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Academy Revises Best Picture Rules; Can Be 5 to 10 Nominees

Oscar Statue
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The number won't be revealed until the best picture nominees are announced Jan. 24.

As if taking a cue from TV's reality shows, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has added what it called "a new twist" to its best picture category. At the upcoming 84th Academy Awards, there may not be 10 movies nominated for best picture. Instead, new voting rules could result in a anywhere from five to 10 nominees in the category.

Although the best picture Oscar race was expanded from five to 10 pictures  just two years ago, the Academy board of governors voted Tuesday night to introduce a new procedure, which it said would add "a new element of surprise,"  since the number of movies that make the cut won't be revealed until the best picture nominees are revealed at the nominations announcement Jan. 24.

In order to ensure a nomination, a picture will have to collect enough first-place votes on the nomination ballots to amount to five percent of the ballots cast.

The move is sure to throw a further complication into the awards process, since studios and awards consultants will now have to decide how hard to push for movies whose chances of snaring a nomination may look more marginal if the field doesn't expand to 10. It could wreck a certain amount of havoc in future years when Oscar historians try to compare races from different years. But it also should end some of the chatter that attached to movies that the handicappers assumed snuck in in ninth or tenth position over the past two years.

The Academy also adopted several other rule changes affecting the animation category and the visual effects "bake-off" and confirmed previous changes in the eligibility period in the documentary categories.

"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," said 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 five percent 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 five, six, seven, eight and nine 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.

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.

The board previously 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 Sept. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31.

The 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 will take place Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland and will be broadcast live by ABC.