Oscar’s Best Picture Race Gets Even More Interesting, 5-10 Best Picture Nominees Now Possible

Photo: AMPAS // RopeofSilicon.com

Well this is a bit of interesting late night news as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just sent out a bit of a bombshell of a press release announcing the number of nominees for Oscar’s Best Picture Award moving forward won’t necessarily be ten as it has been the past two years. Instead, it could be anywhere from five to ten nominees depending on the strength of the field. Instead of giving you the rundown myself, here’s how the press release read:

The governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted on Tuesday (6/14) to add a new twist to the 2011 Best Picture competition, and a new element of surprise to its annual nominations announcement. The Board voted to institute a system that will now produce anywhere between five and 10 nominees in the category. That number won’t be announced until the Best Picture nominees themselves are revealed at the January nominations announcement.

“With the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers, we’ve been looking not just at what happened over the past two years, but at what would have happened if we had been selecting 10 nominees for the past 10 years,” explained Academy President Tom Sherak, who noted that it was retiring Academy executive director Bruce Davis who recommended the change first to Sherak and incoming CEO Dawn Hudson and then to the governors.

During the period studied, the average percentage of first place votes received by the top vote-getting movie was 20.5. After much analysis by Academy officials, it was determined that 5% of first place votes should be the minimum in order to receive a nomination, resulting in a slate of anywhere from five to 10 movies.

“In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies,” said Davis. “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.”

If this system had been in effect from 2001 to 2008 (before the expansion to a slate of 10), there would have been years that yielded 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 nominees.

What makes all of this even more interesting is the fact we won’t know how many films have been nominated until the morning they are announced. So on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 when the Best Picture nominees are being announced the closer they get to the letter Z for those titles we’ll know how many films made the cut.

What’s unfortunate about this press release is we don’t get any information on what films might have made the cut in the recent years where only five were nominated. One could easily assume both WALL•E, The Dark Knight and probably The Wrestler would have made the top ten in 2008, the year that seemed to instigate the Academy’s change from five nominees to ten. And in that sense, it’s probably easy to assume recent Best Picture nominee The Blind Side may be the driving force for this latest shift. After all, people last year (myself included) were debating just what film would get “The Blind Side spot” among the ten.

In other notable changes, the pre-nominee shortlist for the Best Visual Effects has been increased from seven contenders to ten to make up for the fact the category now has five nominees instead of the previous three. The documentary feature and documentary short category eligibility periods have also been changed so they are now in line with the calendar year and thus with most other awards categories, which does mean they will have an extended eligibility year this year from September 1, 2010 to December 31, 2011.

Additionally, the rules for the animated categories have changed slightly. Here’s the new wording:

In the animated feature film category, the need for the Board to vote to “activate” the category each year was eliminated, though a minimum number of eligible releases – eight – is still required for a competitive category. Additionally, the short films and feature animation branch recommended, and the Board approved, refinements to the number of possible nominees in the Animated Feature category. In any year in which eight to 12 animated features are released, either two or three of them may be nominated. When 13 to 15 films are released, a maximum of four may be nominated, and when 16 or more animated features are released, a maximum of five may be nominated.

I don’t see this last one as being too significant outside of the “maximum of four” addition as the rules last year read: “In any year in which 8 to 15 animated features are released in Los Angeles County, a maximum of 3 motion pictures may be nominated. In any year in which 16 or more animated features are submitted and accepted in the category, a maximum of 5 motion pictures may be nominated.” So, not a huge change there.

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