This year there are 9 nominees. There's a reason there are 9 instead of 10 (or 5). The category originally got expanded to 10 nominees after 2008, probably because a lot of mainstream moviegoers were upset that The Dark Knight was "snubbed" in favor of The Reader. The Academy figured that, if only there had been some more slots, The Dark Knight would have been nominated and the viewers would have been more happy.
The next year, there were 10 nominees, and it was a much more commercial lineup that included at least 5 box office hits (Avatar... District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Up, and The Blind Side). They probably liked seeing District 9 and Up nominated, but the critics largely didn't consider The Blind Side to be Oscar material. The next year, Inception and Toy Story 3 got nominated, probably because of the expanded category, but so did the not-particularly-good-for-ratings Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right.
The Academy probably thought the category was getting watered down, but they wanted to keep the category big enough so that some hit movies would keep getting in. So, they came up with some formula where there are at least five nominees, and other movies can get nominated (but no more than ten) if they meet a certain voting threshold. It happened to be 9 this year, but it could just as well have been 8, etc.
Here are the nominees:
The ArtistSo, let's figure out which of the 9 are the "real" nominees that would have made it into a normal, 5-nominee list, and which are the extra ones.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Midnight In Paris
The Tree of Life
We just have to eliminate four of these movies. But first, there are two movies that are locks on the 5-nominee list, the ones that got by far the most nominations: The Artist and Hugo. Those have to be nominated, so really we just have 3 open slots and 7 movies to choose from.
The easiest to eliminate is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which was such a surprise the journalists in the audience yelled out and gasped when they heard it announced. It only had one other nomination -- Supporting Actor -- and that too was considered a major surprise.
Now we're down to 6, and exactly half of these would have gotten nominated: The Descendants, The Help, Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse. That looks like a strong list, but since we can see what other Oscar nom's these movies got, it should be easier to whittle it down.
War Horse is the first of the remaining I'd remove from the list. It was considered a strong contender at one point, but Steven Spielberg didn't get a Director nomination, and even though it got six nominations, all of them other than Picture were in technical categories. It's never happened that a Spielberg movie got nominated for Best Picture without getting any other major-category nominations (though he did get snubbed in the Director category for The Color Purple).
I'd also get rid of The Help, because its other three nominations are all in acting categories. It didn't even get nominated for Adapted Screenplay.
So, finally, we have four movies left, one of which must be elimated: The Descendants, Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life.
Now the elimination is harder. The Descendants is probably the strongest of these. It just got 5 nominations, but they included Director, Actor, and Screenplay. Moneyball is the only one that wasn't nominated for Best Director. But almost every year when there were 5 Picture nom's, the Picture and Director categories didn't line up exactly. Moneyball did get a Screenplay nomination and two acting nom's, so it's fairly strong overall. What's most likely is that one of the remaining two -- Midnight In Paris or The Tree of Life -- would have been the movie nominated for Director but not Picture, and Moneyball would have been the Picture-but-not-Director movie.
Midnight In Paris is (from my count) the third Woody Allen movie to get a Best Picture nomination (after Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters), but it's his sixth Director nom, so it's happened three times that his movie got the Director-but-not-Picture thing (Interiors, Broadway Danny Rose, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Bullets Over Broadway). Midnight In Paris could have been the fourth one. But maybe not. Midnight In Paris was commercially successful in a way that those Picture-snubbed movies weren't. Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters were hit movies with broad appeal when they came out. Midnight In Paris was kind of a hit, technically his highest grossing movie ever. With the expanded category, it was considered something of a lock. The Tree of Life, however, does not have broad appeal, is clearly an art movie, and feels like the sort of thing directors love but that gets fewer votes from other branches. Keep in mind, the nominations in each category are chosen by their respective branches, but everyone votes for the Best Picture nominees. Both of these movies got three nominations each this year. Midnight In Paris got Picture, Director, and Screenplay; The Tree of Life got Picture, Director, and Cinematography. I think it's close between the two, but I would go with The Tree of Life as the one that would have gotten left out.
So, with that, here are the real nominations for Best Picture today:
The Artistor, perhaps:
Midnight In Paris
The ArtistI'd go with the former.
The Tree of Life
January 24, 2012
Why are there 9 — not 5 and not 10 — Best Picture Oscar nominations and which are the real nominees...
... that is, the nominees that would be the nominees if, as in the old days, there were only 5 nominees. My 28-year old son Christopher Althouse Cohen does the analysis: