Movie News & Reviews

In expanded best-picture category, Oscar nominees are up in the air

LOS ANGELES — Academy Awards organizers have shaken up their show by doubling the best-picture category to 10 nominees in hopes of a broader range of films, mainstream movies mixing with the sober dramas that Oscar voters often favor.

The upside: If crowd-pleasers such as Up and Star Trek make the cut when nominations are announced Feb. 2, it could give audiences more reason to watch the Oscars, whose ho-hum TV ratings often climb in years when blockbusters are in the running.

The downside: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could nominate 10 boring movies instead of the usual five, giving fans no new incentive to tune in to a show where rich and famous people spend a long evening patting the backs of other rich and famous people.

The show drew its biggest audience for the 1997 awards year, when Titanic swamped the box office with a record $1.8 billion worldwide and dominated the Oscars. On a general decline since, the ratings spiked for the 2003 Oscar year, when the final chapter in the The Lord of the Rings blockbusters swept the awards.

Having 10 best-picture nominees is not unprecedented. The Golden Globes, whose nominations came out Tuesday, have 10 or more best-picture nominees each year, divided into two categories: best drama and best musical or comedy.

From 1931 to 1943, there usually were 10 and some years as many as 12 nominees for best picture at the Oscars. In 1944, Academy overseers dropped the best-picture field to five, where it had been until now.

This is a different era from that golden age of Hollywood, when studios often churned out 10 or more certified classics a year. Studios now are focused on action franchises and goofy comedy, mostly aimed at young audiences.

Critics say expanding the race to 10 nominees might water down the Oscars with some nominees that do not quite merit the best-picture label.

Now that they have set the number at 10, though, academy bosses are prepared to run with whatever lineup of nominees the 5,800 Oscar voters choose.

"We're going to give the Academy Award to one of those movies," said Tom Sherak, serving his first year as academy president. "End of subject."