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10 for Best Picture

It was announced yesterday that the Academy will now nominate ten films for Best Picture. From their press release:

For more than a decade during the Academy’s earlier years, the Best Picture category welcomed more than five films; for nine years there were 10 nominees. The 16th Academy Awards (1943) was the last year to include a field of that size; “Casablanca” was named Best Picture. (In 1931/32, there were eight nominees and in 1934 and 1935 there were 12 nominees.) “Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize,” commented Ganis.

One might coin this “the Wall-E decision”, as there was much speculation and controversy last year over Pixar’s Wall-E — that it could (or should) have been nominated for Best Picture.

This move to include more movies as nominees will allow more commercially successful films (i.e. big budget Hollywood fantasies) to compete with the artier fare (Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, Milk, etc.), no doubt to help increase the ratings for the Oscar broadcast. Ten nominees could also boost box office gross and DVD sales for twice as many films.

But how will this affect the animated features? Will Pixar’s Up have a shot to go one-on-nine against the likes of James Cameron’s Avatar, Michael Mann’s Public Enemies and Sam Mendes Away We Go? Industry pundit Jeffery Wells thinks not.

Hollywood still places animation in a ghetto and nothing is going to change that. I hope Up, Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox or some animated film can somehow crack the Best Picture category – but I won’t bet on it. Until perceptions change, I’m just glad we have the Best Animated Short and Best Animated Feature categories.

Speaking of which, at the mid-way point it’s looking like a great year for the Animated Feature category. There are already 13 releases set for 2009 (14 if you count Jim Carrey’s mo-cap Christmas Carol – I don’t). If a few more “dark horse” foreign films get submitted, as they usually do at the end of the year, that could trigger five nominees (I’m rooting for Mary & Max and Secret of Kells to get a legitimate U.S. release). However, recall that last year three eligible studio films were not submitted to the Academy (Fox ignored Space Chimps, Warner Bros. withheld Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Universal omitted The Pirates That Don’t Do Anything), thus forcing the Academy to consider only three nominees. It just goes to show, the major studios still control the process no matter how you perceive the results.

  • Christopher Cook

    “Space Chimps,” “Clone Wars” and “The Pirates That Don’t Do Anything” were most likely withheld from Oscar nominations because the studios saw them for what they were–tax write-offs.

  • Christopher Cook – No one is debating the merits of Space Chimps, Clone Wars and the Veggie Tales movie – they would never have been nominated anyway. But they were all given wide releases by major Hollywood studios and were certainly qualified for nomination. If their respective studios submitted them for nomination, more animated features would have been recognized for the award. In fact, those studios only hurt themselves. If Universal wanted Despareaux to be nominated, or if Fox thought it had a chance with Horton, they should have qualified The Pirates and Space Chimps. They also hurt the chances of independent films like Waltz With Bashir and $9.99.

  • J Hobart B

    Big deal. All this means is that the other five nominees will be considered “also rans.” They’re throwing a bone to the people who like action movies and cartoons just to shut them up, but there will always only be five (or fewer) “real” nominees.

  • Roger Ebert thinks this could be the death knell to the animated film category:


  • Christopher Olson – Nice article by Ebert, but no where does he say anything about this change being “the death knell to the animated film category”. And it won’t be.

  • What a boneheaded idea.

    My first thought upon seeing this was also whether it would mean Pixar would finally get their Best Picture nomination. Personally, I don’t see the point of this decision at all: ever since they bumped the Oscars from March to February and curtailed a) the ability of the studios to do lengthy ad campaigns in Variety and b) the predictability of being forecasted by every other awards show, the Best Picture nominees have been more independent of spirit and mind. Were it not for the Animated Film ghetto, this may have turned out to be more favourable for animation in the long run.

    If this results in more exposure for the films that are currently in categorical ghettos – by which I mean both the Animated Feature and the Foreign Language Film – then the decision will turn out to be worthwhile. As it stands, this is a sloppy and unnecessary apology for last year’s ballots not caving into the public pressure in favour of The Dark Knight.

  • Greg

    I think more people think of this as “The Dark Knight” Rule than as the “Wall-E” Rule.

  • I agree with you wholeheartedly Jerry, and would love to see an animated feature being nominated for Best Picture. However, I think Elliot Cowan was right when he pointed out a while ago that the continued conferring of a Best Animated Feature award pretty much rules out such an occurrence for the foreseeable future.

