What If... Best Picture Was Expanded to 10 Nominees Starting in 2000?
Welcome to the third edition of What If…Oscars Edition. You can access the previous editions here. In this ongoing series, I’ll take a look at several Oscar scenarios throughout history and try to answer the unknowable question of “what if things turned out differently?” Using best judgment and a bit of hopeful fun, we’ll look at the possible ripple effects one result can have on the course of Oscar history.
We sometimes forget that the Academy Awards began with ten nominees for Best Picture, with the decades-spanning system of five nominees starting in 1944, where Going My Way won the ultimate prize. Of course, that standard was then broken in 2008 when The Dark Knight forced the Academy’s hand toward a sliding scale, which would then be once again locked in at ten nominees just this past year.
Looking back at the Best Picture races of those countless years with only five nominees, there are a lot of masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Psycho, and Do the Right Thing that probably would have been nominated if the ten-nominee system stayed in place. So, to exact justice, let’s look back at previous Best Picture lineups and predict the five other films that would have been nominated had the Oscars maintained the ten-nominee system. Of course, with so many years to choose from, we’ll have to narrow it down for the sake of time (and sanity). In this edition of What If… Oscars Edition, we’ll focus on the Best Picture lineups from the beginning of the century to 2008, the final year of the five-nominee system.
To predict the remaining nominees, I’ll look at relevant precursor nominations (Golden Globe, PGA, BAFTA, Critics Choice, etc.), box office results, overall critical/public reception, and if the film received any other Oscar nominations. Using all of these variables, I’m confident we can shine an accurate picture of this piece of alternate history.
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brokovich, Gladiator, Traffic
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot, Cast Away, Wonder Boys, You Can Count on Me
We start with a notorious Best Picture snub in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, who was likely replaced at the last minute by Lasse Hallström’s Chocolat, which surged thanks to the halo effect from Hallström’s The Cider House Rules and the conniving Harvey Weinstein. Crowe’s film showed up everywhere it could have, including a win for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes. Two films it beat for Best Original Screenplay were Billy Elliot, marking the first of three consecutive Best Director nominations for Stephen Daldry, and You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Lonergan’s Sundance prize winner that had racked up a slew of critics prizes. Another consistent writing contender, this time in Best Adapted Screenplay, was Wonder Boys, Curtis Hanson’s follow-up to L.A. Confidential, which received nods from AFI, Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and landed Michael Douglas a BAFTA nomination for Best Lead Actor. Also nominated at that year’s BAFTAs (and later at the Oscars) was Tom Hanks in Cast Away, a huge box office success from Robert Zemeckis that had received equally high critical praise.
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Moulin Rouge!, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: Amélie, Black Hawk Down, Memento, Monster’s Ball, Shrek
2001 was the inaugural year for the Best Animated Feature category, which was awarded to Dreamworks’ Shrek. And if the Best Picture lineup was expanded, I have a feeling that the film would have made history as the first to be nominated in both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature. The film played at that year’s Cannes Film Festival and received a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. Three of the other likely nominees come from the Best Original Screenplay category: (1) Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s international smash hit, which received a total of five nominations, (2) the Halle Berry-led Monster’s Ball, and (3) Christopher Nolan’s Memento, which got Nolan a surprise Best Director nomination from the Director’s Guild of America. The final nominee was not featured in either of the screenplay categories, but it was a stalwart crafts contender, and that is Black Hawk Down. Along with David Lynch (whose Mulholland Drive is too weird to even crack this expanded lineup), Ridley Scott was nominated for Best Director, but his film wasn’t able to make it into Best Picture, even though it showed up on the AFI and NBR Top-10 lists.
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: About Schmidt, Adaptation., Far From Heaven, Road to Perdition, Talk to Her
2002 was the year of the period piece, with Rob Marshall’s Chicago topping all. Two other period pieces that I suspect would have made it in are Far From Heaven and Road to Perdition. Julianne Moore received a Best Lead Actress nomination for Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven alongside her Best Supporting Actress nomination for The Hours, and the film itself was a consistent critic favorite. While being a summer release in a year where every contender came out in December, Road to Perdition, Sam Mendes’ follow-up to the Best Picture-winning American Beauty, represented itself well in the craft categories and for Paul Newman’s supporting performance. The lone Best Director nominee without a corresponding Best Picture nomination was Pedro Almodóvar for Talk to Her. But he was able to walk away with Best Original Screenplay, which, along with the overall passion for the movie, makes a strong case for why it was close to a Best Picture nomination. Our final two nominees come from the Best Lead Actor field. Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. was the big snub of the season as it managed to accumulate three acting nominations (including a win for Chris Cooper) and got Charlie Kaufman his second writing nomination. And there was About Schmidt with its two heavy acting contenders in Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates and precursor Best Picture nominations at Critics Choice, AFI, and the Golden Globes (where it won Best Screenplay).
