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Ten Best Picture Nominees? Ludicrous

District 9

The Oscars are coming: O, frabjous day! Because then it will all be over, at least until some industry blogger lays odds on next year’s Academy Awards while most of the films in question are still in front of the camera. I am so old — I remember when the Oscars were a two-month topic, at least among us mortals, and films and performances weren’t solely judged in the context of awards. (“Polish up the Oscar for [fill in the blank]!” —Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.)

The Times of both New York and L.A. now maintain virtually full-time awards sections, and otherwise serious critics are expected to make like Nate Silver. Armond fulminates while the rest of us gripe and then go ahead and shill. Oh, I wish I weren't an Oscar-minded weiner. But it was fun to go back and forth with fabulous producer Lynda Obst (The Fisher King, The Invention of Lying) for years at Slate and in this magazine. Alas, Lynda has moved on to her own blog at The Atlantic. Meanwhile, my engaging colleagues at Vulture have taken up the awards slack with a vengeance, and New York also ran Mark Harris’s incisive cover story a few weeks ago. Harris’s long piece was only deficient compared to his brilliant book, Pictures at a Revolution, which used the five Best Picture nominees of 1967 as a springboard for exploring a seminal moment in our cultural history. That was a rare case of someone taking the long view.

My own shorter view, although you haven't asked, is that the move from five to ten nominees for Best Picture is especially ludicrous given that the winner is a virtual (hurt) lock. I know it has been done once or twice, but I don’t see a film in these auteurist times winning the grand prize when its director hasn’t been nominated. We’d ordinarily call the other five films dark horses, but I prefer to call them Dark Knights, in honor of the blockbuster that prompted the category’s expansion when zillions of fanboys vocalized their outrage at the film’s omission in lieu of high-minded snoozes like Frost/Nixon. We all know the Dark Knights are fake outs.

Sure, it's always possible we'll hear, “And the Oscar goes to … District 9.” And then I'll fall in a hole and have tea with the Mad Hatter.