Award Is Not Enough

From 1933 to 1944, the AMPAS honored ten films every year in the Best Picture category. Beginning in 1945, they streamlined the process limiting the nominees to a mere five. There was no official reason as to why this change was made. In 2009, the AMPAS bumped the total number of best picture nominees back up to ten films.

The official reasoning behind this decision was to honor more mainstream films, thus enticing more people to watch the televised ceremony. The actual reason was to alleviate guilt; no longer were members of the academy forced to kowtow to Oscar Bait. You could, if you so desired, nominate films that you enjoyed watching.

But what if the Academy had made this decision ten years earlier? What would the nominations look like from 1999-2008 if every year had ten best film nominations?

If I may be so bold:

With the exceptions of 1928, 1935 and 1989, every film that's won Best Picture has been nominated for best director. As such, we can pretty much deduce with ten nominees that any film nominated for Best Director would also receive a nomination for Best Picture. In the case of 1999, that film would be Being John Malkovich.

At the Golden Globes, Man on the Moon won best picture (musical or comedy) and best actor in a lead role (Jim Carrey), so we can assume there was more than just mild interest in this film. It's also a biopic of somebody who dies tragically young, and the Academy loves those.

We can tell based on the nominations for The Green Mile and The Sixth Sense that 1999 favored psychological mindscrews. As such, with ten nominations, we can deduce one other film would be of the same vein. The Talented Mr Ripley can fill that niche.

I don't think Toy Story 2 would receive a nomination. Pixar was still in its infancy in 1999, and animation would probably still be getting the short end of the stick. But the groundwork has been laid; critics would already be asking why Pixar didn't get a nomination. The animation ghetto argument has just advanced by nine years.

Instead, let's give the final nominations to Magnolia because its a great film that was overlooked, and The Hurricane, because boxing movies are always nominated.

* American Beauty
o The Cider House Rules
o The Green Mile
o The Insider
o The Sixth Sense
+ Being John Malkovich
+ The Hurricane
+ Magnolia
+ Man on the Moon
+ The Talented Mr Ripley
Wow. Just looking at the nominees for 2000, I can already see how far we've come regarding Oscar Bait.

First, Billy Elliot gets in because of the director rule (groan).

Next, we'll give a nomination to Cast Away because everybody saw it, everybody loved it, it made its impact on popular culture, and then pretty much everybody forgot about it. Just like most Best Picture nominees.

We'll give the token comedy slot to Almost Famous because it won at the Golden Globes. And because it also managed to snatch the Best Original Screenplay Oscar away from the Best Picture winner, Gladiator. Which is a feat in and of itself.

Let's give the penultimate slot to Wonder Boys. No particular reason, here.

Finally, to prove that at least someone in Hollywood had a pulse in 2001, the final slot goes to Requiem For a Dream. It was one of the essential movies in the history of Indie films, it tackled a topical and important subject matter in a unique and interesting way, and it was thrilling, provocative and stylish. Sure, Traffic had similar themes, but if you ask a film fan which movie they like better, Requiem wins 99 times out of 100. Excuse the pun, but nominating Requiem For a Dream for Best Picture would have been a big shot in the arm to the indie circuit.

* Gladiator
o Chocolat
o Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
o Erin Brockovich
o Traffic
+ Almost Famous
+ Billy Elliot
+ Cast Away
+ Requiem For a Dream
+ Wonder Boys
First of all, congratulations to both Ridley Scott and David Lynch for their Best Director nominations. Both are master craftsmen in the medium of film, and both deserved accolades for their efforts this year, even with such tough competition. Even with such illustrious filmographies, Black Hawk Down and Mulholland Dr. are two of their strongest films. Both movies earn the first two vacant spots for Best Picture.

However, with both films touching on dark subject matter, we'll need to balance out the nominations with some significantly lighter fare; The Royal Tenenbaums snatches up spot number three. It takes the token comedy slot, it's a great script, a great ensemble cast, and I doubt there would be any objections. This will also be the only time anybody ever referred to The Royal Tenenbaums as "lighter fare."

I never understood why Amelie wasn't nominated for Best Picture. Everybody loved it. I went to college with a metalhead who only owned five DVDs, and Amelie was one of them. It's romance, it's comedy, it's enchanting, it's whimsical, and it was nominated for five other Academy Awards, but not Best Picture. Interesting trivia: only two French films have ever been nominated for Best Picture, which is odd considering France's filmography is filled with illustrious classic. But even still, with Life is Beautiful being nominated in 1998 and Crouching Tiger being nominated in 2000, maybe Academy members were just fed up with foreign films. Well, suck it up jerks. Amelie takes spot number four.

