January 24, 2012

Why are there 9 — not 5 and not 10 — Best Picture Oscar nominations and which are the real nominees...

... that is, the nominees that would be the nominees if, as in the old days, there were only 5 nominees. My 28-year old son Christopher Althouse Cohen does the analysis:
This year there are 9 nominees. There's a reason there are 9 instead of 10 (or 5). The category originally got expanded to 10 nominees after 2008, probably because a lot of mainstream moviegoers were upset that The Dark Knight was "snubbed" in favor of The Reader. The Academy figured that, if only there had been some more slots, The Dark Knight would have been nominated and the viewers would have been more happy.

The next year, there were 10 nominees, and it was a much more commercial lineup that included at least 5 box office hits (Avatar... District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Up, and The Blind Side). They probably liked seeing District 9 and Up nominated, but the critics largely didn't consider The Blind Side to be Oscar material. The next year, Inception and Toy Story 3 got nominated, probably because of the expanded category, but so did the not-particularly-good-for-ratings Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right.

The Academy probably thought the category was getting watered down, but they wanted to keep the category big enough so that some hit movies would keep getting in. So, they came up with some formula where there are at least five nominees, and other movies can get nominated (but no more than ten) if they meet a certain voting threshold. It happened to be 9 this year, but it could just as well have been 8, etc.

Here are the nominees:
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight In Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse
So, let's figure out which of the 9 are the "real" nominees that would have made it into a normal, 5-nominee list, and which are the extra ones.
We just have to eliminate four of these movies. But first, there are two movies that are locks on the 5-nominee list, the ones that got by far the most nominations: The Artist and Hugo. Those have to be nominated, so really we just have 3 open slots and 7 movies to choose from.

The easiest to eliminate is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which was such a surprise the journalists in the audience yelled out and gasped when they heard it announced. It only had one other nomination -- Supporting Actor -- and that too was considered a major surprise.

Now we're down to 6, and exactly half of these would have gotten nominated: The Descendants, The Help, Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse. That looks like a strong list, but since we can see what other Oscar nom's these movies got, it should be easier to whittle it down.

War Horse is the first of the remaining I'd remove from the list. It was considered a strong contender at one point, but Steven Spielberg didn't get a Director nomination, and even though it got six nominations, all of them other than Picture were in technical categories. It's never happened that a Spielberg movie got nominated for Best Picture without getting any other major-category nominations (though he did get snubbed in the Director category for The Color Purple).

I'd also get rid of The Help, because its other three nominations are all in acting categories. It didn't even get nominated for Adapted Screenplay.

So, finally, we have four movies left, one of which must be elimated: The Descendants, Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life.

Now the elimination is harder. The Descendants is probably the strongest of these. It just got 5 nominations, but they included Director, Actor, and Screenplay. Moneyball is the only one that wasn't nominated for Best Director. But almost every year when there were 5 Picture nom's, the Picture and Director categories didn't line up exactly. Moneyball did get a Screenplay nomination and two acting nom's, so it's fairly strong overall. What's most likely is that one of the remaining two -- Midnight In Paris or The Tree of Life -- would have been the movie nominated for Director but not Picture, and Moneyball would have been the Picture-but-not-Director movie.

Midnight In Paris is (from my count) the third Woody Allen movie to get a Best Picture nomination (after Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters), but it's his sixth Director nom, so it's happened three times that his movie got the Director-but-not-Picture thing (Interiors, Broadway Danny Rose, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Bullets Over Broadway). Midnight In Paris could have been the fourth one. But maybe not. Midnight In Paris was commercially successful in a way that those Picture-snubbed movies weren't. Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters were hit movies with broad appeal when they came out. Midnight In Paris was kind of a hit, technically his highest grossing movie ever. With the expanded category, it was considered something of a lock. The Tree of Life, however, does not have broad appeal, is clearly an art movie, and feels like the sort of thing directors love but that gets fewer votes from other branches. Keep in mind, the nominations in each category are chosen by their respective branches, but everyone votes for the Best Picture nominees. Both of these movies got three nominations each this year. Midnight In Paris got Picture, Director, and Screenplay; The Tree of Life got Picture, Director, and Cinematography. I think it's close between the two, but I would go with The Tree of Life as the one that would have gotten left out.

