Every Wednesday, the Movie Forum convenes to discuss the latest news from the film world and answer questions submitted by you, the reader.
This week movie reporters Bryan Alexander and Scott Bowles discussed whether the Academy's expanded Best Picture category experiment, now entering its fourth year, has been a success, and answered reader questions about the Academy's predilections and the Oscar chances for a few of this year's audience-favorite films.
Enjoy the chat and submit your questions for next week below.
John Elliot: Welcome to the USA TODAY Movie Forum! I'm John Elliot, online producer for USA TODAY Movies and I will serve as your moderator. Joining me today is USA TODAY movie reporters Scott Bowles and Bryan Alexander.
How this works - Each week we solicit questions, online, from our readers on certain movie topics.
This week, we'll be talking about the Academy's grand experiment - The expanded Best Picture field, now entering it's fourth year.
And, of course, we'll answer questions from our readers
Bryan and Scott will start by sharing their thoughts this week's topic, then we will move on to reader submitted questions.
SO…let's get the Forum started! And Bryan, let's start with you:
Has the expanded Best Picture field been a success for the Academy?
Bryan Alexander: There's a lot of ways to answer that question. But I would say a big yes.
From a movie-goers point of view, we're seeing movies that, well, clearly would not make it with five. Perhaps the Blind Side or Toy Story 3 doesn't make it
It just opens up the field and keeps people in the game.
Scott Bowles: Greetings film fans and welcome to 2/3rds of the LA bureau, where we are fretting that it's not 80 and there are two clouds visible.
I agree with you, Brian, to a point. The expanded field has been great for studios that want to put "Best Picture Oscar nominee" on the DVD box. And some films, like District 9, certainly got a bump.
But the academy still seems to infuse a little of its haughty taste to its picks. Last year, War Horse was a comercial film, but a bad one. Yet the academy's love of Steven Spielberg gave it a nod.
Bryan Alexander: One note on the Blind Side. I think Sandra Bullock would have definitely been nominated for Best Actress and won that year. It was her year. But the expanded field sure did help the film.
Totally agree with you on War Horse.
Scott Bowles: The place I'd really like to see the academy open up in in the fantasy/sci-fi realm. The Dark Knight never got acknowledged as a film, nor have the Harry Potter movies. The academy is making moves, but could be more inclusive.
John Elliot: What films would you say have benefitted from the expansion, Scott?
Scott Bowles: If you're looking at commercial movies of the past that benefited, I'd go back to District 9. Also, And The Help may have never gotten nominations without an expanded field.
You seeing anything this year that could make the cut, Bryan?
Bryan Alexander:The Help for sure needed Help there.
But this year, it's just a lot of fun to have an expanded field. It keeps people talking. it's like having expanded playoffs in sports. It's keeps movie studios, pundits and fans in the game.
And who knows, maybe a film like Skyfall could make it's way into Best Picture. Lots of love there and big box office. Great reviews.
Bryan Alexander: The idea was to have films like this make it into the mix.
And who knows, maybe if enough people love The Hunger Games that might squeak into the Best Picture. Long shot sure. But no one picked Katniss to win the games either.
Scott Bowles: I love it. And why'll we're making the blue collar plea to the academy, let me toss in a few that don't stand a snowball's chance in hell, even though audiences loved em: The Avengers and Ted. Ted will NEVER make the cut, but there could be room this season for superhero love.
Bryan Alexander: Or how about Pixar's Brave?
Everyone could carry arrows down the red carpet.
The fashion pundits would go nuts.
Scott Bowles: What a great inclusion, Bryan. You raise a great point. Ever since the academy created a Best Animated feature, it's removed cartoons from the Best Picture mix (even though voters said they wouldn't exclude animated movies). Beauty and the Beast is a great example of how movies don't need to be live-action to be terrific. So is Brave.
John Elliot: What chance do this year's more commercial/audience-favorite films like The Dark Knight Rises (or The Avengers or The Hobbit) have at this year's Oscars?
