS has always been that word — Academy. Whether in industry or the arts an academy overseeing any discipline must be publicly committed to the highest possible standards and ensuring the public are educated and informed.
 
An academy must, first and foremost, promote unhindered excellence and, in my interpretation, AMPAS has always been reluctant to publicly support and promote challenging and provocative cinema. (On the star-less science side, Hollywood is still at the top the game through constant excelling, though it outsources a lot of this kind of work to the U.K.)
 
Now when the governing academy’s members are total dependent on the public putting food on the table, a bit of leeway is to be expected, but AMPAS has been compromised too much by the lowest common denominator.
 
Once the award season is under way, the film business is hectic until just before Xmas. Then if you haven’t secured the buzz and coverage from the critics or the interest of the masses, your film is dead. Expecting branch members to see and evaluate everything is simply too much. Rather than merely tinkering with the Best Picture, the Academy should take the opportunity to revitalise the whole process.
 
Firstly a committee should draw up the nominations for each category, liaising throughout the year so that films released in the late winter are not eclipsed.
 
Now if we are going to have weighted voting in the Best Picture category, there is a major risk a merely reasonable film accumulating a raft of 6 and 7 points, that is 4th and 5th choice, will triumph. From the pool of 10 films points should only be allocated to, say, the voters favourite four. I would propose a system handicapping the stragglers: 1st choice 8pts; 2nd choice 4 pts; 3rd choice 2pts; and 4th choice 1pt.
 
But expanding the Best Picture category won’t help the business — "movies" are inanimate objects. The principals may benefit — but this is the one category that is really recognition of a collective endeavour.
 
Expanding the acting, directing and original screenplay categories will have a more prosperous impact on the industry. Presuming there are no writing or directing teams that would be 60 nominees, admittedly a dramatic increase but even if a handful of those extra nominees found their access to finance or higher profile cast in the future, the work and benefit could be felt across the industry.
 
There is no guarantee that great artists or long careers would emerge. but I think it would be to the greater good if AMPAS smoothed the path.