Should the Oscars Return to Five Best Picture Nominees?

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In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made a totally unexpected announcement. For the first time in over six decades, the Best Picture category would expand from five nominees to ten nominees. Two years later, the Academy made another announcement. Now five to ten films could merit a Best Picture nomination depending on their percentage of votes. From 2011 to 2013, nine motion pictures made the cut. In 2014, only eight motion pictures got in. Now people are waiting for the Academy to make yet another announcement that they’re officially going back to five Best Picture nominees per year.

Personally, I never understood why so many people are against the ten Best Picture nominees rule. Granted, five nominees has been a tradition for so long that it’s only natural there would be some naysayers. Five nominees does make the category more exclusive and thus a greater honor. Plus, it’s usually pretty easy to pinpoint which five films would have been recognized no matter what and which ones are just going along for the ride, i.e. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Still, it’s not like only five great movies are released every year. That’s why critics make top ten lists as apposed to top five lists. Not every year is as strong as 1939 when Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and various other classics came out. Contemporary movies are much better than people give them credit, though, and it’s not that hard to single out ten Oscar worthy motion pictures annually. In many respects, ten nominees makes more sense than five nominees. The problem is that the Academy hasn’t taken full advantage of this rule change.

Let’s face it, the reason the Academy expanded upon their top category is because they overlooked one movie in 2008: The Dark Knight. Despite being universally loved by audiences and hailed as the year’s finest cinematic achievement by numerous critics, The Dark Knight failed to get into the Best Picture category. Why? Because the Academy will always recognize a mediocre holocaust movie like The Reader over a revolutionary superhero movie. It’s clear that the Academy is out of touch with the public or maybe it’s the public that’s out of touch with the Academy. In either case, there’s got to be more of a compromise when it comes to the Best Picture lineup.

To the Academy’s credit, voters did demonstrate some mainstream diversity with their 2009 Best Picture lineup. It was wonderful to see them honor an animated feature like Up, a feel-good sports drama like The Blind Side, and a sci-fi picture like District 9. Avatar was also an unconventional Best Picture nominee, although its record-breaking box office returns and the James Cameron factor probably would have guaranteed it a nomination even with only five nominees. With every passing year, however, the Academy has moved further away from audience favorites to safer Oscar fare.

In all fairness, the Academy has managed to nominate up to ten deserving films these past few years. Boyhood, Birdman, and Whiplash might not have been big box office hits, but they’re all modern masterpieces that should be seen by everyone. Nevertheless, would it kill the Academy to acknowledge more fantasy, comedy, science fiction, animated, and action films? Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and The Lego Movie were three of 2014’s best reviewed films, but none of them received major nominations. The latter film couldn’t even earn a Best Animated Feature nomination despite being the forgone frontrunner.

This goes to show that the Academy does indeed profile certain movies. It doesn’t matter how much people love a film. If a talking racoon or a yellow minifigure is one of the main characters, they aren’t going to take it seriously. That’s the problem the Academy has always had. They don’t necessarily nominate what they think is the Best Picture. They nominated what they think looks like the Most Important Picture. Yes, the Best Picture of the year should be important, but the Academy has their definition of “important” all mixed-up.

Let’s look at all the classics that didn’t receive Best Picture nominations: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Die Hard, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, The Princess Bride, The Lion King, Ghostbusters, Skyfall, any of the Harry Potter films. The list goes on! On paper, none of these movies sound particularly important. As a matter of fact, you could argue that they’re all silly movies. However, they’ve all played a greater hand in shaping our culture and inspiring future filmmakers than most Best Picture winners. Although they aren’t important in the same sense as 12 Years a Slave, they’re all important films in their own way. They’ve stood the test of time and most Academy voters likely secretly kick themselves for not looking past their exteriors in the past.

The Academy mustn’t let such injustice happen again, especially now that they can have up to ten nominees as a safety net. Rather than going back to five nominees, let’s leave the door open for more unconventional films to enter the race. Every major moviegoer knows that Mad Max: Fury Road deserves a Best Picture and Best Director nomination this year. Even if most Academy members agree, however, a majority of them likely won’t recognize Mad Max on the basis that its an action film.

To every Oscar voter out there, don’t allow stupid prejudice prevent you from honoring one of 2015’s best. If you think Mad Max is the best film of the year, vote for it. If you think Inside Out is the best film of the year, vote for it. Hell, even if you think Furious 7 is the best film of the year, vote for it. Don’t let award campaigns tell you what the most important film of the year is. Think for yourself.


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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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