Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced that starting this year there will be ten best picture nominees.  The world clamored for the Grouches’ response to the news, and the Grouches obliged.  In a chat room, naturally:

Brian: so, the Oscars expanded to 10 nominations for Best Picture
your first thoughts
John: I’m curious to hear a quick yea or nay from everyone
Jared: i like that
yea
Brian: yea
John: nay for me
Adam: yea
John: qualified nay. I’m curious to see how it works out
Jared: well, sure
Brian: well we all are
Adam: way to adjust your opinion to satisfy the masses
John: I think it smells of desperation
Brian: but Im curious to see any change made to the Oscars cause why not?
they’re trying to compensate for so many of their members having bad taste
John: I think it’s clear they’re trying to get more popular films involved to get the ratings back
and frankly the Oscar monetary bump isn’t what it used to be
but you know, it wasn’t that long ago that big budget, major productions were dominating the oscars
Gladiator, Erin Brockovich, Braveheart, Titanic, A Beautiful Mind
and that was awful because these mediocre movies were dominating by virtue of their size
the cycle has turned back onto smaller productions. I think given time trends would change again

Jared: so how does that relate to the five extra slots?
John: We have our qualms with Frost/Nixon but I think that’s still a more interesting nom than Seabiscuit or Master and Commander
Brian: John, are you presuming that if Dark Knight is nominated last year, it wins?
John: oh no, not at all
Brian: and I strongly disagree on Frixon
that was just boring
John: I doubt the voting would be close. Slumdog all the way
To me, this is a decision with big ramifications and I’m not convinced they really thought it through
I give a 50-50 chance they’re back to 5 noms within a decade
Jared: well, ok, i realize it is small sample size, but let’s start with the first obvious discussion point…if there had been 10 nominees last year, what would the extra five have been?
John: Doubt definitely
Brian: nahhh
John: then Wall-E and Dark Knight probably
Jared: (and what would the ramifications have been?)
John: I don’t think there’s any way those 3 aren’t in
Adam: dark knight, doubt, wall-e, the wrestler
Brian: I would say Wrestler, Wall-E, Dark Knight, Rev. Road, and Rachel, maybe
John: the final two are a mystery. wrestler, revolution road
Doubt was 100% in. It very well could have finished 6th
with the acting and the screenplay nod
Brian: I disagree on 100%
Adam: you are both stupid
Jared: not sure you could rule out gran torino and happy-go-lucky
Adam: for different reasons
sure you can
Brian: hahahaha
John: with the Weinstein muscle, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Adam: nope
Brian: nope
Adam: Weinsteins threw too much behind the Reader…even with 10 noms, they still would have had to do it to get a win
John: Obviously this is one year where the slate is greatly improved by adding a few more, what with wall-e and dark knight. that’s probably not the case every year
Brian: one of the intriguing things I raised with Jared was that how will campaigning change? Like if you have Doubt — do you push best picture or do you go with PSH and Streep since they have a better shot of winning.
Adam: a split gets them noms with no win
in hindsight…psh and streep
no way it ever wins best picture with the competition
John: yeah Streep was always your best chance for Doubt
or at least your biggest as far as probable rewards. maybe Davis was a better shot by odds
Jared: but brian’s point, and it is interesting, i think, is that the campaigning game could be completely changed now
Adam: see…you make a good point and then totally go back to yourself with your next point
John: trade press will love it. more advertising cash
Brian: yes
Jared: absolutely
Brian: but will the studios be willing to spend it
John: this ties into a point I was going to make later, but it connects to campaigning
given the nomination system, it will be a lot easier for a nom out of left field
meaning campaigning can have a lot more influence
Adam: you don’t necessarily have to spend more money…you just have to narrowly focus it
John: I bet you could get a nod with .5% of the voters putting your movie at #1 on their nomination list
Brian: Sure…but for films that in the past have had “one great performance” like Jenkins or Hathaway — do you push for the best picture nom and hope for a trickle down or for a best actor and hope that there’s a bottom-up approach?
