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California has had its share of earthquakes over the decades, but the shock waves emanating from Beverly Hills on Wednesday had nothing to do with shifting tectonic plates. Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, announced that the 82nd Academy Awards, scheduled for March 7, 2010, would feature ten nominees for the Best Picture Oscar—twice the current number. The news of this return to an earlier practice surprised many industry insiders; following are reactions from a range of film professionals I canvassed in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
Ziggy Kozlowski is a partner in Block-Korenbrot Public Relations, an LA-based firm that specializes in movie and TV awards campaigns and has shepherded such films as Howards End, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Capote, and Crash to Oscar wins. "Part of the problem," he says, "is that lately some of the big Hollywood hits like The Dark Knight, which were also critically acclaimed, didn't get nominated in the best-film category. This might be a move toward more populist, less elitist choices. With ten nominees in the final category of the show the Academy might be hoping that the winner won't be such a foregone conclusion. The change also might make it possible for a foreign-language film to be nominated for Best Picture."
Director Harold Ramis, a voting member of the Academy, observes with a laugh that his current film, Year One, won't be getting any awards, but comments, "Our best pictures are often not our most popular films....Interest in the Oscar telecast declines if viewers don't get to see clips from the movies they love. One of the reasons the Academy had big movie stars announce the nominations on the last broadcast—with five different stars introducing the five nominees in the top acting categories—is that the presenters were better known than the nominated pictures. They injected some glamour into the telecast. Hollywood is synonymous with glamour, but recent nominees like The Reader, Milk, and Frost/Nixon are not. This is my theory: it's about the broadcast; it is not about the awards."
A publicity executive in the New York office of one of Hollywood's oldest studios, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "I was shocked—I hadn't even heard any rumors about it. Change happens so slowly at the Academy; it took years to get the Best Animated Film category introduced, and then out of the blue they announce this expansion. God only knows how that's going to affect the awards campaigns, but it will be great for the trades like Variety and the Hollywood Reporter"—which carry "for your consideration" ads aimed at voters. "The question is, when you extend the field to ten, will moviegoers see all ten? It's hard enough to see five. Then again, maybe the extra five on the list will be ones people have already seen. Right now, Up and Star Trek stand out as two that might be nominated."
For the past three years the Gene Siskel Film Center has been the official, Academy-endorsed host of Chicago's Oscar party, held the night of the awards. Jean de St. Aubin, the Film Center's executive director, says, "It's kind of nice, this change, because it might bring new ideas to the table. It's like what the Golden Globes does, although its ten best-picture nominees are divided into two categories"—drama, and musical or comedy. Michael Kutza, founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival and ever the champion of foreign cinema, adds, "I think it's an interesting move. It opens the door for a broader range of films to get recognition and be considered for the top honor. And it'll make for a five-hour television show!"