UChic Pop Rocks: Oscar Plays to the Crowd

Oscar season may be far away, but the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (a mouthful— let’s stick with AMPAS) has recently put the awards ceremony back in the headlines with some interesting and unexpected announcements. In one press release, the Academy revealed the newly invited voting members for 2009, and they include a gang of popular, high-profile and even—gasp!— young actors like Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Emily Blunt, Michael Cera, James Franco, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd. The Apatow crew gets a say in who takes home an Oscar? We never thought this day would come.

It seems as though opening the door to such popular and populist actors, ones who star in comedies, no less, is a step in the right direction to making the Academy Awards more appealing to a younger, more “mass” audience. AMPAS’s second big announcement goes along the same lines: the Oscars will now make room for ten Best Picture nominees instead of five. What exactly that will mean for the Oscar ceremony is not certain, but one likely effect is that it will open up the Best Picture prize to more popular crowd favorites, like the Apatow comedies (Knocked Up, Superbad, 40-Year Old Virgin) and blockbuster hits like The Dark Knight, Ironman and the Pirates franchise, meaning movies that get box-office love might actually get award-ceremony love. And it might work the other way as well, as New York Magazine pointed out: smaller, more indie movies such as Rachel Getting Married might draw more moviegoers to the theaters if they are viewed as a legitimate contenders for an Oscar, meaning more box-office love for excellent yet off-beat films.

This seems like great news, as it will certainly make the Oscars a bigger draw for middle and young America- more movies they’ve seen, more diveristy of movies, and more surprises. Except that won’t ten nominees make the ceremony longer, turning the bloated Best Picture category into a turn-off rather than a turn-on?

Never fear, says Sid Ganis, AMPAS president. They will also be cutting out the lifetime achievement and honorary awards, received in recent years by Robert Altman and Sidney Lumet, among others. These more “industry” awards will be relegated to their own private ceremony for entertainment biz insiders. Those we won’t miss too much, I suppose, but the AMPAS is going one step further: apparently the rules for nominating Best Song will be altered so as to make the nomination process more selective. When scoring the songs during the voting process, if no song receives a minimum of 8.25, no song will be nominated, excising the category from the ceremony all together.

Will this bring the additional demise of the live musical performances too? Only time will tell. But it seems like this year, the Academy might actually be following through on their annual vow to shake up and liven up the age-old ceremony. We’re just excited by the idea of Sirs Rudd and Rogen recieving some Academy love.

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