Trophy Talk: Why Having 10 Best Picture Nominees Has Been a Failure
People love watching famous people accept trophies. So, every so often, The Huffington Post’s Chris Rosen and ScreenCrush’s Mike Ryan will speculate about these trophies and which famous person might win one. It will be fun. Let’s talk some trophies! Today, we talk about why a movie like 'Guardians of the Galaxy' will never be nominated for Best Picture.
Mike: What are your three favotrite movies so far this year?
Mike: I'd agree with those -- I'd maybe replace one of those with ‘Foxcatcher’ -- but, why do we now live in a world where movies like 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Edge of Tomorrow' have no shot at an Oscar nomination for Best Picture?
Chris: It's a great question. In essence: Why so serious ... when it comes to Best Picture? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences tried to answer this, fittingly, after 'The Dark Knight' was snubbed in 2008 by bumping up the number of Best Picture nominees. It worked in 2009 and 2010 ('Up,' 'District 9,' 'Inception' and 'Toy Story 3' were nominated); it hasn't worked since.
Mike: No, it hasn't worked at all. I would say it's been a complete failure at what it was intended to do: Bring more popular movies to the discussion like we used to have. I mean, would ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ be nominated for Best Picture today? Maybe? I would still bet "yes," but that wouldn't be a confident yes.
Chris: I don't even think it would. 'Star Wars' was a Best Picture nominee. 'Rocky' won! Can you imagine something like that happening now? "And the Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars goes to ... 'Neighbors'!"
Mike: OK, that's quite the jump from 'Star Wars' and 'Rocky' to 'Neighbors.' That's more equivalent to 'Bachelor Party' getting nominated than those other two movies. But, I will concede, popular comedies have no shot. Remember, 'Tootsie' was nominated for Best Picture.
Chris: See? I'm not so insane. But now, for a comedy to be nominated, it would have to be a "comedy." 'The Artist' comes to mind. Or 'Nebraska.' Where it's funny but not funny. But, to me, the problem isn't that the Academy doesn't want to honor a broad range of movies -- 'Gravity' is a prime example of this -- but that studios have now realized how to play the game. Oscar movies are a genre onto their own. It's something our pal Stu VanAirsdale so eloquently laid out for Slate.
Mike: Right, and we should mention, 'Gravity' was a very popular movie, but it's not 'The Dark Knight.' 'Gravity' dipped its toes in both the populous and critical waters. Here's what this all reminds me of: Remember when the baseball All-Star Game ended in a tie? And everyone freaked out and then the commissioner extended the rosters? The rosters didn't need to be expanded. All that did was force the manager to play even MORE players, trying to get them all in. The mangers didn't change the way they operate and neither did the studios. They just started making MORE prestige movies, not vying for acclaim from their "blockbusters.” (I realize that analogy isn't perfect, but, still -- two dumb rule changes that just gave us more of the same problem.)
Chris: That's actually a great analogy! And it's true. Maybe six years ago, we'd only have 'The Imitation Game' in the Oscar race. Now we have that plus 'The Theory of Everything.' Think about it this way: Last year, there were so many prestige ("prestige") movies coming out that 'Foxcatcher' had to move to 2014, lest it get lost in the shuffle. That's a great movie -- and it was independently financed by Megan Ellison before Sony Pictures Classics picked it up -- but it speaks to this burgeoning glut of, well, Oscar bait. Go back 10 years: 'Ray' and 'Sideways' made the cut of five nominees. The equivalent movies this year -- 'Get On Up' and, let's say, lol, 'The Judge' -- won't even come within 25 movies of Best Picture.
Mike: Which of those two movie are you comparing 'The Judge" with? Because 'The Judge' is not a great movie.
Chris: Ha, 'Sideways.' I would argue that's not a great movie either
Mike: 'The Judge' would not sniff a nomination in ANY year. And I like 'Sideways'! Let me ask you this? Would 'Gladiator' even be nominated if it came out today? And I ask this as someone who doesn't really have a strong opinion of 'Gladiator' either way.
Chris: No, I don't think it would. We've seen movies try to replicate that 'Gladiator' thing in recent years -- 'Exodus,' from Ridley Scott, being the latest example -- and it just doesn't work. It's a very cynical way of looking at the Oscars, but there is clearly a type of movie that wins, and a type of narrative that moves voters. It's prestige, but "populist." A movie that [film critic] David Ehrlich likes won't win Best Picture; movies that "adults" like, usually do. Which brings us back to 'Guardians' and 'Edge of Tomorrow.' "Adults" aren't supposed to like those movies, and that stigma is so hard to overcome.
Mike: But "adults" did like those movies! 'Guardians' doesn't make that kind of money from 18-year-olds alone. And to be fair to 'Gladiator,' that was a bad year of Oscar nominees.
Chris: It's just the stigma at this point. Summer movies = kids and fanboys/girls; fall movies = Oscars. Last year, the earliest movie release to earn a Best Picture nod was 'Gravity.' It came out on Oct. 4. The year before, it was 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' in June, but that isn't a typical "June movie" (it opened the same day as 'Ted' and 'Magic Mike'). The expanded nominee field has only made things more limited, more expected and traditional. It's actually been a spectacular failure.
Mike: Which is kind of a recent phenomenon. 'Gladiator' came out in May. 'Crash' came out in May. 'The Hurt Locker' came out in June! That was only five years ago! So, if you were in charge, what would you do? Because if the intention of this rule change was to include more "popular" movies, that hasn't worked.
Chris: I don't know, it seemed to work fine with five nominees, so let's just go back to that. Hope someday a movie like 'Guardians,' like 'Star Wars,' could score a Best Picture nomination just because it's great. They made the jump to ten (and then between five and ten) because of the fear that people would stop watching the Oscars if "boring" movies were nominated. But people will stop watching the Oscars because people don't watch television like they used to anymore anyway. Just go back to the way things were / get off my lawn.
Mike: And may the Force be with them.
Chris Rosen is the senior editor of Huffington Post Entertainment. You can reach him on Twitter.
Mike Ryan is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.