Friday, February 12, 2010

if they had never stopped picking 10

If you are reading this article, it's about the Academy Awards.

If you are now still reading, you are almost certainly aware that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences picked ten nominees for Best Picture this year, instead of their usual five. What you may not know is, this is pretty close to their original standard practice, at least during the AMPAS's formative years, back when they didn't know whether they were coming or going, coming up with two Picture categories, calling it Production instead of Picture, nominating three films, thirteen films, eight films, allowing write-in candidates, allowing extras to vote, banning extras from voting, basically writing and deleting rules and regulations like it was going out of style. By 1934 they had decided on ten...ish nominees, and only stopped after Casablanca won in 1943. When Wilson went up against Going My Way in 1944, they only had three other films in competition - not eight.

One may reasonably ask, what would have happened if, during the 1944-2008 period, they'd stuck it out with ten nominees?

The answer is not as simple as you think. A backwards glance across the history of the Academy voting body's choices always give us film buff types the temptation to make mental corrections. "No to Gigi, yes to Vertigo. How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane? Scandal! They nominated Dennis Hopper for Hoosiers and not Blue Velvet?!" The outrages are immeasurable.

The guesswork, however, must take into account not what we would pick if we were given a time machine and some well-rehearsed Oscar campaigns. ("You may not know it now, poor folk, but Bresson's Au hasard, Balthazar is a far better film than A Man for All Seasons. If you will allow me to explain...") What we'll instead speculate upon is what they were thinking at the time, based on the laurels and reputations and grosses of that specific year.

A few structuring principles seem to be in place:

  1. Foreign language films, with a handful of exceptions, were consistently shut out of the Best Picture race. Even with a Director nomination. (The Director nomination was frequently used as a "this is pretty much all we can do for you, Mr. Fellini" award.) I think this pattern will hold, even with five extra slots. Not always - as I will indicate - but for the most part. Remember: directors choose Director nominees, whereas a wider pool picked for Picture. And directors think about things like...direction. Not just explosions and sexy closeups and whatnot.
  2. During the 1932-1944 period, Director-nominated films almost always got a Picture nomination. A mere two exceptions - Angels With Dirty Faces, My Man Godfrey - prove the rule.
  3. Box office domination - as long as the critics were at least grudgingly kind - runs roughshod over arthouse hotness. In other words, in the eyes of the Academy, James Cameron > Michael Bay > Marguerite Duras. (Fear not, your head will stop hurting in a few hours.)
  4. VERY VERY VERY RARELY, after the early, which-way-is-up years, do we see a movie get a Picture nomination and nothing else. To date, it hasn't happened since One Foot in Heaven (1941). Since 1941, only four Picture candidates have been limited to one other nominated category: Decision Before Dawn (1951), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), A Serious Man (2009), and The Blind Side (2009). That's right - two from the year of the "return of ten," the other two spread across a span of seven decades.
  5. or 4b, if you will: to find the "phantom five," we'd do well to look at the other categories' nominees. The closer to a fuller pattern of actors, directors, writers, and cinematographers, the better. The more a film resembles what happened to Dreamgirls (2006) or Das Boot (1982), the safer the bet it would have rounded out the bottom ten.

Apart from that, it's several dozen shots in the dark. I can't claim to detect, with pinpoint accuracy, the Serious Man of 1958 or the Blind Side of 1977. It's a crapshoot. That said, using the above guidelines, and waaaaay too much free time, I've put together my guesses.

