When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced last week that the nomination field for Best Picture would be expanded to 10 nominees, I joked to some friends that the corresponding move of eliminating the Best Original Song category would be removed “to save time in the broadcast, and also because it’s really hard to get people to agree on nominating a song not by Randy Newman.” Turns out my gallowsish humor wasn’t that far off, according to a report in Variety–new rules for the category will tweak its already-limiting mathematical formula in such a way that it’ll be possible for there to be no nominations in any given year. According to the trade rag:
It’s ironic that at last Wednesday’s press conference, convened to announce the 10-pic rule, AMPAS prexy Sid Ganis said more noms will not dilute the category but rather broaden the options. Yet at the same meeting, the board decided to limit another category so sharply that it’s possible there will be no award in certain years.
The music branch annually conducts a “bake-off” in which voters see clips of eligible songs as they are used in each film. The voters then rate a song on a scale of 6 to 10. Under the new ruling, if no song earns 8.25, there will be no nominations. If at least one hits that magic number, it will be nominated, as will the second-highest scorer.
(Previous rules had specified three to five nominees, and the new rules say the category will still max out at five.)
The bake-off was an earnest attempt to ensure that a song’s contribution to a film was more important than diskery sales, since pop-rock singer-songwriters have increasingly become a presence in a film’s score, much to the consternation of some music branch members.
But the bake-off limited the voting pool (you couldn’t vote without seeing these clips) and worked to the disadvantage of songs that summed up the mood and ideas of the film but were played during closing credits. (Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” and Eddie Vedder’s song from “Into the Wild” were two recent examples of closing-credits songs that were shut out.)
The music branch is undoubtedly sincere in its frequent attempts to rethink the rules, and this is just the latest in a long line of attempts to come up with an acceptable way of voting. However, over the weekend, several Acad members fretted that the music branch’s voting system is a bid to bring a scientific measuring stick to the unscientific realm of artistic contributions.
The question is: Who benefits from this decision? It’s hard to determine who would be happy with fewer song noms or wins.
Well, the people at ABC might benefit from what Variety is calling “an apparent attempt to preserve the integrity of the category, but an example of ‘in order to save it, maybe we could eliminate it’ thinking”–they likely saw ratings dips during the de rigeur performances of the songs. Not to mention all those local-news affiliates that are going to be pushed back even further by the awards telecast pumping up its roster of top nominees. Still, this can only be seen as another distressing development for the music industry, whose “redheaded stepchild of the entertainment biz” complex must be turning into one involving a bright pink mohawk.
Two more Oscar tweaks [Variety]