(and way to make up stats John)
Jared: adam, i see what you are saying, but look at frozen river…it campaigned on actress, and picked up a screenplay…if there were 10 slots, and you had hindsight, do you push the picture more?
Adam: frozen river sucked…I refuse to mention it in any serious discussion
Jared: and john, do you think they change the nomination process any?
John: probably. i think it shifts that equation but not by much
dunno but we can come back to it
Adam: but…if I were to discuss it…no
you don’t push for picture….even the producers have to realize they don’t have a shot…and I don’t think the “trickle-down” effect helps it either
I don’t think it has the muscle to pull it off
John: for a movie like frozen river you probably put more money into campaigning for picture, but maybe not a lot more
Jared: i dunno, i think you have to say frozen river had a shot, given it picked up two noms…not a great one, obviously, but still a shot
John: well, given the way nominations are decided, you only have to reach a few people. so they definitely had a shot
Jared: and john, i agree that this opens the stage for some offbeat nominations, but do you think any films could get a picture nom and nothing else?
John: sure
of course, what does that say for a film that gets a best picture nod, but not director or editing?
it screams charity nomination due to this rule change
Brian: I think this opens the door for a lot of these “one great performance” films to sneak into best picture
which is a good thing, in my view
John: yeah it certainly widens the picture, or redefines what is an “oscar film”
Jared: well, except that it seems the academy is generally content handing out noms to either all or none of picture, director, and editor
John: too often I think voters go with films they think are in the oscar sphere even if they have other choices they like more
Brian: Agree
Jared: so isn’t this a good thing?
Adam: exactly
John: oh that’s a very good thing
Brian: John is making our point for us
Adam: this mitigates that
John: the chance for more variety is the #1 best reason for this rule change
Jared: ok, so why your hesitation?
Adam: And increases the chances the Academy may inadvertently back into a deserving winner
despite their best efforts to the contrary
John: eh, or spread out votes enough that you get a winner that’s out there and only got like 20% of the vote
Brian: inadvertent is the choice word there
Jared: i mean, i could see someone making the argument that if the academy has 10 slots and still misses on dark knight and wall-e it loses what little relevancy it had, but i’m not sure that’s a strong argument
John: ha, that would be awful
Jared: well, isn’t that more an argument to add runoffs or whatever to the system?
Adam: I’m almost there already. Frost/Nixon & Benjamin Button at the top?
oohhh….oscar playoffs
I love it
maybe some head to head match ups
we could start a fantasy league
John: haha
Jared: i like the way you think
Adam: we could also force people to make their votes public
Brian: hah
Jared: good luck with that
Adam: maybe through in a Thunderdome rule
just spitballing
Jared: haha
John: I think there are some stodgy academy members already flabbergasted today. don’t take away their secret ballot!
Brian: I’m hopeful that the expanded field not only means more variety in the noms but will get people to get out and see the smaller films
Jared: but the academy is just going back to the good ol’ days of the 1940s!
Adam: I’ve got it…..
We make the Academy like Survivor island…the audience can vote them out of the Academy forever.
Jared: well, john, you mentioned how there’s less of an oscar bounce…do you think the extra noms will devalue the best picture nom to the point where the bounce is virtually nil?
Adam: the 40’s produced a HELL of a lot better movies then most of the following decades
Jared: adam, the movie reference you are looking for is battle royale
John: ha, I was just about to ask that jared
I think it devalues on both the monetary and prestige level. not sure by how much though
Adam: more than it’s losing every year anyways?
Brian: I think the only people who care about the devaluing are the four of us, other Oscar nerds, and Hollywood
no one else cares
Jared: but we care, so let’s talk about it!
John: the oscar bounce isn’t what it used to be, but with ten films? does it mean as much? and is that enough of a signal to say to people: this is a film you NEED to see
Adam: well…Hollywood makes the movies…so eventually so will moviegoers
is that the point of the Oscars?
