Do We Need All These Oscar Categories?

Like most passionate Americans, I watched history getting made on live television this week.

Wait... inaug-what? No... I mean I was up early this morning watching the live announcement of the Oscar nominations.

After declaring my dream ballot and sorting through my reactions to the actual nominees, I joined three friends in our annual flurry of e-mails about what this year's Academy Awards will mean for the nation's future.

Our conversation led me to some interesting questions that I want to share. I think they hold the kernel of an interesting debate, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

To wit:

(1) It seems like the Animated Feature category pretty much guarantees that Beauty and the Beast will remain the only animated film to snag a Best Picture nomination. The category's existence implies that cartoons should be judged separately from live-action films.

But should that be so? And along those lines, should there be separate categories for documentaries and short films? Or should all films be judged together, with a single slate of nominees emerging for Best Overall Picture?

I understand that full-length docs and cartoons actually could be Best Picture candidates under the current system, but do you think people are discouraged from nominating them for the top prize because the films have their own categories? Or do documentaries, shorts, and cartoons need their own awards since without them, they might never being recognized at all?

(2) Extending that thought: Should male and female actors be divided into their own categories? I know it's always been this way, but does that make it necessary? Are men and women so different that their performances should be judged separately?

Not everyone seems to think so. In New York the Drama League awards (for theater) recognize one performance per year, period. Could it be that way for the Academy Awards? Could there simply be an "Outstanding Performance" category comprised of nominees from any sex? Or is it good to split the categories because it gives more people a chance to be noticed?

That's what's on my mind. What do you think?