Why the Oscars shouldn’t reduce the number of Best Picture nominees

There are rumours that the Academy wants to cut down the number of nominations for Best Picture from ten to five - and Huw Fullerton isn't happy about it

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Sometimes too much choice can be bad for you – but recently that’s not been the case with the Oscars. Well, in one category at least – Best Picture.

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Since 2009, there have been ten nomination slots for Best Picture (for everything else it’s five) – but now it’s rumoured the Academy is considering a step back to five nominations, considering it a failed experiment in increasing the awards’ popularity with filmgoers.

I find this utterly perplexing. After a year in which all the talk was of Oscar snubs for actors, films and writers it seems counterintuitive to limit the pool even further. The Academy was widely criticised for overlooking Martin Luther King biopic Selma in most of the categories (most notably the Best Actor award for star David Oyelowo), but at least it was honoured with a well-deserved nod towards Best Film. Would it have done so with only five nomination slots? Who knows…

Limiting the field like this would also undermine the good work such nominations can do in raising people’s awareness of lesser-known indie films, like this year’s Whiplash. If the nominations had only been five this year, would that film really have beaten out The Imitation Game, Selma, Birdman, Boyhood or The Theory of Everything to a nomination, or would it have dropped off the radar completely? And none of that’s to mention the fact that reducing the pool would probably rule out the possibility of less “traditional” Oscar nominees entirely.

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

After all, it’s widely considered that the reason the nominations were increased in the first place was due to the exclusion of Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman film The Dark Knight from the running, which led many to argue in favour of the Oscars honouring films with popular appeal. Guess there’s no hope for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 now…

The reason the Academy want to reduce the nominations? Well, according to the Hollywood Reporter it’s down to ratings. Increasing the nominations was supposed to make the TV broadcast of the awards more inclusive and popular, which it hasn’t – this year’s ceremony, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, had the lowest viewing figures for the last six years. Now there are rumblings that the change has done nothing but erode the prestige of a nomination, and should be scrapped.

I hope they don’t take this step backwards. The Oscars live ceremony becoming less popular is inevitable in an increasingly internet-driven world, and I think putting a few more films under the spotlight does nothing but good. Frankly, the Oscars could stand a little more inclusivity, and narrowing the field again will only further exclude the unusual, experimental and essential filmmaking that actually needs the boost of a nomination.

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Well, that and I’d really like to see Batman win best picture one day. I live in hope.