"I AM big. It's the pictures that got small." Oscars double Best Picture nominees

It's an honor to be nominated. Yeah, yeah, whatever. But it's really more of a financial windfall.

The body that awards the Oscars knows that when it nominates a movie or a performer, people pay to see what the fuss is about. It's one of the biggest reasons people want to be nominated: It puts cash in the register and often, it puts legs on a career, unless you win Best Supporting Actress.

Knowing too well that Hollywood is producing fewer movies -- fewer than 200 this year compared with 236 in 2007 -- the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that starting in 2010, it will double the number of Best Picture nominees from five to 10.

If you think you have trouble seeing, let alone remembering, all the nominees now, just wait. In 2010, the Oscars are almost going to feel like a roll call, culminating in a laundry list of potential winners for the big prize.

What that will do to the result is anyone's guess -- I predict some additional vote-splitting that may make the chances for an underdog win that much stronger, although anything to prevent another Crash is fine by me -- but the Los Angeles Times predicts the Oscars telecast will suffer now that producers have to air double the number of highlight clips.

The nominee count for every other category won't change, so it won't be difficult to make out the televised image of Meryl Streep pretending to be delighted to lose again. There's also a precedent for having so many nods in one category. From 1931 to 1943, the Academy usually nominated 10 films for Best Picture. So in a way, this is a return to tradition.

AMPAS claims that it's making the move to cast a wider net, and that's sort of true, if you think of it as a dragnet over filmgoers' wallets. The Academy's president, Sidney Ganis, swore he didn't consult with the studios before making the move ("We're the arts organization, not the business organization," he told the New York Times), but the big studios must be overjoyed about it. Now, all those film buffs have to see twice the number of movies in order to stay on top of the Oscar pool.

Julia Boorstin at CNBC put it into clearer perspective. In the past 15 years, many of the most prestigious categories have been dominated by smaller studios, which crowds out product from the giant corporate studios. Those big studios are the ones who pay for most of the advertising for the telecast, and perhaps not coincidentally, the ratings for those telecasts have been diminishing in tandem with the mass appeal of the nominees. Ergo, despite Ganis' statement, there's a clear profit motive here that goes well beyond the prospect of improved box office receipts.

"I am big," protested has-been movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in a 1950 Best Picture nominee, Sunset Boulevard. "It's the pictures that got small."

Next year, to dig its fingers deeper into your wallet, Hollywood will try to act its size again.
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