oscars ticketHoping to reverse a trend of slumping ratings for the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is changing the award show's format, doubling the number of best picture nominees, from five to 10. The idea is to make room for more crowd-pleasing hits like The Dark Knight and Wall-E.

It's the right motivation but the wrong solution.

The problem with the Oscars isn't how many films get nominated for best picture -- it's what kind. As I'm hardly the first to note, Academy voters have a number of obvious biases that make it easy to game the system. Foreign accents, period settings, stories of triumph over disability, anything involving the Holocaust -- all demonstrably improve a movie's chance of getting the nod. That's how films like The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button made it into best-picture contention this year despite making a splash with neither critics nor audiences.

Creating five extra slots should allow more box-office favorites like The Dark Knight to secure nominations -- but it will also invite more turgid, self-important Oscar-bait like Babel and Crash.

Perhaps it would be better if the Academy were to take a page from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and divide the best picture category into two: not comedy/musical and drama, as the Golden Globes does it, but "Best Picture: Popular" and "Best Picture: Important."

The former would allow voters to acknowledge the films that people actually saw and liked in a given year; the latter would allow them to continue feeling smart and virtuous.


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