Bryan Alexander: I'd love to see Avengers get some love, even if my head tells me it shouldn't be there. My heart says go-for-it Academy. Get Robert Downey Jr. in the crowd.
It's a longshot.
The Hobbit could certainly get in there. It has a much better chance. That's still unfurling as it were.
What you think about Dark Knight, Scott?
Scott Bowles: Ah, the superhero Oscar debate. My favorite issue of awards season.
If there's one caped crusader who gets nominated, my vote goes to Batman. The movies have been terrific, marked by tragedy and never nominated for Best Picture. Remember, despite the Aurora shootings, Dark Knight Rises was the second highest-grossing movie of the year, bigger even than Hunger Games. I'd like to see a farewell nod.
Bryan Alexander: And recall Dark Knight didn't make the cut. It would be nice to see. Such an ambitious movie. And it would make a statement about overcoming adversity.
Scott Bowles: But I completely get the Avengers argument. There hasn't been a movie in a long time that had that had that much build-up, that much anticipation, and deliver on every level. I've talked with more than one academy member who says the film harkens to Hollywood's action flicks of yore. That could be big.
And let us not forget Battleship.
Bryan Alexander: Ouch
And John Carter from Mars.
That Oscar field would have to be really expanded.
John Elliot: A ROUGH year for Taylor Kitsch.
Now, let's move on to questions from our lovely readers...
Matt from New Haven asks:
Do you think the expansion of the Best Film category has actually allowed more films each year to be considered for the award, or just allowed more films to get the publicity that goes along with being nominated?
Scott Bowles: Without question more films have gotten in. The numbers alone prove that.
The question is whether the larger field is reflecting the best pictures of the year. Some certainly seem like nods based on a filmmaker or an actor's legacy. At Cinemacon, the gathering of theater owners, exhibitors give an award every year to movies that do more than $100 million. The list rarely overlaps the best picture field.
Bryan Alexander: Definitely. It hasn't allowed the big budget movies into the tent. But sometimes that's a good thing. It would be hard to say Breaking Dawn should be a contender no matter how big a Team Twilighter you are.
Or Paranormal Activity. I could go on.
Of course there was the talk that The Hangover was going to sneak in there. I didn't LOVVEEEE that movie. But I liked the idea of that getting in there. Is that wrong?
It would have generated a lot of fan excitement.
Scott Bowles: There are so many great, popular movies that never got nominated you could have a terrific snubs show. Some of my favorites: Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner, Easy Rider. The academy has never been big into nerds or bikers.
Bryan Alexander: Wow Blade Runner. Big oversight.
And speaking of Hangover, can you just imagine Mike Tyson coming to the Oscars. Heaven.
Mikki from San Diego asks:
Is the academy going to recognize any humor this year? Why does comedy get short end of the stick?
Scott Bowles: Mikki, you echo my pain. For some reason, The Academy doesn't think it's that hard to make audiences laugh. Make em cry and you can polish your acceptance speech. But, back to our snub list, look at some of the comedies that never got noticed by Oscar: Being There, Boogie Nights, Manhattan. The academy views comedy the way the Supreme Court views porn. It can define it, but it knows it when it sees is. Problem is, Oscar doesn't seem to see it much.
Bryan Alexander: Okay, wait a minute Scott. What about Lincoln? Who knew the guy was always cracking jokes in the cabinet meeting getting the Secretary of War all worked up. That guy was a card.
And that movie is making Oscar waves.
But I see your point.
Scott Bowles: Well, Atlas Shrugged was laughably bad, but that doesn't count. Seriously, though, if you look at the top list of this year's contenders, there's not a comedy to be found. The closest would be Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, and that's more cute than funny. What do you see, Bryan?
Bryan Alexander: Agree on Moonrise in that deadpan Wes Anderson kind of comedy way. Maybe Silver Lining Playbook might be considered a comedy, but it's a dark comedy. And the jokes come at a cost (mental illness, gambling problems).
