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We are all losers this Oscar season

I confess to taking the Academy Awards pretty seriously. For the past several years, I have spent the Saturday preceding the Oscars at an all-day movie marathon of the films nominated for best picture. I also usually manage to see all the films featuring best actor and actress nominees. I’ve been known to actually research my entry for the office Oscar pool. And, on Oscar night, my family knows to leave me completely alone so I can watch the awards show without interference.

So I can’t begin to explain how upset I am with today’s announcement of the films nominated for best picture. It’s not so much what made the list (although I can’t believe the ludicrous “Inglourious Basterds” made the cut and not the surprisingly delightful “The Hangover"). No, I am irked because there are TEN finalists, not the usual five.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced some months back that they were expanding the list. They took pains to note this was actually a return to earlier practice; from 1931 and 1943, the Oscars featured between eight and 12 best-picture nominees. The academy argued that it wanted to get more of a variety in the mix. The feeling is that populist movies worthy of nomination had less of a chance with Oscar voters, who are said to favor smaller, more offbeat dramas. No doubt it also was a crass and easy way to let more movies try to drum up sales by being able to bill themselves as “best nominated” on movie marquees and in newspaper ads.

But, by becoming more “inclusive,” the Oscars have devalued their brand. Because no matter how you do the math, being one in a select group of 10 is not as special as being in a select group of five. It’s a lowering of standards that’s become far too common in America. And that’s what really upsets me about the watered down list: by wanting to make everyone a winner, we all end up the loser.

By Jo-Ann Armao  | February 2, 2010; 12:59 PM ET
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Comments

"no matter how you do the math, being one in a select group of 10 is not as special as being in a select group of five"

It all depends on the group. Which is more special- being a Supreme Court Justice (yeah I know there are only 9) or starting for the Washington Wizards?

Posted by: kguy1 | February 2, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

well then, by your reasoning why don't we just reduce the number of nominations to three so they're really valuable?

there's still only one winner in the end. hopefully the expansion will help alleviate the "i can't believe xxx won when yyy was much better and wasn't even nominated" talk.

i've seen seven of the ten entries already, and they're all worthy efforts. i think district 9 and avatar (ooooohhhh, prettty) are the weakest of the selections, though they're still enjoyable. if you cut it down to five which ones do you leave out?

Posted by: rm0659 | February 2, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

They're just movies.

Posted by: fishcrow | February 2, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Uh, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on "Inglourious". That was one of my favorite movies of the year. I mean, "District 9"? Please.

Posted by: Gunga2009 | February 2, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I believe all movies should contain the label "Considered by Someone as Worthy of an Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture," with the last two words 8 times larger than the others and in bold.

Posted by: Wallenstein | February 2, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

What a joke the Academy Awards have become, "District 9" for best picture??? You have got to be kidding me, District 9 is the worst movie I have ever seen, bar none, a three year old with a camera could of done better!

Posted by: np2j | February 2, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

The probably are doing this for extra marketing money and to make the Academy Award appear more reflective of our mass culture.

But, it's all a sham. It's not like one of these movies that benefited from the expansion will actually win.

Posted by: johnsopc | February 2, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Armao but for different reasons. It will just make the hideously long awards ceremony even longer.

Best pix award given out at 2 a.m. anyone?

Posted by: anonthistime | February 2, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I would care, except it's obviously all about who has the best campaign or who does the most flesh-pressing during the voting season, or who has the most PC-friendly vote most years. Or better yet, they are making up giving awards to actors or directors who were snubbed for those political choices in previous years.

I watch for the clothes, and this year, I'm looking forward to Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 2, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

np2j:
"What a joke the Academy Awards have become, "District 9" for best picture??? You have got to be kidding me, District 9 is the worst movie I have ever seen, bar none, a three year old with a camera could of done better!"

Well, to each his own. I think District 9 is easily one of the best movies of the year. The real problem I have with the best picture nominations is why Avatar is on there. Great effects, entertaining, but not best picture caliber.

Posted by: presto668 | February 2, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

armao does not make a compelling argument for "lowered standards." Everyone would likely agree that judging movies is, at best, very subjective. You know it is art, not manufacturing quality, that makes a movie successful in the eyes of most movie goers.

Anyways, I have seen about half of the Best Picture nominations. They were all good for me, but Avatar is in a class by itself. I predict Avatar will win all kinds of awards, but especially Best Picture.

Posted by: rmorris391 | February 2, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Hold up -

You say you're not thrilled with "Inglorious." Fine. It wasn't for everybody. But you wanted an Oscar nod for "The Hangover?!?" Look, it was a funny movie, but it wasn't exactly Schindler's List, now was it? What part suggested "Oscar" to you? Was it the tiger in the bathroom, or the Mike Tyson cameo?

I mean, really. "The Hangover?" Really?

And try to take me through the logic presented here: Being picked as the best of 5 is MORE valuable than being picked as best of 10? Does that logic scale? Is getting picked as the best out of 100 better than or worse than getting picked as the best out of 2? Because I kind of like the sound of the "out of 100" idea, but you seem to suggest the latter.

Posted by: Buddydog | February 2, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

there is a really cool Polish documentary nominated "Rabbit a la Berlin". Check this out: http://www.documentary.org/content/meet-filmmakers-bartek-konopka-rabbit-a-la-berlin

Posted by: reader53 | February 2, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I actually like the additional inclusion. One gets tired of Brit Pics (where the same bunch of British actors languish over their station in life) or any movie with Meryl Streep in it always taking the majority of the nominations.

