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Oscar Stimulus Package? Best Picture Move Makes Waves

By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire June 24, 2009 at 8:01AM

An economic bailout? A move of desperation? Big news for small films? A ploy for better TV ratings? Amidst the cacophony of tweeting today about S.C. governor Mark Sanford, Insiders and observers also reacted immediately on blogs, via email, IM, Twitter and Facebook to the AMPAS announcement that ten films would be nominated for best picture this year. And, what will the move mean for indie, specialty, foreign and documentary films, we asked insiders.
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An economic bailout? A move of desperation? Big news for small films? A ploy for better TV ratings? Amidst the cacophony of tweeting today about S.C. governor Mark Sanford, Insiders and observers also reacted immediately on blogs, via email, IM, Twitter and Facebook to the AMPAS announcement that ten films would be nominated for best picture this year. And, what will the move mean for indie, specialty, foreign and documentary films, we asked insiders.

RELATED ARTICLES: AMPAS Takes 10 For Best Pic | Interview with Sid Ganis

"If it causes more people to see more movies I am all for it," Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker told indieWIRE.

"It will only help the indie movies with distributors willing to pay for the nomination," one acquisitions executive told indieWIRE, requesting anonymity, "'Precious' [from Lions Gate] and 'An Education' [from Sony Pictures Classis] seem likeliest at this point," said the buyer, who doesn't work for either LGF or Sony.

"Maybe I'm naïve, but I would hope that some of those slots would go to independents and docs," anticipated Eric d'Arbeloff, co-president of Roadside Attractions. "It would be a great forum to give independents some much needed attention." 

"Currently, I feel like most of the films that the studios set out to get nominated do get nominated -- not that exciting," d'Arbeloff continued, "On the other hand, as a member of the industry who wants the business to remain vital and relevant, I would also relish seeing the non-pretentious, quality commercial films get nominated in this category.  So my dream race would be 'The Matrix'es of the world competing with the 'Frozen River's!"

"I think it is the most amazing and impressive thing I've seen the Academy do in the ten years I've been paying attention to what they've been doing," praised Oscar season blogger Sasha Stone of AwardsDaily. "I'm slightly curious about what prompted them to do this, as the heat of the race has always been on the nominated five.  After 'The Dark Knight' was snubbed last year in lieu of 'The Reader' they lost a lot of public support they could ill afford to lose.  This is a great way to get it back, or at least to open up the race to many more studios, films and fans.  It's all good."

"I suppose that, when faced with 10 blank slots on their ballots, voters could throw a bone or two to a really small film to fill out their list. But if the Academy continues the previous voting guidelines, in which a film must receive at least one first place vote in order to continue onto the next round of voting, then all the #9 or #10 slot votes an indie gets won't count for anything," noted Dustin Smith from Roadside, adding that it would be better if AMPAS set aside a few slots for indie, doc and animated titles, forcing voters to see alternative fare.

The news certainly caught many in the industry by surprise. One person on Twitter asked whether the story was from indieWIRE or The Onion. By and large, however, most immediate reactions to the news were much less enthusiastic. On Facebook, some quipped that the decision will make the annual awards show even longer, while others saw it as a move to bolster studio films and bailout Hollywood trade papers that could stand to earn even more in awards season campaign dollars.

"I didn't realize the best picture category needed fixing," offered Tom Quinn, from Magnolia Pictures, "Anyway, I hope at least this means there's a notion to rejigger the categories that actually need fixing, like the doc, foreign and shorts categories."

Calling the move "desperate," in a blog post, David Poland noted that the move leads to, "more chance that the wrong choices will be made." But he added, "I'm not crying, as a businessman." In a comment to indieWIRE, Poland said, "Good for media.  Expensive for studios and indies.  In foreign, mostly good for Sony Classics.  In doc, mostly good for Michael Moore.  It makes the race more interesting."

"It makes more pop films more viable," Poland told indieWIRE today, "And is it good for the industry or for getting the very best Best Pictures?  Only time will tell."

Calling the Academy's decision "a risky, but potentially slamdunk gamble," HitFix's Greg Ellwood added that, "the positives certainly outweigh the negatives." He lead his analysis article with a film still from the latest Star Trek film.

"The final joke could end up being on the Academy and the trades," Roadside's Smith continued, "Last year the studios all cut way back on their campaign spending using the dubious explanation that 'Slumdog' already had the award in the bag, when they were really just trying to protect their bottom lines. So in the end, despite the increase in Best Pic nominees, the studios still may not spend enough to save the trades. And the Academy seems willing to trade the prestige and exclusivity of their award for theoretically larger TV ratings, despite the fact that today's fragmented audience has resulted in lower ratings for all network programming across the board. It seems like a big gamble."

"By inviting more people to the party, AMPAS has diluted the value of getting a nomination, which is everything in Hollywood," wrote Michael Speier from The Wrap. "Ten movies? Are there really 10 movies every year that should get a best picture nomination? Think about it...For Your Consideration: 'The Hangover'."

"I expect that the expansion of this category means they are going to cut others -- it's no secret that the short doc category has been hanging by a thread, and I wouldn't be surprised if the short film went too," worried d'Arbeloff from Roadside, "This is a loss, but something's got to turn this show around -- there were some good changes last year, but it still sometimes resembles the Eurovision Song Contest -- quaint, dated, irrelevant."

"I am thrilled to discover how this will change the Oscar race, which has become so incestuous and predictable in recent years," AwardsDaily's Sasha Stone noted, adding that the move should help smaller films this year like, "An Education." She added that foreign language titles could see a boost as well. However, she cautioned that the AMPAS decision could dilute the prize. That said, her comments were mostly supportive of the news.

"This will tear down a wall in a way and allow for all kinds of films to be represented," Stone continued, "It should be exciting news for filmmakers."

What do you think?

This article is related to: Features