By now you’ve probably heard how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to allow 10 Oscar nominees — not just the usual five — into the Best Picture category. Of course, it was lauded by the mainstream media because this answers their prayers for more “for your consideration” ad dollars to save their sorry asses. But the fact is that among the creative community, this is seen as a boneheaded change for the 82nd Academy Awards.
It’s the direct result of intense bullying by the major studios of the “Acadummy” — including Disney, on behalf of its ABC, which has the misfortune to annually broadcast the Oscars. Last year marked the lowest ratings in the show’s history, in part because of the advance weeks of controversy and chaos created by the writers’ strike; this year’s telecast was only slightly better. And outgoing president Sid Ganis, himself a former top studio marketing exec, succumbed to the pressure because of his personal penchant for kowtowing to power. I’ve learned that he personally helped the studios to impose their agenda on what is supposed to be the independent AMPAS board (but really isn’t).
Let’s face it: This is a lucrative development for studio marketers, who can now slap an “Oscar nominee” banner on those ads and one-sheets and make their releases into even bigger cash cows. And this helps ABC reverse the long ratings slide. But this ranks right up there with Worst Oscar Ideas Ever (along with Rob Lowe and Sleeping Beauty singing and dancing together onstage).
So what if, from 1932 to 1943, the Academy nominated 10 films for Best Picture? Embarrassing how AMPAS trotted out all those posters from 1939 to make its point without acknowledging that in their heyday, the major studios started a new picture once or twice a week. Bette Davis alone starred in four to six pictures a year. That’s why Academy members could nominate 10 great movies for Best Picture. Today it devalues the rarity of an Oscar nomination and diminishes the judging process. The Academy Awards now resembles the Golden Globes.
It’s no secret that the studios have grown increasingly frustrated that their mainstream fare — the four-quadrant films, the family-oriented ’toons, the superhero actioners, and the high-octane thrillers — have not been able to garner enough Best Picture nods, while the art-house offerings of the rapidly dwindling specialty divisions and indie prods dominate. That, in turn, has hurt the Oscar-broadcast ratings and ABC’s ad sales (the rate for a 30-second commercial dropped below $1 million this year for the first time since 1998) as little-known films compete, while blockbuster hits are left out of the show.
AMPAS buckled for reasons of self-preservation. After all, 90 percent of the Academy’s annual revenues of $81 million come from the license fees paid by Disney’s ABC for domestic and international rights to the Oscars.
But this announcement cheapens the entire nominating process. Why not 10 Best Actor or Best Actress or Best Director or Best Foreign Film nominations as well? The studios got what they wanted in terms of almighty dollars at the expense of what little is left of the Academy’s integrity.
The Academy also decided that, since most of the studios don’t benefit that much financially from the Best Original Song category, it would limit the number of nominees to speed up the Oscar broadcast.
Oh, but AMPAS didn’t stop there. Anybody who knows the way the Acadummy rolls knows that its board of governors does nothing without an ulterior motive. Ergo the decision to eliminate from the Oscars broadcast, and add another rubber-chicken dinner to the Hollywood circuit in order to hand out the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and the Honorary Award.
This is nothing more than a way for the AMPAS board of governors to get themselves off the hook. After all, there’s a backlog of movie legends who campaign annually for these prizes, and those geriatrics are all pals with the AMPAS bigwigs.
In fact, the last time the Thalberg was awarded, it was back in 2000, when the recipient was that crypt-keeper Dino De Laurentiis. Now these honors can be given out annually but won’t be any more special than the scores of other black-tie testimonials held by Hollywood. Shameful.