Perhaps those movies are important - to the extent any work of entertainment can be truly of import - but they're not fun. They're boorish pieces of cinema that only art house types and film school profs would enjoy.

It's as if every year, folks who love the pretense that movies aren't movies and are actually high art forget that they are, above all, supposed to be FUN flights of escapist fancy.

If I want British post-colonialist realism, I'll read the Economist.

Posted by: robert1969 | February 2, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine why they'd nominate District 9 for anything. It was horrible.

Perhaps there are some "children of Hollywood stars" that made movies this year and they're trying to give them some sort of "start" in the business, but certainly they're not all real contenders.

That said, hey they could nominate my movie. I'd love to have one of those baskets of swag they give to the nominees and well as my name written in gold on a card with the words "Academy Award Nominee"!

Just try to have fun with it, and maybe get an extra dose of popcorn in case the show goes long with all those "best movie" nominations.


Posted by: lindalovejones | February 2, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

There IS an honor in merely being nominated by the Academy. By doubling the number of nominees, that honor is diminished. The winner is still the winner, but the tie for second place just got a lot bigger.

It DOES reek a little of "Everybody Gets a Trophy Day".

Posted by: ComfortablyDumb | February 2, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

"Because no matter how you do the math, being one in a select group of 10 is not as special as being in a select group of five. It’s a lowering of standards that’s become far too common in America."

Wow! I think the dumbing down of America is much more evident in other aspects of movies than the number of nominations...

There will be only one winner. Out of many hundreds of films. A more statistically meaningful approach would be to "nominate" the top 1% or 2% of the total number of eligible films.

After all, if only 6 films got made in a year, the 5 nominated films would be less special than if 60 films had been eligible, and MUCH less special than if 600 films had been made.

It's not the number of nominations, but the number of eligible films that is the real issue.

Posted by: Bookbinder | February 2, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

America on all round, inglorius decline.

Posted by: improvista | February 2, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Oh baloney. There were 500 films released last year in one form or another, (not counting TV and pay channel made-for movies.) The difference between 5 and 10 is insignificant.

But if you really want to know what "the 5" were, Roger Ebert has the formula for you. He says "If you want to know the five "real" nominees, match them up with the five Best Director nominations. That gives you "Avatar," "Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious" and "Up in the Air."
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100202/OSCARS/100209998

That's because the "Best Picture" is almost always the one made by the "Best Director."

Personally I like that there are 10. More publicity for more pictures, especially for the best ones is a good thing.

Posted by: miffedone | February 2, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

"I can't imagine why they'd nominate District 9 for anything. It was horrible."

Because it's a science-fiction film that makes you THINK. The Na'vi in James Cameron's film are fictional, but the plight of the alien refugees in "District 9" happens every day in South Africa. Neil Blokamp and Terri Tatchell should be commended for writing a story which avoids the simplicity of labelling the aliens as "good" and the "humans" as bad. If Cameron's screenplay were half as complex, I'd be rooting for it more to win Best Piture.

Edward J. Cunningham
Rockville, MD

Posted by: femfour | February 2, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm for the top ten. If you believe Ebert (two posts up), then "Up" would have been overlooked. For my money, "Up" was the best picture made last year. And then, for my money, Ratatouille was a better movie than No Country for Old Men. Didn't see District 9 (yet) but people whose judgment I respect swear by it.

Oh well, I stopped taking awards shows seriously when Russell Crowe _wasn't even nominated_ for LA Confidential. Citizen Kane didn't win the Oscar. But if that trash "Precious" wins...

But when it comes to talking about declining standards, really, who knows better than WaPo?

Posted by: gbooksdc | February 2, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

"But if you really want to know what "the 5" were, Roger Ebert has the formula for you. He says "If you want to know the five "real" nominees, match them up with the five Best Director nominations. That gives you "Avatar," "Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious" and "Up in the Air.""

If the Directors Guild of America, as well as the Director's branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences recognized that the director of animated features was just as much a director as live-action films, Pete Docter would have received a nomination and "Up" would have been considered just as real as the other films you have mentioned. The current practice of storyboarding scenes in preparation for filming derives directly from animation.

I can't fairly judge "Up" since I didn't see it yet, but I did see "WALL*E" last year, and that film SHOULD have been up for Best Picture. I know very well that there weren't five better films than it, no matter what the Academy says.

Edward J. Cunningham
Rockville, MD

Posted by: femfour | February 2, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

fr femfour:

>...I can't fairly judge "Up" since I didn't see it yet, but I did see "WALL*E" last year, and that film SHOULD have been up for Best Picture...<

You missed a VERY cute movie. Sad in parts, yes, but extremely well done. I wasn't real crazy about "WALL*E", though. Just not my cup of tea. My wife and I also thoroughly loved "Julie and Julia", and we hope that Meryl Streep wins for her spot-on portrayal of Ms. Child.

Posted by: Alex511 | February 2, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to bed early on Oscar night.

Posted by: MillPond2 | February 2, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Rather than adding 5 more films to the Best Picture category, another category for non-dramas should have been created. Comedies have no serious chance of winning the Best Picture award no matter how good they are, which is ridiculous.

Posted by: robert17 | February 3, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

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