Studios wary of Oscar's new best-picture rule

Thu Jun 25, 2009 2:56am EDT
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By Elizabeth Guider

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If ever there were a time that the town needed a jolt of adrenaline, Wednesday was it -- but from, of all places, the staid, mostly predictable Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences?

What everyone thought would be another sleepy announcement about an arcane rule change in the documentary or foreign language category turned into the headline of the day -- opening up the Oscar race to 10 best picture nominees.

The rationale is not that hard to fathom: The awards telecast has been dwindling in the ratings for a decade; at the same time, folks have been carping about the tilt of the noms -- too arty, too downbeat, too too -- or the exclusion of comedies or the relegation of animation to its own category. Some had even hazarded aloud that, of all things, the Golden Globes were the guys with the right idea, even if their 10 best pic noms are bifurcated by genre.

So with one masterstroke, all the goal posts have been shifted.

Most folks were gobsmacked by the news, with many -- think all those filmmakers who believe their films have been snubbed -- applauding the stratagem. As for wannabe Oscar consultants, now is the time to hang out that shingle.

"I think (Academy president) Sid Ganis has a great marketing mind and that this is a brilliant move," media consultant Michael Levine said. "After all, the biggest sin these days is irrelevance, and whether the expansion ultimately resonates with the public or not, the move will get a lot of attention. Sometimes you just have to do something bold to re-energize a classic brand."

But from a different perspective, longtime Oscar maven Tony Angellotti, who now consults for Universal and Disney Animation, thinks the move could well dilute "both the quality and the impact of the award. I would imagine the studios are grieving over this. They'll have to spend more money and not likely see a return -- just what they don't need in a recession."

In fact, one studio executive compared the Academy bombshell to getting doused with a bucket of cold water. He confided that he has enough trouble every awards season figuring out whom they have to satisfy with an Oscar campaign and which talent they can safely neglect or do less for.   Continued...

<p>An Oscar statue is pictured alongside a banner during preparations for the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 21, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>