Talking About The Academy’s Best Picture Nomination Changes

Last night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a major rules change that affects the number of final nominees eligible to be voted on for Best Picture.

Instead often nominees in the category, a new way of looking at the preliminary nominating process will yield a variable number between five and ten films eligible to be voted on for the Best Picture Oscar.

In this new system, Academy voters will pick from the list of nomination-eligible films and rank a certain number of film that they think are deserving of nominations. Each film that receives at least 5% of first place votes wins a spot among the final nominees. The Academy states that this process should result in anywhere between five and ten Best Picture hopefuls. The Academy’s press release also states that they hope this will result in “a new element of surprise to its annual nominations announcement.”

This change comes only two years after the Academy bumped the number of nominees from five to ten.

The Academy developed this in cooperation with PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that handles the annual tabulation of Oscar votes. Analyzing the nomination process from the last ten years, they discovered that the average percentage of first place votes received by the top vote-getting movie was 20.5. By placing the nomination cut off at 5% anywhere between 5 to 9 films would have been nominated for Best Picture between 2001 and 2008.

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

While I have my own thoughts on the rules change, I reached out to our resident Oscar expert William Gatevackes to get his thoughts on the changes. Here’s the conversation that followed –

WG: I’m reading the press release now. My first impression – stupid Academy tricks.

RD: So would you call the increase of five to ten nominees two years ago a “stupid Academy trick” also?

WG: Yeah, probably more so now. It was promoted as a way to give recognition to films that otherwise wouldn’t get a nod. Now they’re pretty much saying that there really aren’t that many movies worthy after all.

RD: My main problem with this change is public perception and understanding of the new process. I think people are going to see that math is involved, zone out and then complain that some films weren’t nominated when this process only yields, say, seven nominees in that particular year.

WG: For me, the issue is what if, and I know that this is silly, there’s a year where 12 films get 5% of the first place votes? Who decides what two films get left off?

RD: I would assume that they would go by actual vote totals, so you could have made that 5% cut off but loose the nom because you had 2 less votes than another film that also had just hit that 5% mark.

WG: OK, what if only four films get 5%? Does that mean a film that is substandard by Academy standards will get an “undeserved” nod?

RD: I suppose a year with an exceptional number of exceptional films, like the fabled year of 1939, could possibly dilute things down that far, but I think that would be a longshot hypothetical.

WG: Come on Rich! Don’t piss on my hypothetical! They’re all I got! What I’m saying is that the whole five to ten number is stupid. If they are going by percentages, then there needs to be no minimum or maximum. Otherwise, a deserving film might get left out or an undeserving film will get left in.

What I think happened was someone saw the films released so far and the films yet to come and came to a chilling realization- “Holy Shit! We might have to nominate Thor or Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 or whatever!”

RD: Even worse, Twilight. So how long do you see this change lasting? I’m giving it four years, but I’m an optimist.

WG: Well, the last change lasted two years, so that’s the standard bearer. I’ll split the difference and say three years. I think people have a right to be concerned. In the two years since they changed the number of nominees to ten, science-fiction, PIXAR and big summer movies have gotten nods. With the change in rules, we could go back to dramas released in December as the main nominees. That would be a disservice.

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About Rich Drees 6996 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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