It seems evident to me that the end result of this new policy, announced 6-24-09, will be much less than people are making out.
No comedy or documentary was among the list of top contenders like they were. That is likely to remain true in upcoming years. So I don't think we're going to see more unusual choices among the Best Picture nominees.
And as for picking the winner -- well, the chances for The Dark Knight actually winning would not have been improved.
Once a film consistently hits top-ten lists and wins earlier awards, it tends to become a favorite. The final narrowing down is done by the Director's Guild a few weeks before the Oscar ceremony.
Christopher Nolan was not nominated as best director - and it's very rare for a film with no director nom to win best picture. Once the DGA gave its top prize to Danny Boyle, it would have become just as clear as it was last February that Slumdog Millionaire was the front runner - this despite The Dark Knight's eight other nominations.
If they really want to widen the field, the Academy needs to change how the nomination votes are counted - Remember, for the most part, only the top choice of an Academy voter really matters - as I understand it, their 2nd and 3rd choices only kick in if there's a tie.
That means if The Dark Knight had been the 3rd or 4th choice of an overwhelming majority, it still wouldn't have gotten a Best Picture nomination - it needed to be the 1st choice of at least x number of voters.
Now that's still true, though it's odds would be improved.
But I still think most Academy members' top choice will be among the critics' top-ten picks - not something radical or outside the box.
Another option discussed - two different pix nominations lists - e.g. five each for Best Drama and Comedy - is not the way to go. Where you draw these lines is subjective.
Little Miss Sunshine is more a drama than a comedy, I'd argue. It was on a strong path as the leading contender, along with The Departed, until the DGA awards were announced.
But if there'd been a separate Best Picture - Comedy category, you can be sure there would have been big pressure put on to enter it there in the belief its chances of winning would go up. Which they would have. But then you've got two different award shows in one, like the Golden Globes.
The downside I regret is this move dilutes its purity - five nominations in each category. But of course this was already compromised - only three films are nominated in the Visual Effects, Make-up, and Animated Feature Film categories.
I don't think the animated film category would have been created if we'd had 10 best picture nominees back in 2001. Pixar's Up is very likely to get double nominated now, (unless people avoid voting for it in the top category because they know it will almost certainly win in the animated field).
Though they may get a tiny bit too much attention in the media, the Oscars are important. They've been around as long as there's been talking movies, and they've been important to the industry almost as long. It was a big deal when Gone with the Wind won 10 Academy Awards - from among the 10 nominated for Best Picture of 1939. We want to keep that history and tradition going.
It could be said the positive here outweighs the negative. Having The Dark Knight among the top nominees would have improved the ratings. It would have given the show more diversity, more interest, more color. More fun.
While we're here, I can't resist mentioning the controversy over which producers should be included in the Best Picture nomination...
To me the best definition of Producer is he's the guy who causes the film to exist - the one who found or initiated the property, advocated for it, took it around town, fought to get it made. The guy who sets it up. Or gal, or guys and gals, as the case may be. As we all know, many more people come aboard along the way, and they don't all deserve credit. That's what the Producers Guild and the Academy are trying to limit.
But there have been problems with this -
Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, the two credited producers who apparently had the most to do with setting up Little Miss Sunshine, were left off the nomination list.
Because of this, the then six-year-old 3-Producer cut-off rule was amended.
That same year we had controversy over The Departed. Graham King, a terrific producer and a previous nominee, was reportedly brought aboard The Departed after it was set up. Brad Grey, who among the three credited producers had the most to do with setting it up, was left off the nominee list, along with his Plan B Entertainment partner Brad Pitt. So Graham King became the sole Best Picture nominee. Why? Well, Brad Grey became CEO of Paramount before The Departed finished production. So it seems likely that becoming studio head cost Grey a Best Picture Oscar on his mantle.
Personally, I prefer the purity of five nominees to a category.
But whether you're for or against the new 10-picture-nominee rule, there's at least one nice upside to it:
I don't know about you, but I can never get enough insider info on how certain films get made.
We found out far more about how Crash, Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed got set up and what their various producers had actually done after the debate began - after their nominations were announced.
Now we'll have the opportunity to hear twice as many such behind-the-scenes stories.