  • I wasn’t thrilled by this decision made by the Academy Awards, it’s more damaging than helping. To me, it feels like they’re looking for reasons to nominate a film for Best Picture, when it really shouldn’t be nominated (animated or not). I mean, can we really think that the Academy might grace DreamWorks with a Best Picture nod for a Shrek sequel? Or how about a Kung Fu Panda sequel? Either way, this is not something I am happy about.

    It just needs to stay at five, and have better considerations for an animated film to be nominated for Best Picture when it’s appropriate….not nominate it because it’s more convenient now.

  • Rob T.

    I think it’s misleading to refer to such Oscar bait as Milk and The Reader as “arty”. Except for Slumdog Millionaire, all of last year’s “best picture” nominees were best described as “prestige pictures”, by which I mean films based on “classic” or at least famous prose fiction or plays, or else pictures based on true stories of famous people or events–basically, movies with stories already validated by the cultural gatekeepers in other media.

    There’s nothing wrong with such pictures in principle, but they rarely represent the cinematic cutting edge very well. Slumdog Millionaire, a relatively lightweight film with style to burn, was a better example of “arty” cinema in this sense than the films it vanquished for “best picture”.

    It’s also the latest in a series of recent “best picture” winners to have little use for conventional “prestige picture” esthetics. Of the three previous winners, only No Country for Old Men could be described as a “prestige picture”, but thanks to the Coen brothers’ typically inventive direction and editing it didn’t look or feel like one.

    While it’s entirely possible that more blockbuster films will be nominated for “best picture” under the new rules, I agree with Roger Ebert that it’s as least as likely that more “small films” will be nominated, whether “prestige pictures” such as last year’s Doubt and Revolutionary Road or truly “arty” items such as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly from a couple of years ago. (The latter film could be considered a “prestige picture” too, but again it doesn’t really look like one.)

  • 10 films worthy of Best Film nomination in a single year?

    And Charles – I still stand by that.

  • J

    Jerry – What about Sylvain Chomets Illusionist in your list of upcoming feature films? Isn’t that 2009 as well? At least it should be on your Radar bit…. Or is it just for confirmed USA releases? hmmmm??

  • Saturnome

    Yeah well that removes the prestige of being nominated.

    There shouldn’t be a fixed number… there shouldn’t even be nomination or oscars when it’s not worth it. Cancelling the oscars on boring years may be a better way for them to save money.

  • Mike Russo

    This isn’t going to change a thing.

  • I think this is a good idea…

    Foreign Language, Documentary, Animation and others should all be considered for Best Picture. It’s Best Picture, so it should be best over-all, it’s not “best dramatic film with an ensemble cast”…

  • startend

    Makes no difference. There will still only be ONE WINNER.


  • Sadly it was not change anything; the Academy values hardcore drama over everything. That’s why animated films like Wall-E or foreign language films like Let the Right One In or The Class never get in.

  • If the brilliant filmmaking devices demonstrated in films such as Wall-E and Up cannot convince the academy that animated films are just as legitimate a medium for serious story telling as live-action, then I don’t think anything will. I’m glad there is an animation category, so at least we get some kind of recognition, albeit marginalized.

  • I don’t normally think Pixar movies are the best movies of the years, but they certainly are among the ten best pictures of each year, so if they still don’t nominate them this time it will be really unfair.

    Considering the amount of crap that’s produced currently it’s even difficult to find ten good movies in a year, and sometimes the winner is not even among the best of the year. Slumdog Millionaire was ok at best. In Brugues, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, The Dark Night or Wall-E were better (and I’m not even a big fan of these last two).

    So in general I couldn’t care less about the Oscars anymore, but I must admit it would be really satisfactory if an animated movie won one of these years.

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    Somehow I figure that animated films will stay in their own little ghetto if the new proposal flies. If the intent of the change is to give consideration to more “mainstream” films, it won’t help animation which isn’t considered mainstream enough by too many people who think it’s synonymous with “Kids only” (readers of this blog excepted).

  • I want to see them invite Liz Taylor to try and read that 10 title-long list off a teleprompter next year.

    hmmm… in order to make this look like it wasn’t all about making room for more animated or comedy or independent nominees, they’ll have to not nominate any of those the first year, so in succeeding years when they do they can say there wasn’t a quote for those niches since there was that one example year when none got nominated.

    The Oscars typically had 10 or more nominees in many categories prior to 1943 and somehow they survived.

  • What about Bill Plympton’s Idiots and Angles, it’s the best animated film I’ve seen this year. Did it ever get released? If not there is something wrong with the distribution system that having more nominees won’t fix.