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For most of the Academy Awards’ eighty-three-year existence, they have limited their choices for the Best Motion Picture of the Year award to five films. Last year, the Academy made the controversial choice to expand their list to ten films, which upset many film fans. While some of the choices for last year’s Best Picture nominees were head-scratchers (The Blind Side, anyone?), the category was refreshingly diverse and included some unconventional yet deserving choices such as District 9. This year’s crop of nominees is one of the strongest since 2007 and has the potential to turn its audience on to some smaller films that they may not have been familiar with before.
The ten nominees for this year’s Best Picture award includes the expected “prestige” pictures based on true events like The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Fighter, and The Social Network, but it also includes a wide variety of genres and styles. The nomination of Darren Arronofsky’s mind-bending drama Black Swan is not a surprise, given the acclaim that film has received, but the inclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Inception was a surprise to me, even though it earned a ton of money, because the Academy doesn’t normally nominate huge sci-fi blockbusters like that. James Cameron’s Avatar was another notable exception from last year. The inclusion of Toy Story 3 is less of a surprise, because even though it’s nominated for Best Animated Film, it was without a doubt one of the best films of the year in any genre. Even remakes are represented in this category with the inclusion of the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, which critics and audiences seem to like a lot more than the original 1968 John Wayne film. Finally, the world of independent film is represented by The Kids Are Alright and Winter’s Bone. While it’s debateable that all of these films deserved to be nominated, especially because I have yet to see all of them, this lineup looks to be a worthy cross-section of the best that this year had to offer in film, based on reviews and audience reaction, and limiting this category to five movies would not be as accurate a portrayal of the most well-received films of the past year.
Another big plus from widening the Best Picture field is the inclusion of smaller indie films, especially Winter’s Bone, which had no major stars but told one of the most compelling and original stories onscreen in 2010. Its nomination will no doubt inspire more people to check out this excellent drama, especially now that it is available on DVD, and will increase the public’s awareness of its two Oscar-nominated stars, Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawks. Lawrence’s appearance in the film already earned her a big part in this year’s X-Men: First Class, although Winter’s Bone will no doubt be a better showcase of her individual talents.
Having ten Best Picture nominees also helps to increase the chances of a surprise winner. For years, everyone pretty much knew months in advance which movie would win Best Picture, and is usually fell in line with the movie that won the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Feature. Having ten movies nominated widens the pool a bit and at least gives the illusion that something different might happen. It worked last year, when the excellent war drama The Hurt Locker took home the Oscar in a surprise upset of the overrated Golden Globe winner, Avatar. In January, The Social Network seemed like a lock to win Best Picture, but fellow nominee The King’s Speech has been gaining momentum amongst audiences and may provide yet another upset. One would argue that both of these films would have been nominated anyway if there were only five nominees, which is definitely true, but the increase in competition only makes the ceremony more interesting, at least in my eyes.
Despite a rather lackluster summer movie season, 2010 was a very strong year for film, and the ten films nominated for Best Picture are a decent cross section of the quality films that were released. Not every year may justify ten Best Picture nominees, which is why having a set number of movies to nominate seems very silly and arbitrary, but at least for this year, I have very few complaints with having so many films compete for the top prize. In the long run, Oscars are fairly meaningless anyway, but this time of year is always a fun time to look back on the previous year in film and scrutinize on their quality. As a film fanatic, basically any excuse to talk or write about movies is welcome, and having ten Best Picture nominees just gives me more to talk and write about.