The irony of the Oscars deciding to go with 10 Best Picture nominations this year instead of the traditional 5 is that it's totally unnecessary.
The move is being done to boost ratings, which were famously anemic last year (this despite an energetic turn by song-and-dance hunk Hugh Jackman).
Most people blamed the poor ratings on the fact that neither The Dark Knight nor WALL•E were nominated for Best Picture.
(The general consensus is that people watch the show when they have a horse in the race—hence the high ratings the years Titanic and The Lord of the Rings were big winners.)
But here's why it's unnecessary: Avatar, fast becoming the biggest blockbuster of all time, was going to get nominated no matter what—indeed, at this early stage in the game, I'd say it's the frontrunner to win the whole shebang. If the Best Picture nominations were restricted to just 5, my guess is they would've been this:
Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker
Of those films, we already have a The Dark Knight substitute (Avatar) and the WALL•E substitute (Up.) (And Inglourious Basterds, while not quite a blockbuster, was certainly a big hit.) The show was already going to be a hit. We didn't need no stinkin additional nominees.
Now, I'm not quite sure what the other 5 nominees will be, but just for grins, let's say they look something like this:
Notice anything about those remaining five? Yup, not a blockbuster in the bunch. Okay, District 9 did pretty well, but it's certainly no game changer (Slumdog Millionaire was a much bigger hit and it didn't move the ratings needle).
Now maybe, just maybe, the Academy will decide to nominate another big hit, like Star Trek or The Hangover. (Yes, it's actually possible.) But like I said, not necessary. Even if you argue that Up wouldn't have been among the original 5 (putting Precious or An Education in its slot), Avatar is blockbustery enough to rule the night all on its own.
Putting the ratings aside for a second, there's another reason why I don't like this 10 nominations business: It dilutes the product. Yes, critics do Top 10 lists and the AFI and National Board of Reviews do Top 10 lists, too, but they're not the freakin' Oscars.
The Oscars are special—they're an exclusive club, that's part of what gives them their cache. There's a reason why Porsche doesn't produce an economy car and why Roger Federer doesn't endorse Wal-Mart. There's value in exclusivity. There are tons of awards and award shows, but only one Oscar. (That being said, please watch the Critics Choice Awards next Friday, January 15 at 9 pm on VH1!!) (Yes, that's the voting group I belong to.)
Alas, there's one problem: The ratings for the Oscars are going to go through the roof this year. After all, not only do we have the Avatar and Up factor, we have the priceless pairing of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as co-hosts. And Hollywood is nothing if not a copycat town. They won't want to mess with a good thing. So we're stuck, I suspect, with 10 nominees for at least another year. Hey, I hear they're coming out with Transformers 3. . .