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Oscars 2011: Announcing Best Picture – Building Suspense One Title at a Time

According to our good friend Damien Bona, the AMPAS will break with tradition this year and not show the number of pictures that will be nominated on the big board behind the announcer.

The other big change is that they won’t be alphabetical, so we can’t rule out a movie as its being announced.  I’ll never forget hanging on the phone with Kris Tapley as we waited to see if The Dark Knight would be announced.   Kris kept saying, “as soon as they say Frost/Nixon it’s over.”

So this either going to get ugly or it’s going to be really fun.  There is nothing quite like that feeling, though, after they’ve read the nominees.  Sometimes, it feels like the air has just been sucked out of the room, when someone truly worthy has been left off the list.  When a film like Dreamgirls or The Dark Knight is not read.  You always do your best to keep it in perspective, but someone you can’t help but feel yourself thrust back to the days when contests mattered – junior high and high school – when the reading off names picked out of a hat, or the choosing of cheerleaders or parts in plays or football teams mattered.  When you’re left standing there, unchosen, you know that emptied out feeling.

Perhaps some of us are hard-wired to care.

To my mind, the more nominees the better.  I know many people feel like five is really the magic number and that it keeps the Oscar race exclusive and suspenseful.  But I prefer more.  I prefer ten.  Last year’s ten was a perfect lineup of great films – two by women directors, one Black Swan, a Coen brothers, a Fincher, an animated film and a King.  The only thing missing was a foreign language film and a doc.  The possibilities seemed endless.

But then I remember why they changed out to ten in the first place – to find spots for more popular fare, not less.  Last year’s Best Picture five would have likely been:

King’s Speech
Social Network
Black Swan
True Grit
The Fighter

The films that were added were critically acclaimed but not exactly the kinds of movies the change to ten was designed for – there was Inception and Toy Story 3.  But there was also Winter’s Bone, the Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours.  I think we’ll look back on last year’s lineup and remember it the way we remember 1940 – the year Rebecca won, but also nominated: The Grapes of Wrath, The Philadelphia Story, The Great Dictator — what a year for Best Picture.

Last year, the Academy showed excellent taste in films.  They may never top that lineup.

On the other hand, let’s keep an open mind about the coming year.  One thing we now know is that War Horse could be read at any time, and once it’s read, if it’s read, that doesn’t mean all of the Best Pictures nominees have been announced.