Interestingly enough, I wouldn't predict either Shrek or Monsters Inc to earn a nomination slot. If only one came out this year, certainly they would, but tragically, the vote is split between the two. Neither get the final prize.

Instead, Ali takes spot number five because boxing movies are always nominated.

* A Beautiful Mind
o Gosford Park
o In the Bedroom
o The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
o Moulin Rouge
+ Ali
+ Amelie
+ Black Hawk Down
+ Mulholland Dr.
+ The Royal Tenenbaums
Talk to Her earns the first nomination because of the director rule, making this the fourth foreign film in five years to earn a best picture nomination. And with great competition; Spirited Away, Hero, and Y Tu Mama Tambien were all gunning for the honor as well.

In a year where the Best Picture winner is a musical about women in an all-woman's prison who love cabaret, I hesitate to say we need a token chick flick, but we need a token chick flick. A film about a forbidden romance that society says is wrong, but which the lovers pursue anyway. And this year, there was one of the best: Far From Heaven.

Adaptation takes the third spot, being the sole quirky, unconventional film out of all the nominees (if you can consider orcs and ents conventional).

For the sake of argument, let's not consider The Hours or Adaptation a full-fledged biopic. Instead, let's give that honor to Catch Me If You Can. It's also a comedy, which works in its favor. Somehow.

Finally, the last nomination goes to About Schmidt because I get the feeling lots of people liked it, but were guilted into voting for something else. It deserves a better destiny than being the butt of jokes concerning Kathy Bates and a hot tub.

* Chicago
o Gangs of New York
o The Hours
o The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
o The Pianist
+ About Schmidt
+ Adaptation
+ Catch Me If You Can
+ Far From Heaven
+ Talk to Her
City of God takes the first spot because of the director rule. It deserves the nomination, anyway.

In the wake of 9/11, there were a lot of films about prejudice this year, such as House of Sand and Fog, In America, Dirty Pretty Things, and probably some others I'm forgetting. But if I may be so bold, I'd like to combine this category with the token comedy slot and give the nomination to Bend It Like Beckham. And no, Lost in Translation does not already fill the token comedy slot.

After years of almosts, Pixar finally gets its first nomination here with Finding Nemo. Congratulations, fishies.

Finally, let's give the last two slots to Cold Mountain and 21 Grams. Both were critically acclaimed dramas, both had a number of other nominations, and frankly, it doesn't matter what the last two nominations were, because Lord of the Rings destroyed everything in its path.

* The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
o Lost In Translation
o Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
o Mystic River
o Seabiscuit
+ 21 Grams
+ Bend it Like Beckham
+ City of God
+ Cold Mountain
+ Finding Nemo
I'm going to go against my self-imposed director rule for one reason: It's not practical here. The film in question is Vera Drake. I know nothing about Vera Drake. I don't think anybody saw Vera Drake. And if someone did, I doubt they remember anything about it. So I'm not going to honor it. There's too many other films to nominate, anyways.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released in March 2004. Compare this to 90% of all Oscar-nominated films which come out in December. Most people forgot about it come nomination time. I theorize if Finding Neverland and Eternal Sunshine swapped release dates, Eternal Sunshine would have earned the nomination instead. But now with ten nominees, they both get the honor.

Collateral earns a nomination as the token thriller, a genre absent from the five original nominees. AMPAS, genre films will not bite you.

Pixar shines again with a nomination for The Incredibles, an obvious choice if you ask me. But nobody ever does, which is why I've resigned myself to blogging.

After a very fortuitous year at the Emmys for Angels in America, director Mike Nichols has carryover success at the Oscars with his film Closer. It's a romance that gets the majority of the chick flick votes, especially after the disappointments that were The Phantom of the Opera, Alfie and De-Lovely.

So what film gets the fifth and final slot? Well, after Michael Moore's 2002 Best Documentary win for Bowling for Columbine, his big win at Cannes in 2004, and a general animosity by everyone throughout Hollywood towards the Bush administration, I think there's a fairly strong likelihood Fahrenheit 9/11 would snatch up a nomination for best picture. It would be the first documentary to ever be nominated outside the Best Documentary category (as far as my research reveals), and for Best Picture, no less. Hollywood does not hide its liberal bias well.

* Million Dollar Baby
o The Aviator
o Finding Neverland
o Ray
o Sideways
+ Collateral
+ Closer
+ Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
+ Fahrenheit 9/11
+ The Incredibles
In an odd turn of events, 2005 was one of four years where the Best Picture nominees matched up exactly with the Best Director nominees. So the director rule is out.

A History of Violence was lauded as one of the best films of the year, so we'll give it the token thriller slot.

In fact, let's just honor all the token stereotypes. Let's give a nomination to The Squid and the Whale for comedy (Baumbach/Raimi dichotomy be damned).

