I admit it: When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first announced its plan to expand the Best Picture category from five nominees to 10, I was skeptical. I thought it would just invite ever more droningly "important" entries of the sort that are already overrepresented: period pieces, Holocaust movies, and show-offy performances by stars simulating disabilities and/or accents.Instead, judging from the Oscar nominations announced Tuesday, the change accomplished exactly what it was supposed to: creating space for the kinds of deserving movies that would have been ignored in the past. I'm thinking here about District 9 (pictured) and Up, both of which inhabit genres (science fiction and animation) that have gotten too little respect from Academy voters in the past. (Yes, Avatar is also a sci-fi film, but it was bound to garner a nod for the sheer scale of the technical achievement it represented.)
I didn't see a better movie than District 9 last year, and I was sure it would get overlooked come awards season. Count me as a viewer who will have a rooting interest on Oscar night.
Sure, doubling the number of nominees also doubles the opportunities for mediocrities like The Blind Side, which scraped by with a measly score of 53 from reviews-aggregator Metacritic.com. But Academy members have always managed to nominate plenty of cruddy films no matter how few slots they had available. Some of them even win. Gladiator, anyone?
Best Picture Nominees
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
Best Director Nominees
James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
'District 9,' 'Up' Make Pleasant Surprises on Expanded Oscar List