Brian: I think the signal is….we think this film is on par with Dark Knight — which everyone saw — so you should see this other film too
Adam: maybe that’s the real question
what is the purpose of the Academy Awards?
Brian: I think that not having bigger films in the 5 picks is more devaluing the prestige
the cynic in me says it’s to make money
John: and if the prestige matters less, is that less of an incentive to make prestige films?
certainly some of these films are about The Art. but plenty are about the producers’ egos
Jared: i don’t think the prestige will be hit that much…this year, maybe if it is a weak crop there’ll be a stigma…but once people get used to it?
John: thinking economically, there’s no way this rule change doesn’t affect some decisions on the margins. some movies will not get made because of it (and others will)
Jared: and producers love winning…they’ll still love winning
Brian: I dont agree John, even though I’m not thinking economically
Jared: what sort of movies will and won’t get made now?
John: well again it’s not always about the win. a nominations is a hell of a lot more than nothing
Adam: neither is john…you should see him at work
Jared: so then more nominations -> happier producers -> more producers -> more money -> more films?
Adam: ha
I like it
Brian: think of it like the NFL — 3/4s of the teams have a decent shot at making the playoffs at the start of the season. They aren’t going to implode and rebuild because of all the parity.
John: as producers do the math to decide whether or not to produce a film, they consider its oscar chances and what the effect on the bottom line an oscar success would be. if the value of an oscar success declines, then the desire to produce the film declines
Brian: so since there are more slots for films, I think you will see the same number, if not more, films doing their all to get on voters radar screens
Adam: but the chances of winning increase
Brian: since once you are in the top 10, anything can happen
John: well more films would campaign for it. but I dont know if it gives us more, good films
Brian: since when have producers had any idea how good their film is?
Look at Miracle of St. Anna
or Valley of Elah
Jared: why? no one else did
badum-ching!
Adam: 🙂
Brian: well played, sir
Adam: nice
John: the money, effort, marketing, etc a movie receives is definitely affected by its perceived oscar chances
Adam: depending on the type of film
John: well, right
Adam: Pretty sure Iron Man’s producers weren’t thinking of that
Brian: so if they’ll throw money at shit like Frozen River, whats to stop them from throwing money at all sorts of movies because the perceived oscar chances are higher
Adam: and independent film makers aren’t either
John: at some point (cough transformers) that line item in the proposed budget for probably oscar bounce has a 0 written in
Adam: really…what percentage of movies made seriously look at that line item?
John: perceived chance may be higher. but if that chance pays off less at the box office, that’s a negative
Adam: how big was that number for Slumdog?
John: I’d say 50%+ films that come out in October or later make those sort of calculations
Jared: so how many films are we talking about?
Adam: and the movie industry makes it’s money in the Summer
John: only a few hundred per year I guess
Adam: less
John: does the net negative effect of the devaluing of the nominations outweigh the net positive of more nominations? I dont know
my sense is it’s probably about the same
Brian: im still missing something here John — if there’s a line item in the budget that calculates an Oscar buzz — why wouldnt having more films nominated make it more likely that a film would put that in their budge?
John: and it spreads the winners out among more studios, so they’re happy
Brian: but I dont think noms are devaluated
Jared: i mean, i see what you are saying, if there were no oscars at all, i buy that we’d see a different slate of films, but i’m not sure this change will be enough to affect anything like that, even at the margin
Brian: or at least, I think its too early to say that for sure
Adam: Basically…all this talk and we continue to come to same conclusion….as usual, John is wrong.
