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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

As we just heard, there are 10 Best Picture nominees this year instead of five. There haven't been 10 nominees since 1943. Some critics have been wringing their hands over whether the expanded field has made the Oscars too lowbrow, which got NPR blogger Linda Holmes wondering: Is that such a bad thing?

LINDA HOLMES: "The Blind Side" is nominated for Best Picture. "The Blind Side, that's the crowd-pleasing but utterly conventional film featuring Sandra Bullock as a Southern football mom. And it's making a lot of defenders of cultural quality very upset.

It takes Best Picture, they worry, from a showcase for serious movies about self-discovery to a swamp of mass-produced, populist dreck. But it doesn't, not really.

The Best Picture field used to make room for lots of popular movies that were there partly just because they managed to land a kick right in the national gut. Keep in mind that "Jerry Maguire" was nominated for Best Picture. So was "Ghost." So were "Fatal Attraction" and "Dead Poets Society."

The expansion of the Best Picture field to 10 nominees seems designed to restore some of that quality to the proceedings, and that's a good thing.

It's easy to argue - because it's true - that the nomination that went to "The Blind Side" could have gone to something better. But when the nominations were announced last year, viewers in many parts of the United States hadn't had even the opportunity to see most of them in theaters.

It can feel like there's a message there, and the message is: If you don't live in a city with an art house theater, then what you liked and saw and talked about with your friends doesn't matter. Your experiences are deemed irrelevant to the year's biggest debate about quality.

That's not the case this year. Even if the only big screens available to you are at mall multiplexes, you probably had your shot at seeing at least half the nominees: "Avatar," "The Blind Side," "Inglourious Basterds," "District 9" and "Up." At least two or three of those would never have made a five-nominee list.

There's value in allowing space for a couple of hit movies not instead of ambitious, less popular ones like "Precious" and "The Hurt Locker," but alongside them if only because it recognizes the choices that lots of American moviegoers actually face.

If your town only gets wide releases, you might reasonably be interested in which of them are the most worthwhile. You might be more interested in that than you are in a list of the absolute best movies you've never seen.

If the chance to elbow its way into a bigger Best Picture field inspires an ordinary commercial movie to try to be better, then the Oscars will have improved the quality of what people are shelling out money to see. "The Blind Side" isn't the best picture of the year and don't worry, it won't win but its nomination serves as a reminder that movies can be both art and mass entertainment, and it's nothing new for the Oscars to recognize both.

So if you're worried that Sandra Bullock will sully the statuette, don't be. Be worried about how they'll fit 10 nominees into an opening musical number.

SIEGEL: Linda Holmes is the blogger for NPR's pop culture blog Monkey See.

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