When the Academy announced last year that there would be ten Best Picture nominees at this year's Oscars, the decision had the air of an experiment. Could a ten-picture field ensure that hit movies could pick up nominations alongside their tinier, more indie cousins? Could a ten-picture field rekindle America's flagging interest in the awards?
It's clear, the day after, that the Academy's experiment in big-tentism was a qualified success. Avatar would have been nominated even in a field of five, but that's not true of Up or The Blind Side or District 9. Ratings were up, a bit. And some are even arguing, persuasively, that the increased field led to the victory of art over commerce that Hurt Locker's triumph represents for so many.
So, good work, Academy! It's time to take the next step — the one you should have made last year. It's time to expand the four acting categories to ten nominees, too.
Oh, it'll cheapen the Oscars, you might say. To which we reply: too late! The Oscars already cracked the seal by allowing ten Best Picture nominees. We already know they're willing to sully the brand in hopes of raising interest in the awards, so why not do something that would really raise interest in the awards?
After all, it's unlikely that millions of Americans who wouldn't otherwise have watched tuned in because District 9 or An Education got Best Picture nominations. For the most part, moviegoers care more about actors and actresses — you know, people — than they do about movies. Increasing each acting category to ten nominees would surely help a lot more stars get nominated, upping the glamour of the Oscars — and putting more big names in the nomination hot seat. Brad Pitt, Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julianne Moore, Jamie Foxx — each would have had a shot at a nomination if the fields were expanded, and each could have raised excitement for the big event.
But it's not just about stars! Think about the small, terrific performances that get overlooked in every Oscar race, the ones beloved by critics and discerning moviegoers. In a ten-horse race, Ben Foster, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Catalina Saveedra, Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi, Paul Schneider, Melanie Laurent, and Anthony Mackie might've had a fighting chance. Can anyone really make the argument that those actors didn't deserve Oscar nominations alongside the bland consensus picks (like, say, everyone in Invictus) that currently hog space in five-actor categories?
And just as a ten-picture category freed up space for often-ignored genres — sci-fi and animation among them — maybe expanded acting categories would release performances from the ghettos to which the Academy has consigned them. Maybe, for example, we'd see a motion-capture performance like Zoe Saldana's make its way into the nominations. Or a voice performance like Ed Asner's. Maybe comedy would get a better shake: Zach Galifianakis could earn the Supporting Actor nomination he so richly deserved. And a ten-actor field would give dark, bizarre, risk-taking performances — the ones that tend to be love-them-or-hate-them affairs — a chance at recognition: Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist, say, or Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant, or Matt Damon in his actual awards-worthy performance in The Informant!
So why not, Academy? Doubling the acting nominees would benefit the show, raise interest, and spotlight more deserving films. More and more young actors receiving nominations would make the Academy's membership rolls younger and hipper. And it would increase the chances that Mickey Rourke will be nominated next year for Iron Man 2. Sounds like a win-win!
And don't worry, Academy: You won't look desperate. Or, rather, you won't look more desperate.