John: if getting nominated is worth something, doubling the nominees doesn’t mean there is double the potential value out there
John: therefore value per nomination is lower
that goes for both monetary and prestige value
Brian: this sounds made up
Adam: unless more nominations actually increases the value
Brian: Esp. if bigger budget films nominated=more people paying attention to the oscars
Adam: more nominations….more movies that people are “told” to see….better chances that people will go see one of those than the latest Sandler flick
Brian: dammit I agree with Adam
Adam: finally starting to come around to side of logic and reason I see
Jared: we can disagree on the effect of the nominations’ value, more nominees could mean people think less of the films, or it could mean that people now feel there is a solid top tier of films that deserve best picture status, either way, i’m not sure how much of a change it will actually be, and more importantly, that it will be enough to affect the production of movies
Adam: agreed
John: obviously we have a lot of time to think about it and to see how it works out, but I dont see how marginal value INCREASES when nominees increase
Jared: it would if people become more willing to buy the Academy’s relevance
Adam: that’s because you have limited imagination
John: I mean, straight up, being named top 10 by AMPAS is less an honor as being named top 5 by AMPAS
thats true, jared
Adam: you are assuming people look at it that way
people are pretty stupid
Brian: but you’re assigning too much value to the stamp of honor of AMPAS
John: being named top 5 by anything is better than being top 10
Brian: I think a Top 5 with movies that no one as seen has less value than a Top 10 with seven movies no one has seen and three movies everyone has seen
Adam: is that how they usually advertise it?
is it…on of the top 5 movies of the year
John: jared’s right, it could help in an indirect way if it increases the Academy’s trustworthiness as an indicator of taste, but this doesn’t help directly
Adam: or…oscar nominee
John: I dont think there’s a difference there
Brian: really?
Adam: people see more movies they like with “oscar nominee” and it increases the standing of the AMPAS
you are pretty dense
even brian understands
🙂
Brian: its true
John: the nominees are meant to represent the top 5 choices of the academy, no?
Jared: well, i’m not sure there will be too many more films that will be oscar nominees, just more films that are best picture nominees
John: right
Adam: right…I just was too lazy to type all of it out
Adam: but the logic still holds
John: I think you all are looking for indirect benefits. those aren’t guaranteed
here’s a counter example:
Adam: nothing you have proposed is guaranteed either
all speculation
John: someone’s looking for something to watch. hey, that film got an oscar nomination. but who cares, they hand out oscar nominations to everyone these days
Brian: wrong
Adam: you are giving people a lot of credit
nobody thinks like that
John: I mean, I’m not sure what to say to that. everyone everywhere thinks like that
Jared: so you think someone who had been looking for an “oscar-caliber” movie will now substitute to…what? transformers?
Adam: which is why saying a movie is “oscar nominated” even if it is for sound editing…sells movies
Brian: I think its more like “hey Dark Knight got an oscar nomination, but ive seen that and liked it. The Wrestler got one too, that should be good to, so I should see it.”
John: if you have a set of items to choose from and all have an approval from an organization, well then that approval no longer means anything in your decision
Brian: This isn’t 5th Grade Field Day
Jared: ok, let’s say they don’t value AMPAS at all…what do they watch instead?
John: that could happen brian. I’m just giving a more negative possibility
whatever looks cooler on an ad. whatever has the hottest chick. etc
Jared: to me, those are a different set of preferences
John: it’s just that the signal from an oscar nod is gone (if ampas have no value. obviously there will still be plenty of value)
Jared: right, that’s the thing, i think there’s enough of a signal that i don’t see a substitution to a different sort of movie
John: but the signal is weaker. and that will have an effect on the margins
Brian: so other than repeating ourselves — any other points anyone wanted to address?
Jared: the biggest one…does this mean we are going to have to see more movies? (or, perhaps more relevantly, are more movies now oscar contenders?)
