The Oscar tent just got a lot bigger and so has interest in the March 7, 2010, show. For the first time in six decades, the Academy Awards will have 10 Best Picture nominees, twice the normal number.
Expanding the field should allow for more commercial hits; if the change had come last year, for instance, "The Dark Knight" surely would have made the cut. So might have "WALL-E," "Doubt," "The Wrestler," "Revolutionary Road" or "Iron Man."
In recent years, the nominees have tilted toward arthouse or smaller releases that weren't always seen by wide audiences. Consider the contenders for the 81st Academy Awards: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader" and winner "Slumdog Millionaire."
When it comes to the ratings, the Oscars typically do the best when a Best Picture nominee is a commercial and critical favorite, as with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which swept the show in early 2004.
Add to that a dandy, perhaps unpredictable Best Picture race and suddenly East Coast audiences have another reason to stay up past midnight.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has found a way to (further) trump the Golden Globes, which splits its top award into two motion picture awards -- for drama and for musical or comedy. That allows room for a "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" or "Mamma Mia!"
Change is good when it comes to the Academy Awards and this one could open some slots for "The Road" and Rob Marshall's "Nine," assuming they live up to their promise. And I somehow think they will.
No matter how many nominees, someone will complain that his or her favorite was omitted. If given the choice, I might have voted for six acting nominees rather than 10 Best Picture contenders, but the Academy has precedent for expanding the field for the crown jewel.
At a press conference announcing the change, Sid Ganis (president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) was flanked by posters with the names of all 10 nominees for Best Picture of 1939. On one placard: "Dark Victory," "Gone With the Wind," "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "Love Affair" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." On the other: "Ninotchka," "Of Mice and Men," "Stagecoach," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Wuthering Heights."
Now, it's up to 2009 to match those 10 terrific titles.
(Pictured is Sid Ganis at a Beverly Hills press conference today making the announcement. Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S)