The thing to remember is that six years ago, ten was a number that was designed to please Oscar broadcaster ABC by boosting Oscar ratings with more films appealing to a larger global demographic. It was about getting people to tune into an Oscars promoting not only the best art films (“The Hurt Locker,” “The Artist,” “Birdman”) but Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” which did not make the Top Five, and Sandra Bullock vehicle, “The Blind Side,” which slipped into the Top Ten. Truth is, movies like “Titanic” (1998 ratings topper) and “The Lord of the Rings” lure viewers, not Oscar hosts.
The thinking was to allow more popular films–as well as docs, foreign and animated features–to enter the Oscar fray so that viewers would have more reason to tune in. “The biggest concern is we didn’t want to take away what it meant to be one of the five,” says Sherak. “We did not want to dilute the nominations. We did a lot of research and we found that to the public we weren’t diluting it. We’re giving them a wider range of what’s out there. It does become important to the ratings. And 90% of the revenue to run the Academy comes from that show.” (As well as mounting the Oscar telecast, the Academy runs an archive library and ongoing screenings and exhibitions throughout the year.)
The studios have stopped making, for the most part, the movies that used to be in Oscar contention. Prestige dramas are now the purview of specialty distributors. Hollywood studio big budget A-list movies are what used to be B-list fare. Which is why so many comic book blockbusters are relegated to the tech categories that celebrate the best sets, costumes and spectacle cinematography. The closest this year’s Oscar race came to an old-fashioned Hollywood Oscar movie was Wes Anderson’s elegantly designed European valentine, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which won four Oscars.
One argument against the extended list is that it devalues a nomination. Those in favor of more Best Picture candidates argue that more attention for films that might not get it otherwise is a good thing. And that without this year’s box office smash “American Sniper” in the race, the ratings would have been even worse.
What do you think?