John: honestly I’m a little surprised this is so controversial. the question shouldn’t be whether this devalues a nom (it will) but whether the indirect benefits outweigh the devaluation
on net, I say this adds one movie to our list
maybe two
maybe zero
Brian: I say zero
Jared: i’m not saying nominees, i’m saying potentially nominees, just in case that wasn’t clear
John: potential noms? yes
Brian: I still think thats even more likely zero
because we would have seen those potentials elsewhere
John: let me circle back to a point I made earlier, regarding the process for deciding nominations
John: quick summary: voters rank their top 5 preferences in order. as their number 1 is eliminated from contention, the ballot becomes a vote for number 2 choice, and so forth
Jared: that’s a good refresher, i don’t think that is generally known
John: what that means is that very little support is needed to be the 9th or 10th nominee
those last nominees could be VERY random
Brian: can you explain again?
John: so my ballot last year might be 1. dark knight 2. wrestler 3. slumdog
initially my ballot would go to dark knight
Brian: 4, frozen river
Adam: only if you are John
John: after all ballots are allocated, those who receive the lowest are eliminated, and those ballots are allocated to their number 2 choice
so if the dark knight is eliminated, then my ballot becomes a vote for the wrestler
once the wrestler is eliminated, it becomes a vote for slumdog
Brian: so you are only really voting for one movie
John: a nominee is decided when it gets a certain percentage of the votes
Brian: do you think they will change how the voting is done?
John: how many spots have to pass before you hit a popular choice? how many ballots do you think had one of last year’s nominees in their top 3? top 5?
probably the large majority
Jared: so are you suggesting it is a problem because people don’t pay attention to the bottom of the ballot…or maybe that more polarizing movies have a better chance now?
John: the longer the process goes and the more often ballots are reallocated, the higher chance those ballots are going to go to a popular choice
it means that a movie can get in with a very small number of people who rank it high
especially in years with a front runner
I can’t imagine who would have been #10 in last year’s supporting actor race, for example
it would’ve been impossible to guess
anyway, I think it’s entirely likely a strange choice like A Christmas Tale or Let the Right One In or Tropic Thunder would’ve made it last year
each arguably fine choices, but without that same sort of consensus, just a small minority who really love them
Jared: yeah, the question is then if that is a bad thing…i don’t know if it is…how do you think top ten movies should be defined?
John: even though i hated a christmas tale
Jared: (or top whatever)
John: well, maybe people think it’s a joke if something really nuts makes it in
Brian: we think its a joke when The Wrestler and Dark Knight dont make it in
John: I wonder if anyone consulted the accountants who do all the tabulating to see what would have happened in previous years to see if any weird results occur
Jared: true…of course, people could also see it and fall in love with the film
i’d like to believe ampas did that
it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t
John: its also possible the records no longer exist
Jared: right
John: i’m trying to think of an example of something some people really loved but for the most part was met with ambivalence or negativity
i’m not there maybe
going into this blind
Adam: In Bruges
John: I’m Not There may have had an excellent shot in 07. I bet a lot of people had it at #1 before things like no country
Jared: i mean, it seems that this allows for more nuanced debate about best picture contenders doesn’t it? certainly would have been last year
Brian: sure, I’m Not There was awful, but I dont have that much of a problem with it being in a top 10
Jared: well, i have a problem with the people who’d vote it there
Brian: me too
Adam: frozen river?
John: or maybe synecdoche new york. mostly met with puzzlement and a few who really loved it
so instead of something with broad appeal you get something with small appeal but that appeal for those people was very large
Jared: which, hey, it is totally valid to me to argue that a film where a small segment absolutely adore it is a better choice for a top pick than one that people think is pretty decent
John: yeah it may work out great. give something overlooked a shot. or elizabeth the golden age gets a nom and everyone’s like wtf
Adam: yes…John’s statements are somewhat logical, but your conclusions are incorrect
Brian: my biggest problem with the Oscars is that they always play it safe….this may help solve that problem
John: yeah I believe it’ll definitely shift voting patterns
er, voting strategies
Jared: yeah, i was just going to say that the oscars never take risks, now they are, and i’m proud of them for it
maybe we should do a round of final thoughts?
