Foggy Picture

The game changed in 1944.

Until then, the Academy Award winner for Best Picture ranged from three to ten nominees for one lucky producer to take home the golden statue. Heck, the Academy itself didn’t even know what to call the prize. Morphing from “Outstanding Picture” to “Outstanding Production” to “Outstanding Motion Picture.”

They finally settled on “Best Picture.”  It has that ring to it, doesn’t it?

The movie “Wings” won the first award in a field of three nominees, beating our a Howard Hughes production and something called “Seventh Heaven.” The field grew to five nominees over the next three years and then jumped to eight noms in 1931. Over the next 11 years, a grand total of ten nominees vied for Oscar’s most prestigious category.

The list in 1939 jumps out in bold type. “Gone With The Wind” beat out “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” “Ninotchka” and “The Wizard Of Oz.” All of these movies land in anyone’s top 100 list of all-time. It looked like an all-star team battling for Best Picture that year. Ten nominations for the best film seemed to make sense.

Fast forward to 2009 and someone thought it would be a good idea to grow the field from five nominees (ever since 1944) to a maximum of ten pictures. There wasn’t (and isn’t ) a specific number of films up for the top prize. It’s as little as five and as many as ten. In the new system, ten nominees were up twice and only nine made the cut this year.  It made little sense to me back then and even more so a few years later.

It’s pretty much acknowledged that films in the 1970’s provided a modern-day resurgence, if not Renaissance for American film. “Five Easy Pieces,” “Chinatown,” “Network,” “Star Wars” and “Apocalypse Now” were all released and nominated for Best Picture in the 70’s. They all lost. That shows you that a tremendous amount of talent lived on the silver screen during that time period. Why not expand the category during that decade, or even in the early 1980’s? Why did the Academy wait until 2009?

“The Blind Side” is a good movie. It would never have been nominated for Best Picture under the old structure. Same with “Toy Story 3” and “Moneyball.” There’s just very little logic to expand something that continues to weaken on a whole. Have you seen more than one good movie this year? I’m a sucker for a cheesy popcorn movie just like the rest of you, but they really don’t belong in the pantheon of greatness.

Memo to the Academy: shave a couple of films off of the invite list for Oscar Night and start making quality movies again.

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