The closest one would be Ted. And with that we have Seth MacFarland as the Oscar host as a result. But NO chance of nomination. I personally loved that movie.
SB from Orlando asks:
Have you got to see Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables yet and if so, how do you think those films factor into the Oscar race? Both have strong buzz.
Bryan Alexander: I am hearing amazing buzz about Les Mis. It's an instant Oscar contender. Sadly I was out of town over Thanksgiving when they had the first heavily buzzed about screening.
Likewise for Zero Dark Thirty. Need to see them both. They are both stirring the soup right now.
Scott Bowles: Alas, we are both behind. But there's been interesting movement on both films. Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the 10-year hunt for bin Laden, has slipped a bit since its first screening. The opposite for Les Miserables, which is skyrocketing up charts. Here's my short list: Lincoln, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Zero Dark and Life of Pi. What am I missing, Bry?
Bryan Alexander: Looks solid. You know what's amping me up? The fact that people are actually seeing these complex and hard to sell movies. Lincoln is hot. Abraham Lincoln is a box office force. How awesome is that. A story of a guy on a boat with a Tiger, Life of Pi, is rocking it. It's great.
Gives some hope to the future
Scott Bowles: The two unknowns in the mix may be Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained. Beasts is a small indie that came out early in the year and will have to jog the academy's memory. No one has seen Django yet, but it combines Quentin Tarantino and Leo DiCaprio, enough to get my attention.
Elena Esparza asks:
Do either of you think that an animated movie will have a chance at winning this year? Both Brave and Wreck it Ralph racked in millions at the box office AND were incredibly well thought out. Why do animated features always get the shaft?
Bryan Alexander: There is a respect thing which the Academy is overcoming. Toy Story 3 got some.
But there's some way to go for sure. I think Brave has a much better chance.
Not hearing a lot about Wreck It. I think that guy needs to open a can of something at the Academy to get some attention.
Scott Bowles: Another insightful reader. Animated movies get the shaft for the same reason that comedies get the shaft. The academy doesn't consider them high-brow enough. But Wreck-It Ralph is a movie that adults and kids are laughing at in the same room. And Brave has a pretty profound message about female empowerment. How are those not Oscar-worthy qualities?
Bryan Alexander: You think Wreck It has a chance?
Scott Bowles: Not in a million years. Though it will get a best animation nomination. Disney is going to have to settle for making a terrific movie and millions in ticket and toy sales.
Bryan Alexander: Maybe it's my own Pixar snobbery that makes me think that Brave has a better chance. That and Princess Merida's fantastic hair. That deserves a nomination.
Adam from Chatsworth asks:
Can End of Watch make it in?
Scott Bowles: My unsung movie of the year! This cop drama was a popular hit -- it cost just $7 million and did $40 million. Reviews were terrific. And the movie is one of the few non-horror flicks to effectively use found-footage. It's a looooooong shot, but I'm hoping Watch can find the same love Training Day did.
Bryan Alexander: The cop banter alone makes me love it. I feel like Jake was born to carry a badge.
But a long shot. Definitely.
John Elliot: Well, it's time for us to wrap up unfortunately (we've got to get ready for Sundance nominations!)
Thank you Scott and Bryan. And a VERY big thank you to all our readers who participated and submitted questions.
Remember: you can submit your burning movie questions all week long, right here.
Check usatoday.com for Bryan's preview of Sundance and for Scott's upcoming Year End Awards feature, identifying the cream of the crop from the year in film.
Scott Bowles: Thanks for joining us, and remember: Life is in 3D
Bryan Alexander: Thank you. Check out Life of Pi if you haven't seen it. And read my Suraj Sharma story in today's paper.
John Elliot: Thank you all for joining us for the USA TODAY Movie Forum! Please join us again next Wednesday at 3 PM EST/12 PM PST for another edition of Movie Forum.