One of the most interesting – and controversial – changes to the Oscars in recent years was the decision to double the number of nominees in the Best Picture category from five to ten. Implemented two years ago, some saw the expansion of nominees as a way to highlight more great films. Cynics, on the other hand, viewed it as a way for the Academy to nominate a few popcorn flicks that weren’t worthy of Best Picture nods in order to combat the stigma that Academy voters only select artsy fare that no one outside of film nerds have seen – and get the average film fan to actually tune in and watch the show.
Hopefully, no one got too used to the new format – because it’s changing again.
Starting with this year’s Oscars, the Best Picture category will now feature anywhere between five and ten nominees. How will the number be determined? Through the magic of voting and statistics, of course.
The new system, devised by outgoing Executive Director Bruce Davis, and approved by the Board of Governors, will only nominate films that receive 5% or more first place votes on the voter’s ballots. Basically, this means if something like Avatar is in the first place slot on 20% of the returned nomination ballots, it’s in. If a movie turns up on everyone’s ballot, but only 3% of voters gave it a first place nod, it’s out. Already this system seems ripe with the potential for manipulation…
Since no one knows how many films will crack that 5% mark in a given year, the Academy will make the number of Best Picture nominees a mystery until they reveal it at the January nominations announcement press event. It’s an interesting move – it makes the generally predictable announcement show a little more mysterious and exciting. No one explains what happens if more than 10 movies crack that percentage – or how potential ties are broken.
Davis explains the rationale for the change by saying “In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies. 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.”
He’s right on that last point. One thing that’s been noticeable since the switch to ten nominees two years ago was the number of “filler” titles in the category – movies that had no real shot at winning and weren’t particularly deserving in the first place (yes, we’re looking at you, The Blind Side…). Davis essentially confirms this by saying that in the years they studied (which included the years since the move to ten was implemented), that there were times where there would have been between five and nine nominees – but never ten. That means several films got the nod in the past two ceremonies that didn’t really deserve it. Hopefully, this will correct that while potentially expanding the field beyond five movies.
In other Academy news, the Board also voted to remove the need for them to vote on whether there will be an Animated Feature Film category each year. Now, as long as there are eight eligible films, the category will be automatically approved.
Issues of transparency aside (which are always an issue when it comes to Academy voting…), the new change sounds interesting. It’s refreshing to see the Academy thinking progressively and not locked into a rigid format for an award as important as Best Picture. Hopefully, the new format will ensure that the best films of the year get the recognition they deserve without providing a quota of spots that need to be filled with movies that aren’t quite worthy of the nomination. Do you agree or did you prefer the older five or ten film formats?