So, with that, here are the real nominations for Best Picture today:
The Artist
The Descendants
Midnight In Paris
or, perhaps:
The Artist
The Descendants
The Tree of Life
I'd go with the former.


edutcher said...

The only one of those that would be up would be "War Horse", along with the ones about Dame Maggie and Marilyn.

The Academy's pretensions have finally caught up with the industry's Leftism and bad business management.

ricpic said...

The Descendants


War Horse

Those are the other three films that would legitimately make the best five list.

The dilution from best five in any category to best nine or ten was a serious mistake. Sure, the occasional deserving film or actor might be cut out of the competition, but an Oscar would finally mean as much as election to the Baseball Hall of Fame if the H of F started admitting lifetime .260 hitters. Okay, the analogy ain't that great. Maybe someone can come up with a better one.

MayBee said...

Ricpic is right with his choices.
So the whole list would be:

The Artist
The Descendants

The extra 5 possibilities were added on to try to improve the ratings of the broadcast, by getting more movies people have actually seen into the mix.

MayBee said...

but an Oscar would finally mean as much as election to the Baseball Hall of Fame if the H of F started admitting lifetime .260 hitters. Okay, the analogy ain't that great. Maybe someone can come up with a better one.

The Oscar still only goes to one picture.
Your analogy would work better if the Oscars started doing what the Golden Globes do, have two separate "Best Movie" categories, so two go home with the award.

D. B. Light said...

"The Artist" was clearly the best film I saw last year. Liked "Hugo" and "Moneyball" didn't care for "Descendants" although the supporting cast was quite good [Clooney was the weakest link]. Can't understand why "Driver" and Albert Brooks were neglected. They were superb. "Midnight in Paris" was really lightweight, even for Allen. Didn't see the Hanks film and don't intend to. "Tree of Life" was boring, superficial, and pretentious, although Brad Pitt was really good in it. He's matured into quite a good actor.

Carol_Herman said...

The only movie I want to see is The Iron Lady.

The last movie I saw (and loved, to boot), was The King's Speech.

All the rest? They pad things out for the show.

But what's really funny?

Good looking people, who own formal wear, are hired to keep the seats warm. So the stars can come in at the end. You'll notice NO ONE wears wrinkled clothing.

It's a give-away. If your clothes aren't wrinkled, you haven't been sitting for long.

Chip S. said...

Midnight in Paris wouldn't have been in my top 9 even if it had been one of only 9 movies I'd seen all year.

Look, it's F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife. Say something crazy, Zelda!

What a pathetic joke of a movie.

Phil 314 said...

I'm pretty there's a rule that at least every other Spielberg film must be nominated for Best Picture.

As for "Tree of Life" there must always be at least one movie that is unintelligible to the Academy (and at least one film that speaks to a "cause")

Remember they are both artists and noble.

rcocean said...

I enjoyed "Midnight in Paris" it was a nice little film. It doesn't compare on any level to "Hannah and her Sisters" or "Annie Hall".

The AA nominations just show how Hollywood is in decline & has been since the 50s and 60s. Here are the nominations from (Just a year at random) 1953:

From Here to Eternity
Julius Caesar
The Robe
Roman Holiday

"Stalag 17" wasn't nominated that year and neither was the "Big Heat" "Pickup on South Street" "Band Wagon" nor "The Naked Spur"

the jackal said...

Minor quibble, but I don't think the nomination for Best Score is a "technical" category (War Horse, John Williams).

john marzan said...

I'd take hugo out

here are the real top 5
The Artist
Midnight in Paris
The Descendants
Tree of Life

10 years from now, i'll still be enjoying these films.

paminwi said...

Have you seen Hugo and War Horse? My opinion? Don't waste your money on either one.

Midnight in Paris - nice enough movie - not Oscar worthy, IMO.

Moneyball - good movie - still not Oscar worthy.

Haven't seen the others yet but I think "The Academy" has to make sure George Clooney and/or Brad Pitt are nominated every year just to try to get good ratings for the RED CARPET ARRIVALS and THE SHOW! Because if the beautiful people are not there why would people watch?