The Power of Ten

I’m dreading – full-on ruining-my-weekend dreading – the very thought of the Academy struggling to fill ten slots in this year’s Best Picture Oscar race.

Last year, the upgrade to ten nominees was a lousy gimmick, designed to give undue attention to also-rans. For reasons known only to the sort of people who think Crash is a good movie, they deemed the ten-nod system enough of a success to repeat it this year.

It’s easy to see why they thought it worked. Of the five “extra” nominees (those highly unlikely to have been nominated in a five-nod year), only one of them was an embarrassment (The Blind Side), but it was enough of a box office hit to not be any more embarrassing than, say, Avatar. The rest were respectable (An Education, A Serious Man) and/or beloved (Up, District 9) enough for Oscar watchers to sit back and think “OK, I can live with that.”

But 2009 was a pretty good year for movies. 2010 was most certainly not. This was the sort of year where best-of lists require heavy padding. With the Academy unwilling to limit themselves to five titles, some rather iffy titles will wind up being rewarded for being the cinematic equivalent of the thinnest kid at fat camp.

In a five-nod world, The Fighter and Winter’s Bone – two underwhelming critic-bait efforts – would find comfort in a screenplay nomination and some acting nods. With solid acting and decent direction rescuing a limp story, Black Swan would be a Best Picture longshot; nobody would’ve flinched had Aronofsky earned a nod but the movie itself got shut out of the top category. This year, all three are shoo-ins.

And that still leaves a couple spots open. Was anyone (not counting the people who made them) excited enough by, say, The Kids Are All Right or The Town to call them Best Picture worthy? (Disclaimer: I’ve seen neither.) 2010 could mark a milestone in lukewarm nominees.

Of course, if Scott Pilgrim pulls out some sort of miracle nomination, I’ll retract all of this. A man’s gotta dream, right?

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