The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Board of Governors voted Tuesday to change the number of films that could be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Instead of the guaranteed 10 nominees of the past two years, it will allow as few as five nominees and as many as 10 in the best picture category. The number will be announced at the same time as the academy announces its nominations in January.
After nearly seven decades of a five-picture field, the academy in 2009 decided to expand the best picture category to 10 films. The news was generally greeted with approval by studios, which relished the chance to increase the odds of a nomination (if not always the pressure to spend money to support a campaign).
Still, some skeptics said that the number 10 was misleading since some films had little to no chance of actually winning. Tuesday's news, then, seems designed to eliminate films that are nominated just to fill out the field of 10. Indeed, in making the announcement, the academy said a film would need at least 5 percent of votes to make the cut as a nominee.
“In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies,” said Bruce Davis, the Academy's retiring executive director. But, he added: “A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.”
The final round of voting for Best Picture will still be determined by a preferential system, regardless of the number of nominees, to ensure that the winning picture has the endorsement of more than half of the voters, the group said.
The academy said if the new system had been used over the past decade, there would have been between 5 and 9 films nominated each year.
The news was the brainchild of Davis, the group said, though added it was welcomed by incoming chief Dawn Hudson.
One interesting consequence of the change will be how much studios choose to campaign if their research indicates they are not among the top five presumed nominees. Will they spend in the hope of expanding the field, or refrain on the assumption that there isn't an available slot?
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-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times