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Academy Backs Off Ten Best Picture Nominations

by Anne Thompson
June 15, 2011 2:51 AM
5 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Departing Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences executive director Bruce Davis has said that it would take three years to test the Academy experiment to give voters --and more important--Oscar show viewers--a choice of ten best picture nominees. The idea was to broaden the choices, bring in The Dark Knight or District 9 on top of more arcane smart-film choices like No Country for Old Men, which did not necessarily lure TV viewers.

The risk: a dilution of the high quality Academy standard. At Davis's behest, the Academy governors have changed the game yet again before trying the experiment a third time. They voted on Tuesday to tweak the system so that it will now yield between a minimum of five and a maximum of ten best picture nominees. No one will know until nominations morning in January how many nominees will compete in a given year.

I like this. (IndieWIRE's Peter Knegt sees it as a desperate move.) It's a compromise, a way of not admitting that the ten-picture idea didn't work, really, while keeping the number up in a year when more films are popular enough to make the grade. AMPAS president Tom Sherak explains:

“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.”

More details and other Academy branch voting changes are below:

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 Bruce 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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More: Awards, Oscars

5 Comments

  • Ryan | June 15, 2011 10:08 AMReply

    I'm hoping this news will be enough to get a summer Oscar Talk produced.

  • GL | June 15, 2011 4:49 AMReply

    Agreed Will. Brian you don't sound like you know what you are truly talking about. Very rarely will an upcoming director dabble in making a documentary since that's a completely different field. And to be honest usually the best from the past 10 years have been docs. Shorts I agree that they are indeed constantly out of place, but you said it right, they are a great way to expose new, fresh, upcoming directors.

  • Will | June 15, 2011 4:18 AMReply

    I disagree, Brian. I think often times some of the best TV moments of the ceremony come from the winners of the doc and short categories. Luke Matheny was a highlight for me of last year's otherwise dull proceedings.

  • ag | June 15, 2011 3:57 AMReply

    smart. uncharacteristically smart?

    going with any number of best pics arbitrarily is weak. if you have 7 movies that deserve consideration one year and 5 the next, fine. but, going with 10 every year undermines credibility

  • Brian | June 15, 2011 3:49 AMReply

    I still say they should eliminate the documentary and short film categories--or shunt them off into a completely separate, untelevised ceremony--maybe put them with the technical awards--which actually are more relevant to the Oscar ceremony than the shorts and docu's are. The only reason these categories existed in the first place was because the studios regularly made shorts and documentaries, which were often training grounds for future feature directors (think Fred Zinnemann, Jacques Tourneur, Joseph Losey, Frank Tashlin, etc.). Once the studios stopped making them, the categories should have been eliminated. This is not to imply that I'm not a fan of shorts and documentaries, but they seem to me to be out of place at the Oscar ceremony. And take up way too much time.

    I really have no thoughts on the number of Best Picture nominees. When they make ten or even five films a year worthy of being nominated, then I may have a horse in this race.

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