Academy Awards, in bid for populism, doubles Best Picture nominations to 10
The surprise announcement today by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences means that some acclaimed genres that typically don't make the shortlist for the top Academy Award -- animated movies, comedies, documentaries and crowd-pleasing spectacles such as "The Dark Knight" -- will now have a much better chance of being invited to Hollywood's biggest party.
The number of nominees in other major categories will remain at five.
The announcement is certain to add even more jockeying (and the attendant advertising, screenings and parties) to the already multimillion-dollar Hollywood business of Oscar campaigning. But by expanding the best picture field to include potentially more populist titles, the academy may be able to boost the collapsing ratings for its annual television broadcast.
"After more than six decades, the academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year," academy President Sid Ganis said in announcing the news. "The final outcome, of course, will be the same -- one best picture winner -- but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009.
"Having 10 best picture nominees is going to allow academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize," Ganis said. "I can't wait to see what that list of 10 looks like when the nominees are announced in February."
Some films last year "were excellent and could have been nominated had there been more slots," Ganis said, adding that the critical and box office success of such films as “The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man” and “Tropic Thunder” could have influenced the decision. The inclusion of such films "might increase audience interest,” Ganis said of the Oscar telecast, “but that isn't the goal."
"The field is vast," he said. "There were 300 eligible movies this year and last. Ten nominees out of 300 is still spectacular. It'll be less clustered and more open with more possibilities."
Next year's Oscars, which recognize excellence in movies released in 2009, will be awarded on March 7. Nominations will be announced Feb. 2.
From 1932 and 1943, the top Oscar category included 10 films, but the format was switched to five starting in 1944.
In 1939, the famous 10 nominees included winner "Gone With the Wind" opposite "Dark Victory," "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "Love Affair," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Ninotchka," "Of Mice and Men," "Stagecoach," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Wuthering Heights."
The Oscars is not the only prominent award show expanding its tent. Producers of the Emmys said that the number of nominees for some categories will expand from five to six.
-- John Horn and Juliette Funes
For reactions from Hollywood and the impact this news will have on movie studios and ABC's telecast of the Oscars, check out our full coverage on the Company Town blog.
In Wednesday's Times, find out more about the decision, its impact on the film business and the reaction of stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Jon Favreau; the financial reasons behind the move; the new calculus for potential best picture nominees; and read commentary from film critic Kenneth Turan and columnist Patrick Goldstein.