John: I’m not saying I know what will happen, but I think there are potential negatives that are getting overlooked
John: I think the studios that pushed hard for this have a very good shot at being unhappy in a few years when the oscar bounce has all but disappeared
Adam: there are always potential negatives, and they aren’t being overlooked…everyone has just decided that they are not anywhere as relevant as you seem to think
Jared: but even if the oscar bounce disappears…i think there’s still something to being able to say you directed or produced a best picture nominee
John: of course there’s something to be said. but there will be LESS to be said
Jared: ok ok, we don’t need to rehash that point, we know where we stand on it
John: the net “somethings” will probably outweigh the current “somethings” but the “something” per nomination is going to be lower
Jared: i can’t speak for the others, but i understand what you are saying
John: anyway, I’m really interested to see how it turns out. I just hope it turns out well and everyone doesn’t look back on this in 30 years and laughs at it
Jared: preach on
John: the New Coke for the Oscars
Jared: seems like a good place to end
John: what more can be said after New Coke
Brian: nice ganging up on you, John
Adam: The increase in nominations, while somewhat risky, is a noble experiment by the academy. While it may turn out like the last “noble experiment”, the potential for worthwhile movies making a greater impact on the academy far outweigh the feared decrease in value of a “Best Picture Nomination”
John: and I think we’re the type of viewers that will be happy with the type of movies that will now make the cut
Adam: The last time period that had 10 best picture nominees gave us Casablanca
I expect the same from this time period
John: the snooty 70 year old academy member that looks at dark knight and says this is not About Something, this is Not Art. he will not be happy
Jared: seems reasonable enough, adam
of course, brian would argue that dark knight was About Something
John: oh I’d say so too
so let me ask this. in a slate of five we already can choose the “lesser” nominees
Brian: dammit, dont bring me into this John
but you’re right
John: your frost/nixons
does 10 give us even more “lesser” nominees?
Brian: I think the frixons get in because voters think that the frixons HAVE to get in
so with 10 films, there’s less of an onus on voters to get the MUSTS in
Jared: i wonder if it prevents us from making that sort of distinction
Adam: of course, but it also gives us the potential that the Academy can not overlook the Dark Knights and Wrestlers
Brian: and instead they can vote on movies they like
John: yeah thats a good point. I bet frequently the films that finish 6-8 we’d like more than the ones that finish 3-5
Jared: wouldn’t surprise me
John: though that’s just us
Jared: who is more important than us?
Adam: than me
you mean
John: lots of 60 year old ex hippies loved frixon I’m sure
Brian: maybe
John: ooh, one more query from me
is 10 the right number?
Adam: probably not
John: would it be better at 7? or 8? or 6?
or 12?
Adam: I was actually going to bring that point up
Jared: that was definitely one of the first things i thought about
Adam: but was having too much fun making fun of John
John: I think I would be solidly on board at 7
Jared: seems like there should some better reason for the number than “it is round”
Adam: what about a percentage threshold
Brian: I wish they changed the voting to say all movies that were over a threshold
fuck
Adam: I win
John: haha
yep that’d be nice
in some technical categories a threshold must be reached
Brian: so…..the Baseball Hall of Fame does something right?
Jared: of course, that leads to bruce springsteen’s “the wrestler” not being nominated
let’s not bring the baseball HOF into this one
only bad things can happen
Adam: agreed
John: next question: should movies that have taken steroids still be eligible for the oscars
Jared: OUTRAGE!
Brian: Michael Bay would protest too much
Adam: HAHAHAHA
John: that old man baby was NOT NATURAL
Adam: who is typing for Brian, and what have you done with him
but replace steroids with energy drinks
John: transformers made $16 million at midnight showings
gah
Jared: maybe every movie should be made by michael bay
come on…michael bay’s doubt would be stellar
Adam: hahahaha…I’d watch it
John: the nuns’ habits would be so skimpy
Jared: maybe this is a good place to end
John: I stand corrected. no more can be said after skimpy nun habits