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: City of God, Cold Mountain, Finding Nemo, In America, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
With 28 nominations across the Oscars, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes, it’s incredible that Cold Mountain couldn’t find its way into the Best Picture lineup. It’s doubly surprising considering this film came from The English Patient director Anthony Minghella and was Miramax’s big player at a time when they were at their peak. Shockingly taking Minghella’s spot in the Best Director lineup was Fernando Meirelles for City of God, which drastically overperformed in nominations despite premiering at the Cannes Film Festival eighteen months prior. Taking a similarly weird path to multiple nominations was Jim Sheridan’s In America, which premiered at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival and played the festival circuit for nearly a year before it was released to enthusiastic reviews during the holiday season. One of its competitors in the Best Original Screenplay race was Pixar’s Finding Nemo, which handily won Best Animated Feature and received other impressive nominations for its score and sound editing. It also helps that it was the highest-grossing film at the domestic box office, narrowly beating out our final predicted nominee: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Along with making a boatload (pun intended) of money, POTC also landed Johnny Depp a Best Lead Actor nomination (he won the SAG!) and four other crafts nominations.
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Sideways, The Aviator
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: Closer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hotel Rwanda, The Incredibles, Vera Drake
Pixar would receive their second consecutive Best Picture nomination with Brad Bird’s highly praised The Incredibles. The film would lose Best Original Screenplay to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which also received Best Picture nods from BAFTA, AFI, Critics Choice, and Golden Globes. Two other likely Best Picture nominees from that Best Original Screenplay category include double acting nominee Hotel Rwanda and Mike Leigh’s BAFTA heavyweight, Vera Drake. The last spot goes to Mike Nichols’ Closer, narrowly edging out mainstream titles such as Collateral and Spider-Man 2. Nichols’ film received two acting nominations for Natalie Portman and Clive Owen (who won the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe) and was well-represented by the Globes and other critics' lists.
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night, and Good Luck, Munich
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: Cinderella Man, King Kong, Syriana, The Constant Gardener, Walk the Line
Fernando Meirelles received his second consecutive Best Picture nomination for his English-language debut and double-digit BAFTA nominee, The Constant Gardener. Also maintaining his Best Picture streak is Peter Jackson with his remake of King Kong, which received a bevy of crafts wins and Best Picture nominations from both AFI and Critics Choice. Ron Howard would narrowly make his return to the Best Picture fray with the Russell Crowe-starring Cinderella Man. Crowe’s controversy may have kept him out of Best Lead Actor, but the prospects of bringing the entire A Beautiful Mind team back would have been too much for the Academy to resist. Paul Giamatti would lose Best Supporting Actor to George Clooney in Syriana, who had the time of his life that night along with the well-represented Good Night, and Good Luck. And what’s a mid-2000s Best Picture lineup without a pair of biopics? James Mangold’s double acting nominee (and winner for Reese Witherspoon’s lead performance) Walk the Line joins the already nominated Capote to complete a star-studded lineup.
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: Babel, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Departed, The Queen
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: Blood Diamond, Dreamgirls, Little Children, Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93
Holding the record for the most Oscar nominations without a Best Picture nomination (8), it only makes sense that Dreamgirls would be the first to be included in this expanded lineup. Right behind it would be Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, which received six total nominations and three wins. A recent Best Picture nominee in Todd Field would make his way back with Little Children, a double acting and Best Adapted Screenplay nominee. Kate Winslet’s Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio would be featured in another Best Picture player alongside The Departed as Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond gets in based on star power and a handful of craft nominations. The surprise nominee goes to United 93, Paul Greengrass’ harrowing real-time account of the hijacked September 11th plane. Greengrass received numerous critics' prizes and an Oscar nomination for his direction, and the film itself was beloved by the BAFTA voting contingent.
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: American Gangster, Into the Wild, Ratatouille, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Tim Burton finally gets his first Best Picture nomination with his adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical. And Brad Bird returns with another critically acclaimed Pixar outing in Ratatouille, netting him another Best Original Screenplay nomination alongside three other nominations. Just like Almodóvar with Talk to Her, Julian Schnabel finds himself the only Best Director nominee without a Best Picture nomination, a surprising occurrence considering Schnabel’s Golden Globe win for Best Director and the film’s high performance at the BAFTAs, PGA, and AFI. Two other high-profile early contenders that faded away were Into the Wild and American Gangster. Sean Penn’s film did underwhelm on Oscar nomination morning, but it received enough precursor attention, including a DGA nomination for Penn, to keep it in. The same can be said for Ridley Scott and American Gangster, which got enough prominent precursor support despite only getting securing Oscar nominations.
ORIGINAL NOMINEES: Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader
LIKELY NEW NOMINEES: Changeling, Doubt, The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, Wall-E
The 2008 Best Picture race experienced slight fluctuation throughout the season, making it one of the easiest years to predict. As the film that spawned this whole exercise, it seems fair that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight receives the first slot. Next up would be Doubt with its four acting and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations. Both Clint Eastwood and Pixar get their fourth Best Picture nomination of the decade with Changeling and Wall-E, respectively. And the final slot goes to Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which rode the awards season behind Mickey Rourke’s comeback narrative.