The experiment has failed. The Oscars simply don’t work. And no, I’m not just continuing to vent my frustration over Boyhood losing.
For the last six years, The Academy has experimented with a different number of Best Picture nominees, starting with 10, then a variable number between five and 10 based on first place votes.
That experiment could now be coming to an end. The Hollywood Reporter floated the rumor Tuesday that the Academy is seriously considering switching back to five nominees for Best Picture, and that the motion has support with a “significant fraction of the Academy”.
This is speculation at the moment, as the Academy’s Board of Governors isn’t set to meet until March 24. That said, this year’s Oscar ratings were down by 15 percent from last year, despite having one of the year’s biggest box office hits in American Sniper up for Best Picture and a bankable star in Neil Patrick Harris as host.
But there’s more: the original decision to switch to 10 was billed as a throwback to the 1930s and ’40s, in which a 10-year period between 1933 and 1943 produced 10 nominees each year. The Academy President directly cited 1939 as the gold standard in which Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights all lost to Gone With the Wind. Reporters at the time questioned whether there would even be enough great movies worthy of the prize, as today’s Hollywood does not produce near the amount of film product as they did in the Golden Age.
In turn, the Academy nominated films like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Blind Side and more that could skate in on hype. The fix then was the variable rules. It was even revealed that when recalculating the votes of the last few years, the Academy concluded that anywhere from five to 10 nominees could result. But once you know the rules, people change how they vote, and the system resulted in nine, nine and eight nominees in the three years the system was in place.
But of course the real reason behind the switch was The Dark Knight. A snub for that film made the Academy look even more out of touch than they do today. The idea was simple: more nominees equals more blockbuster fare, which means more people watching for films they recognize. Hits like Inception, Toy Story 3, The Blind Side, and American Sniper got in as a result, but the trend line has been toward recognizing smaller indie fare that would otherwise miss the cut, like Whiplash, Selma, Nebraska, Her, Amour, Midnight in Paris, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.
That may be good for cinephiles looking to see their favorites, but doesn’t fit the grand scheme of what the Oscars have typically stood for. And it also harms the winners. Mark Harris argued some time ago that when you have five slots, a larger number of films get in the conversation of what could be in and what could be a spoiler. With upwards of 10, the field is nearly determined within a couple of months of awards season.
So will the Academy change back to what served it well for so many years? At this point it’s not a matter of if but when.
South Park coined the adage “The Simpsons did it” some time ago, but it has perhaps never been more true and more wide reaching than in this bizarre instance. In a 1998 episode of the show, Homer Simpson appeared to have predicted the equation for the Higgs Boson particle, or the “God Particle”, 14 years before it was discovered. That’s the equation above, and aside from the countless Easter eggs and minuscule in jokes that pepper the atmosphere of Springfield, the show has a long documented history of the writers being total math nerds. Simon Singh wrote the 2013 book The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, and he was the one who revealed to The Independent that the equation nearly equals the mass of the Higgs. “I am so smart! S-M-R-T!”
Netflix this week plunked down million to pick up Cary Fukunaga’s (True Detective) latest film, Beasts of No Nation. The film stars Idris Elba in a drama about a child soldier in Africa. Netflix’s plan is to release the film both in theaters and on Netflix streaming the same day. Netflix made a similar move with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2, which in partnership with The Weinstein Company is releasing the film in IMAX along with the Netflix release. However, many theater chains and exhibitors are already banning Beasts of No Nation, demanding a 90 day window between its theatrical and VOD premiere. This to me feels like a battle the theaters are going to lose. They’re already looking like dinosaurs compared to Netflix, and if they want to survive, they’ll likely have to play ball and figure out a way that releasing films both online and in theaters can benefit both outlets.
In casting news: Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) will play the Beast opposite Emma Watson’s Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast live action movie, and Luke Evans will play Gaston. The Independence Day 2 cast now includes Jesse Usher in Will Smith’s old role, but has Jeff Goldblum returning and Liam Hemsworth also coming on board. Steve Martin is joining Ang Lee’s next film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Jane Lynch is getting a new CBS comedy pilot, Angel From Hell. Allison Janney is joining Tim Burton’s new film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. And Zachary Quinto will appear on Season 3 of Hannibal.
Also making news:
- FXX has renewed Man Seeking Woman for a second season
- IFC has canceled Garfunkel and Oates after one season
- Netflix has announced its summer premiere schedule: the Wachowski sibling series Sense8 will premiere in May, Orange is the New Black will return for its third season on June 12, and the revival of Wet Hot American Summer will air July 17.
- The next Steven Spielberg film, formerly titled St. James Place, will now be called Bridge of Spies, and will feature John Williams writing the score. This will be their 26th film together.