The Constant Gardner gets a nomination for being politically topical and provocative.

Walk the Line gets a nomination for being a combination musical and biopic (and because it's basically Ray, but with country singers).

And finally, Cinderella Man gets a nom because boxing movies are always nominated.

* Crash
o Brokeback Mountain
o Capote
o Good Night, and Good Luck
o Munich
+ Cinderella Man
+ The Constant Gardener
+ A History of Violence
+ The Squid and the Whale
+ Walk the Line
United 93 gets the first nomination. It was nominated for Best Director, and because 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11.

I'm hesitant to name any others nominees, because the nominations for 2006 seem to hit all the marks: Action, social drama, indie comedy, a biopic and a foreign language film (even though Letters From Iwo Jima was produced in America). But all hesitations aside, I've got a blog post to finish. Let's just double up on everything.

Half-Nelson is another social drama exploring societal and class relations across differing ethnic backgrounds only to reach the conclusion that we're not all that different (just like Babel.)

Pan's Labyrinth is the story of a young protagonist searching for escape and salvation from hostile authority figures, war, and an assured death. And its presented in a foreign language (just like Letters From Iwo Jima.)

The Devil Wears Prada is a comedy about a female protagonist trying to advance in an industry ruled by superficial standards of beauty, only to discover the best way to live is by embracing your flaws (just like Little Miss Sunshine.)

And finally, Dreamgirls is the story of a female protagonist finding the courage to face her eagerly awaiting public, even while being pressured by authority figures to remain in the background (just like The Queen.)

* The Departed
o Babel
o Letters from Iwo Jima
o Little Miss Sunshine
o The Queen
+ The Devil Wears Prada
+ Dreamgirls
+ Half Nelson
+ Pan's Labyrinth
+ United 93
2007 was one of the greatest years for movies in recent history. Go look at the Wikipedia page for 2007 In Film and try to disagree with me. Not now, do it on your own time.

First off, let's give The Diving Bell and the Butterfly a nomination for not only getting the Best Director nom, but for also being a foreign language film and a biopic. Way to hog the spotlight.

Zodiac was a critical darling, and everybody was surprised when it not only missed out on a Best Picture nom, but was completely ignored by the Academy altogether. The March release date didn't help. Well, it's a good thing I can reshape history in my image.

In addition to being a great year for cinema in general, 2007 successfully revived the Western genre with two top-notch films; 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Crawford. One of these two films deserves recognition. And since I'm the only one authorized to break ties, I'm declaring 3:10 to Yuma the slightly better film.

Let's give the fourth slot to Sweeney Todd. Partially because it was a musical, partially because it had mass appeal, but mostly because Tim Burton deserves an Oscar nomination by this point in his career.

Finally, Ratatouille gets a nomination because it's the token Pixar flick. And because, with films about hitmen, rape, teenage pregnancy, corruption, exploitation, frontier gunslinging, psychological torment from near-total paralysis, cannibalism and serial killers, 2007 needs an upper. As Jon Stewart said at the Oscars, "Does this town need a hug?"

* No Country for Old Men
o Atonement
o Juno
o Michael Clayton
o There Will Be Blood
+ 3:10 to Yuma
+ The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
+ Ratatouille
+ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
+ Zodiac
I don't even have to talk about 2008. I can name the other five nominations for 2008 right here, right now. The Dark Knight, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, Wall-E, and The Wrestler.

How can I be certain? Because everybody already knows these were the other five nominations. There's no denying it. Everybody asked the same question in 2008: "Why weren't these five films nominated?"

And the Academy responded, "Because those five films were nominated."

And then everybody asked, "But why were those five films nominated, and not these five films."

And the Academy responded, "Because we can only nominate five films."

2008 was the reason the nominations were bumped up to ten. Hollywood was just producing too much quality work, and too many good films were falling through the cracks. There had to be a change. And change there was.

* Slumdog Millionaire
o The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
o Frost/Nixon
o Milk
o The Reader
+ The Dark Knight
+ Doubt
+ Revolutionary Road
+ Wall-E
+ The Wrestler

Well, thanks for joining me on this trip through an alternate universe that rejected the studio machine Oscar Bait a decade early. You're probably wondering if I'll go back further and show the alternate nominees from even earlier years, but I took a look at some of the other nominees from 1997 and 1998... Eesh. Let's leave history for the history books.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting exercise. I think you have more faith in the Academy than I do - I don't necessarily see movies like Bend It Like Beckham, The Devil Wears Prada, or About Schmidt being nominated, mostly because the Academy is a lot like Ebert in that they've forgotten how to have fun at the movies (please see Star Trek and The Dark Knight's missing noms).

    I also think that, given the chance, Spirited Away would have taken a slot in 2002.