As anyone with an internet connection and an interest in film knows by now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has expanded the Best Picture category to ten nominees this year instead of the usual five. While everyone is talking about the chances of The Hurt Locker, Public Enemies, Up, and Star Trek to sneak in when they might have had more difficulty with only five choices, it got us thinking about the change in a “what if” kind of way. What if they had made this move earlier? Everyone points to last year’s exclusion of The Dark Knight and WALL-E as one of the reasons the category will now invite more contenders for the big prize. But what other notoriously snubbed films might have been Best Picture nominees? What films would have stayed snubbed? And what unworthy nominees would have been picked?
The big X-factor is that it’s hard to say how campaigns for Best Picture would have been different. For example, Paramount is going to give Star Trek a MUCH bigger push with “For Your Consideration” ads than they would have with only five spots available. So, we can’t say how much bigger the Cast Away or Children of Men campaigns might have been. Would Warner Brothers have pushed harder for Gran Torino last year? Would DreamWorks have put money behind a Shrek campaign? We’ll never know.
Best Picture Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: The Dark Knight (8), WALL-E (6), Doubt (5), Changeling (3), and Revolutionary Road (3)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, and In Bruges
Three of this year’s alternates are easy to spot without much consideration. The Dark Knight and WALL-E are often pointed to as the reason that the category has expanded for 2009. They clearly would have gotten in last year and were probably #6 and #7 in the voting. It’s also highly likely that the clear support that pushed Doubt to four acting nominations would have carried it into the big slot as well. That’s an easy eight nominees. But what about the other two? The picture gets a lot muddier there. Before the nominations, I would have said Gran Torino and The Wrestler and perhaps it would have gone down that way but the complete lack of nominations for the former and the shut-out of the latter in director and screenplay makes me wonder if the films just didn’t have that much support from voters in general. Could there have been another popular pick? People are already hyping the potential of Star Trek to get in this year. What about Iron Man? Or could it have been a small film like Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, or In Bruges? Last year’s “9” and “10” are two of the hardest picks of this entire undertaking. I think when things are this close, the Academy often goes with acting showcases (that’s what Frost/Nixon and The Reader were). And there are two films that, despite their low nomination total, were racking up wins for their beloved leading actors – Revolutionary Road and The Wrestler.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- The Dark Knight
- The Reader
- Revolutionary Road
- Slumdog Millionaire
- The Wrestler
Best Picture Nominees: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men, and There Will Be Blood
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: Ratatouille (5), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (4), The Bourne Ultimatum (3), Enchanted (3), La Vie en Rose (3), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (3), and Transformers (3)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Lars and the Real Girl, The Savages, and Away From Her
A lot has been made about how WALL-E would have been nominated last year and Up is likely to be nominated this year, breaking the Academy embargo on Pixar films in the big category. Here’s the real story – if this rule had been instituted in 2000, Pixar would have been nominated for Best Picture MULTIPLE times, including for 2007’s Ratatouille (and that wouldn’t have even been the first), a film that had more nominations than Juno. It clearly had a ton of support and probably finished #6 in the voting. If it didn’t, that slot went to the great The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Those two choices are clear. The rest are a little hazy. Going into the nominations, I would have expected The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Zodiac, and Into the Wild to be strong contenders, but the latter two were shockingly snubbed, even in the technical categories, indicating very little support from the Academy. If you can’t see the technical accomplishments of Zodiac or Wild, you just didn’t like the films. One film did have technical support – Sweeney Todd – and probably would have snuck in if there were ten nominees. And Jesse James did pop up in cinematography and supporting actor, so there was enough support to think that it could have claimed the nine or ten spot. What’s last? I refuse to believe that it was La Vie En Rose. It could have been 3:10 to Yuma or even The Bourne Ultimatum, but I think number ten would have gone indie and Fox Searchlight would have landed another nominee in The Savages, a film that the studio probably would have pushed harder with ten slots to fill. Yes, Zodiac fans – even with ten nominations, we get screwed.
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
- Michael Clayton
- No Country For Old Men
- The Savages
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
- There Will Be Blood
Best Picture Nominees: Babel, The Departed, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: Dreamgirls (8), Pan’s Labyrinth (6), Blood Diamond (5), Notes on a Scandal (4), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (4), Apocalypto (3), Children of Men (3), and Little Children (3)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: United 93, Pan’s Labyrinth, Borat, Children of Men, Little Children, and Notes on a Scandal
Finally, a year that looks pretty clear-cut. Dreamgirls was actually the most nominated film of the year. It’s a lock if the category had been expanded. Two of the best films of the year, Children of Men and Pan’s Labyrinth, played very well in every category but Best Picture with both scoring Best Screenplay nods and Labyrinth walking home with the second-highest number of trophies on the night (after The Departed). Paul Greengrass’ nomination for Best Director makes his United 93 a likely choice for Best Picture. Do you think we will ever see a Best Director nod from a film NOT nominated for Best Picture now that there are ten choices? It’s less likely. Finally, the three major nominations for Little Children – Actress, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay – makes the support for that film clear. Sure, the final slot could have gone to Notes on a Scandal or Blood Diamond, but Little Children is such a better film than either of those choices that I refuse to believe that’s how it would have gone down. Call me an optimist. The next time that someone complains about the ten slots for nominees, let them know that if it had happened before then the very deserving Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, and United 93 would have found a wider audience by being Best Picture nominees. I’m just saying….
- Children of Men
- The Departed
- Letters From Iwo Jima
- Little Children
- Little Miss Sunshine
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- The Queen
- United 93
Best Picture Nominees: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: Memoirs of a Geisha (6); Walk the Line (5); King Kong (4); Pride & Prejudice (4); The Constant Gardener (4); Cinderella Man (3); The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (3); and War of the Worlds (3)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: Match Point, The Squid and the Whale, Syriana, The Constant Gardener, and A History of Violence
If 2006 is an argument FOR ten Best Picture nominees, then 2005 is an argument against it. The awful Memoirs of a Geisha walked home with six nominations. Is it that hard to think that it probably would have been seven if there were ten Best Picture nods? It probably would have. I like Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line, but was happy that it didn’t make the Best Picture cut. It probably would have with ten slots to fill. Pride & Prejudice is okay, but the point is that we’re going to be squeezing “okay” movies into the big list to fill ten spots in some years. I’m going to be optimistic with the final two slots and assume that the screenwriting nominations for A History of Violence and The Constant Gardener would have translated into Best Picture nominations as well. This is the double-edged sword of this new rule. The great A History of Violence could have “Best Picture Nominee” on the cover, but so would Memoirs of a Geisha. One final note – Is it possible that with ten nominees, the wave of acting support for Crash (it was reportedly mostly actors who voted for it) might have been diluted to other nominees like Constant Gardener or Walk the Line. Could Brokeback Mountain have won (as it so clearly should have) if there were ten choices instead of five? So much has been made about “what would have been nominated” but what if the actual WINNER would have been different with ten slots instead of five?
- Brokeback Mountain
- The Constant Gardener
- Good Night and Good Luck
- A History of Violence
- Memoirs of a Geisha
- Pride & Prejudice
- Walk the Line
Best Picture Nominees: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, and Sideways
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: The Incredibles (4), Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (4), Spider-Man 2 (3), The Passion of the Christ (3), Vera Drake (3), and The Phantom of the Opera (3)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: Vera Drake, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hotel Rwanda, The Incredibles, The Motorcycle Diaries, and Before Sunset
One of the most interesting questions of this “what if” concept surfaces in 2004. Would the Academy, who showed a little support for it with 3 nominations, have actually nominated The Passion of the Christ for Best Picture? I doubt it, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility. It certainly wasn’t #6 but it could have been #9 or #10. The 6-spot was probably the Screenplay-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Vera Drake had a lot of love, including a Best Director nod, so that’s a lock. I think The Incredibles is yet another Pixar nominee that slipped into the 6-10 range. And I think the love for Spider-Man 2 is the same kind of love that people are talking about when they mention Star Trek as a possible nominee in early 2010. What about the final spot? Christ, Phantom, or Hotel Rwanda? I’m going to, once again, be optimistic and assume that the actors would have pushed Rwanda into the #10 spot over the more technical alternate choices.
