"Personally, I think it's a bad idea," Harvey Weinstein said yesterday when we chatted about the widening of Oscar's best-picture race to 10 nominees. "When the category was smaller, it felt like more of an achievement getting in. Now, with 10, it's not going to feel so special."
Maybe so, but the expansion may actually be Harvey's fault — that is, if a theory posed by a past Oscar champ (Ron Howard, "A Beautiful Mind") is true.
Yesterday Harvey hosted a small, elite lunch in New York with his cast members of "Nine" (Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench) plus media wags and reigning Oscar royalty like Ron Howard at Per Se restaurant in Time Warner Center. At the cocktail reception before the lunch commenced, I got to chatting with Howard about the new best-picture race and why the academy retooled the category.
"Obviously, they want more blockbusters in the race," I said to Howard. "It was shocking that 'The Dark Knight' didn't get nominated last year when, in fact, it was THE movie of the year. The Oscars used to nominate blockbusters all the time – 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' 'Airport,' 'The Towering Inferno,' 'Jaws' – but now they refuse to include them and I can't figure out why."
"I think I know the reason for that," Howard said. "Blockbusters started getting snubbed as soon as voters started receiving VHS tapes and DVD screeners. Before that, they had to get in their cars and drive miles away to see an artsy movie. They didn't see a lot of them so they ended up voting for what they saw: the big popcorn films."
Of course that's the answer! Eureka! Bingo! Thank you, Ron Howard.
Later, when I was sitting at lunch with Harvey, listening to his lament about the new 10 nominees for best picture, I told him what Howard said.
"Uh oh," Harvey said. "Yep, that makes sense. So I guess that means it's my fault since I'm the one who first started sending the screeners."
That's true. Harvey first blitzed Hollywood with VHS tapes of Oscar contenders "My Left Foot" (1989), "The Crying Game" (1992) and "Pulp Fiction" (1993). Soon afterward, the practice caught on and every studio was doing it.
Photo: Harvey Weinstein (Associated Press)