The Academy Tweaks Oscar Rules; Best Picture Nominees to Range from 5 to 10

     June 15, 2011

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have tweaked some of their rules and the most notable of changes comes to the Best Picture category.  For many decades, there were five nominees.  Before that, there were eight nominees.  Then, two years ago, in an effort to appeal to a mainstream audience that felt the films they’ve loved were being completely overlooked, the Academy expanded the category to ten nominees.  It was nice, but pointless because everyone knew the real five nominees were the ones that also earned their directors Oscar nominations as well.  Now the Academy has changed the rule and made it so that at least five but no more than ten films can be nominated for Best Picture.  The number of nominees won’t be revealed until the nominations are announced.

Hit the jump for my thoughts on this change and the full press release which details the other nomination changes.

oscar-statues-02I don’t mind that the Academy is now saying “We need to make the show more exciting and there may not be ten Best Picture-worthy films anyway.”  That’s a fine sentiment, and I’m sure it will be somewhat more exciting to guess who gets nominated, but when it comes to predicting a winner, the following problems still exist:

1) There are still only five Best Director nominees. And year in which there are more than five Best Picture nominees, the ones that don’t have a Best Director nomination are clearly the runners up.

2) Animated films, foreign films, and documentaries are still going to get shut out. Because they’re stuck with their individual categories, they’re unlikely to ever take home a Best Picture trophy.  Furthermore, if they ever do reach the Best Picture category, they’re still unlikely to get a Best Director nod, so instead the Academy just spoils the winner of the specialized category.

One change I like is that they’ve moved up the ceremony to January 24th.  The less time any one film has to build up momentum, the less predictable the winners become.  And as we saw last year, just because a film receives love from every critics society on the planet (The Social Network), another film can easily take the Oscar’s top prize (The King’s Speech).

Although, let’s be honest–is the Best Picture chosen really the Best Picture?  Of course not.  It’s a mix between mainstream approval, critical acclaim, and how much money a studio can dump into swaying Academy voters.  But the nominees are still used as a guide for the average moviegoer and that’s why it’s worth taking note of.

Here’s the press release:

Beverly Hills, CA (June 14, 2011) – 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.

The final round of voting for Best Picture will continue to employ the preferential system, regardless of the number of nominees, to ensure that the winning picture has the endorsement of more than half of the voters.

Other rules changes approved by the Board include:

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.

In the visual effects category, the “bakeoff” at which the nominees are determined will expand from seven to 10 contenders.  The increase in the number of participants is related to a change made last year in which the number of films nominated in the visual effects category  was increased from three to five.

Previously, the Board approved changes to the documentary feature and documentary short category rules that now put those categories’ eligibility periods in line with the calendar year and thus with most other awards categories.  The change means that for the 84th Awards cycle only, the eligibility period is more than 12 months; it is from September 1, 2010 to December 31, 2011.

Other modifications of the 84th Academy Awards rules include normal date changes and minor “housekeeping” changes.

Rules are reviewed annually by individual branch and category committees.  The Awards Rules Committee then reviews all proposed changes before presenting its recommendations to the Academy’s Board of Governors for approval.

The 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, February 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network.  The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

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