THERE WILL BE MATH: Mark Harris explores the curious phenomenon that as the number of films nominated for Best Picture has expanded, the diversity of films nominated in the other major categories has sharply decreased:
In a good year for the Oscars, voters reach out toward a wide variety of deserving pictures, directors, performances, and scripts, choosing to herald outstanding work even when it’s in a movie that has little chance of becoming a Best Picture nominee. The greater the number of films that are embraced, the clearer it becomes that voters have done their homework. And those “outlier” nominations tend to withstand history’s verdict rather impressively: David Lynch for Blue Velvet. The scripts of Trainspotting and Election. A teenage Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson. Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream. Christopher Nolan himself, for his Memento screenplay. For movies, but also for the reputation of the Oscars, one major nomination truly is better than nothing.
And for at least a quarter-century before the rule change, that type of nomination was routine. In 1988, for instance, all five nominees for Best Supporting Actor came from movies that were not nominated for Best Picture. That kind of energetic, far-reaching voting was absent this year, when, for instance, James Gandolfini (Enough Said), Daniel Brühl (Rush), David Oyelowo (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), Paul Dano (Prisoners), and John Goodman (Inside Llewyn Davis) might all have credibly served to represent movies that were otherwise almost completely shut out. In their place, the five Supporting Actor nominations all went to actors who costarred in Best Picture nominees.