- The Aviator
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Finding Neverland
- Hotel Rwanda
- The Incredibles
- Million Dollar Baby
- Spider-Man 2
- Vera Drake
Best Picture Nominees: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, and Seabiscuit
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: Cold Mountain (7), Finding Nemo (4), House of Sand and Fog (3), Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (5), City of God (4), The Last Samurai (4), In America (3), and Girl With a Pearl Earring (3)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: City of God, Dirty Pretty Things, Finding Nemo, In America, The Barbarian Invasions, and American Splendor
This is an interesting year. Most people now recognize the greatness of American Splendor, but Paul Giamatti wasn’t even nominated, indicating a lack of support. Then you have Cold Mountain, a film with multiple nominations but one that most people didn’t think was worthy of a Best Picture nod. Although with seven other nominations, you would have to think that an eighth was likely. What about Pirates of the Caribbean? I know you’re shaking your head, but it DID have an amazing five nominations overall. Somehow I doubt that people would have voted for it over more obviously highbrow fare like American Splendor, House of Sand and Fog, or In America, even though they admired the technical accomplishments of the piece. It wasn’t quite as beloved as Star Trek, The Dark Knight, or Spider-Man 2. The directing nod (and three others) for City of God makes that an obvious choice and Finding Nemo is yet ANOTHER Pixar film that I think finished 6-10 in the voting. In America may be a personal choice for the tenth spot, but I love the film too much not to include it.
- City of God
- Cold Mountain
- Finding Nemo
- House of Sand and Fog
- In America
- The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
- Lost in Translation
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
- Mystic River
Best Picture Nominees: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: Adaptation (4), Far From Heaven (4), Road to Perdition (6), and Frida (6)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: Talk to Her, Far From Heaven, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Y tu mama tambien, About a Boy, and Adaptation
This one is too easy. Yes, About Schmidt has its fans and possibly should be considered, but I think it’s #11, based on the fact that it couldn’t even land a Best Screenplay nomination. For this one, I think it’s almost too obvious. All four of the films with four or more nominations but no nod for Best Picture are slam dunks and were considered as potential Best Picture choices all season long (except maybe Frida, but the widespread technical love indicates a lot of support for that film). There’s an alternate universe where Adaptation and Far From Heaven are Best Picture nominees. It makes me smile. The final spot? The great Talk to Her was ineligible for Best Foreign Language Film but scored a nod for Best Director and won Best Screenplay to make up for it. It clearly would have been nominated for Best Picture as well.
- Far From Heaven
- Gangs of New York
- The Hours
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
- The Pianist
- Road to Perdition
- Talk to Her
Best Picture Nominees: A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and Moulin Rouge!
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: Iris (3), Black Hawk Down (4), Amelie (5), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (3), Pearl Harbor (4), and Monsters Inc. (4)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: Black Hawk Down, Mullholland Dr., Amelie, Memento, Monster’s Ball, The Royal Tenenbaums, Ghost World, and Shrek
2001 was clearly a very divisive year. Critics fell for Mulholland Dr., Amelie, and Ghost World, but they were all uninvited to the big dance. A director nod for Mulholland Dr. indicates that the film likely finished in the 6-10 area for Best Picture voting and the same is clearly true for Amelie, which I suspect was #6. Ridley Scott was nominated for Best Director, along with three other nods for his Black Hawk Down, a very likely alternate nominee. What about the final two spots? They would have likely been chosen from Iris, Monsters Inc., Monster’s Ball, The Royal Tenenbaums, Ghost World, or Shrek. I think the two highly acclaimed animated films would have cancelled each other out and, once again, when it comes down to the wire, I’m going with acting powerhouses. There was a LOT of love for Monster’s Ball and Iris in acting circles, leaving critical darlings like Ghost World and Tenenbaums on the outside even with ten choices.
- A Beautiful Mind
- Black Hawk Down
- Gosford Park
- In the Bedroom
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- Monster’s Ball
- Moulin Rouge!
- Mulholland Dr.
Best Picture Nominees: Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Gladiator, and Traffic
Non-BP Nominated Multiple Nominees: Quills (3), Almost Famous (4), Billy Elliot (3), The Patriot (3), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (3), and Wonder Boys (3)
Non-BP Writing/Directing Nominees: Billy Elliot, Almost Famous, You Can Count On Me, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and Wonder Boys
Can we go back and post-date the new rule so future generations will consider Almost Famous a Best Picture nominee? Please? Even if that means that Billy Elliot has to be nominated too, I don’t mind as long as one of the most snubbed films of the last twenty years gets the nod it deserves. What would be the other three? This is a tough one. The support for Pollock was much more widespread than its lonely two nominations would indicate. I think it would have earned a third. Quills had enough support to get in, but that tenth spot is surprisingly vacant. It wouldn’t have been the Grinch and, for some reason, I don’t remember enough support for Wonder Boys to make it. I think if the category had been ten, there would have been a bigger push for Cast Away, a popular favorite with one of the best performances of the year by one of the biggest stars of the day.
- Almost Famous
- Billy Elliot
- Cast Away
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- Erin Brockovich