Pic expansion may prompt voters to rethink bias

Over the past two decades the screenplay categories have become something of a consolation prize for acclaimed movies that fell outside the traditional definition of best picture, whether offbeat indies (“Juno,” “Lost in Translation”), foreign films (“Talk to Her”) or even animation and genre films (the nominated “Wall-E,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”). Conspicuous by their absence are the genre pictures that are the mainstays of studio slates: science fiction, action, fantasy, comedy. The expansion of the picture category to 10 nominees is supposed to make some room for them, but will that encourage voters to embrace genre writing?

Oscar-winning and Oscar-nommed writers from previous years are pondering that, and as a group, they’re as conflicted as everyone else about what changes the new rules might portend.

“I really hope it does open up for other genres,” says Kim Krizan, who was nommed for “Before Sunset” in 2004. “It’s strange they would be closed out — that the movies selected are always the heavy, depressing dramas. Of course I love heavy, depressing drama … (but) if there were this sort of award show for novels — say going back to the 19th century — Poe would be closed out because he’s horror; so would ‘Frankenstein.'”

Daniel Petrie Jr. notes there have already been 10 screenplay nominees — five original and five adapted — and some 20 acting noms, so in that sense the picture race is just catching up.

Nominated for the action comedy “Beverly Hills Cop,” Petrie calls himself “living proof” that genre films can garner screenplay attention. But if a comicbook, action-adventure or sci-fi film nabs a screenplay and picture nom, might that prompt voters to take the writing more seriously? “Oh I definitely think so,” Petrie responds, “just as getting a nod for best picture and director adds weight. In general I think multiple nominations give heat to a film.”

But Christopher McQuarrie, Oscar winner for “The Usual Suspects,” is skeptical the expansion will encourage voters to take a fresh look at other genres: “The Oscars can change any number of ways. (But) I doubt Oscar voters will. … The notion that a specific type of film is more ‘Oscar worthy’ is absurd in a process that is already subjective enough. … I thought it was best, not best of breed. Maybe 10 (best picture nominees) will help voters of that mindset to lighten up.”

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