2008
- THE DARK KNIGHT
- WALL-E
- DOUBT
- IRON MAN
- THE WRESTLER

2007
- THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
- RATATOUILLE
- AMERICAN GANGSTER
- INTO THE WILD
- THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

2006
- BLOOD DIAMOND
- DREAMGIRLS
- UNITED 93
- PAN’S LABYRINTH
- CHILDREN OF MEN

2005
- WALK THE LINE
- SYRIANA
- A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
- MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA
- CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE

2004
- ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
- VERA DRAKE
- COLLATERAL
- THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST
- KINSEY

2003
- COLD MOUNTAIN
- IN AMERICA
- THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG
- PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
- THE LAST SAMURAI

2002
- ABOUT SCHMIDT
- ADAPTATION
- ROAD TO PERDITION
- MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING
- FAR FROM HEAVEN

2001
- ALI
- IRIS
- BLACK HAWK DOWN
- MEMENTO
- HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE

2000
- ALMOST FAMOUS
- POLLOCK
- QUILLS
- YOU CAN COUNT ON ME
- REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

1999
- THE HURRICANE
- BEING JOHN MALKOVICH
- TOPSY-TURVY
- THE MATRIX
- THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY

1998
- GODS AND MONSTERS
- A CIVIL ACTION
- PLEASANTVILLE
- A SIMPLE PLAN
- THE TRUMAN SHOW

1997
- THE APOSTLE
- WAG THE DOG
- MRS. BROWN
- AMISTAD
- THE SWEET HEREAFTER

1996
- THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT
- BREAKING THE WAVES
- LONE STAR
- HAMLET
- EVITA

1995
- DEAD MAN WALKING
- LEAVING LAS VEGAS
- NIXON
- MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS
- THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY

1994
- NOBODY’S FOOL
- THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE
- BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
- ED WOOD
- LEGENDS OF THE FALL

1993
- WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
- PHILADELPHIA
- SHADOWLANDS
- IN THE LINE OF FIRE
- SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE

1992
- THE PLAYER
- CHAPLIN
- LORENZO’S OIL
- A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
- BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

1991
- CAPE FEAR
- THELMA & LOUISE
- THE FISHER KING
- FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
- TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY

1990
- PRETTY WOMAN
- THE GRIFTERS
- DICK TRACY
- REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
- HOME ALONE

1989
- CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
- PARENTHOOD
- STEEL MAGNOLIAS
- WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…
- GLORY

1988
- A FISH CALLED WANDA
- MARRIED TO THE MOB
- BIG
- BULL DURHAM
- WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?

1987
- EMPIRE OF THE SUN
- GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM
- IRONWEED
- AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS
- RADIO DAYS

1986
- THE COLOR OF MONEY
- ALIENS
- PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED
- HOOSIERS
- TOP GUN

1985
- BACK TO THE FUTURE
- SILVERADO
- RAN
- THE OFFICIAL STORY
- THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL

1984
- THE RIVER
- GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
- THE KARATE KID
- THE NATURAL
- SPLASH

1983
- EDUCATING RITA
- FANNY AND ALEXANDER
- SILKWOOD
- FLASHDANCE
- WARGAMES

1982
- AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN
- SOPHIE’S CHOICE
- THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP
- DAS BOOT
- VICTOR VICTORIA

1981
- ARTHUR
- ABSENCE OF MALICE
- THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN
- ONLY WHEN I LAUGH
- RAGTIME

1980
- THE GREAT SANTINI
- THE STUNT MAN
- PRIVATE BENJAMIN
- MELVIN AND HOWARD
- FAME

1979
- BEING THERE
- THE CHINA SYNDROME
- LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
- MANHATTAN
- THE BLACK STALLION

1978
- GREASE
- SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR
- INTERIORS
- CALIFORNIA SUITE
- SUPERMAN

1977
- CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
- EQUUS
- OH, GOD!
- SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
- SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

1976
- SEVEN WOMEN
- BOUND FOR GLORY
- MARATHON MAN
- A STAR IS BORN
- KING KONG

1975
- DAY OF THE LOCUST
- SHAMPOO
- THE SUNSHINE BOYS
- THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
- AMARCORD

1974
- MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
- BLAZING SADDLES
- DAY FOR NIGHT
- ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE
- EARTHQUAKE

1973
- THE WAY WE WERE
- LAST TANGO IN PARIS
- THE LAST DETAIL
- SAVE THE TIGER
- THE PAPER CHASE

1972
- SLEUTH
- LADY SINGS THE BLUES
- THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE
- TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT
- BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE

1971
- SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY
- KLUTE
- THE HOSPITAL
- SUMMER OF ‘42
- MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS

1970
- RYAN’S DAUGHTER
- WOMEN IN LOVE
- I NEVER SANG FOR MY FATHER
- TORA! TORA! TORA!
- LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS

1969
- TRUE GRIT
- GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS
- THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?
- EASY RIDER
- BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE

1968
- 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
- THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES
- THE PRODUCERS
- ROSEMARY’S BABY
- THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR

1967
- COOL HAND LUKE
- THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE
- THE DIRTY DOZEN
- IN COLD BLOOD
- CAMELOT

1966
- A MAN AND A WOMAN
- BLOW-UP
- THE FORTUNE COOKIE
- THE PROFESSIONALS
- FANTASTIC VOYAGE

1965
- THE COLLECTOR
- THE PAWNBROKER
- CAT BALLOU
- A PATCH OF BLUE
- THE GREAT RACE

1964
- THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN
- FATHER GOOSE
- A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
- SEVEN DAYS IN MAY
- HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE

1963
- HUD
- IRMA LA DOUCE
- THE CARDINAL
- 8 ½
- THE GREAT ESCAPE

1962
- DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES
- BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ
- THE MIRACLE WORKER
- SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH
- WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

1961
- BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S
- SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS
- THE CHIDREN’S HOUR
- LA DOLCE VITA
- FLOWER DRUM SONG

1960
- INHERIT THE WIND
- NEVER ON SUNDAY
- EXODUS
- PSYCHO
- SPARTACUS

1959
- SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER
- NORTH BY NORTHWEST
- IMITATION OF LIFE
- THE 400 BLOWS
- ON THE BEACH

1958
- SOME CAME RUNNING
- THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA
- I WANT TO LIVE!
- THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS
- SOUTH PACIFIC

1957
- WILD IS THE WIND
- HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON
- AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
- FUNNY FACE
- THE THREE FACES OF EVE

1956
- LUST FOR LIFE
- ANASTASIA
- WRITTEN ON THE WIND
- BABY DOLL
- WAR AND PEACE

1955
- EAST OF EDEN
- BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK
- LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME
- I’LL CRY TOMORROW
- REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

1954
- A STAR IS BORN
- REAR WINDOW
- MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION
- THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY
- SABRINA

1953
- STALAG 17
- THE MOON IS BLUE
- LILI
- MOGAMBO
- TITANIC

1952
- THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
- VIVA ZAPATA!
- COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA
- THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO
- WITH A SONG IN MY HEART

1951
- THE AFRICAN QUEEN
- DEATH OF A SALESMAN
- DETECTIVE STORY
- WHEN WORLDS OLLIDE
- DAVID AND BATHSHEBA

1950
- HARVEY
- THE ASPHALT JUNGLE
- THE THIRD MAN
- ADAM’S RIB
- SAMSON AND DELILAH

1949
- CHAMPION
- PINKY
- COME TO THE STABLE
- THE FALLEN IDOL
- SANDS OF IWO JIMA

1948
- THE SEARCH
- SITTING PRETTY
- JOAN OF ARC
- SORRY, WRONG NUMBER
- I REMEMBER MAMA

1947
- A DOUBLE LIFE
- BODY AND SOUL
- THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER
- KISS OF DEATH
- BLACK NARCISSUS

1946
- THE JOLSON STORY
- BRIEF ENCOUNTER
- DUEL IN THE SUN
- ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM
- THE KILLERS

1945
- THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM
- LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN
- NATIONAL VELVET
- THE SOUTHERNER
- A SONG TO REMEMBER

1944
- NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART
- LAURA
- LIFEBOAT
- MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
- COVER GIRL

2 comments:

Jiggy said...

Wow. well done!

Ray said...

holy F .. nice work.