Oscars' best picture race: 10 in 2010

Academy doubles the nominee field for next year

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There will be 10, count 'em 10, nominees for best picture when the nominations for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards are announced Feb. 2.

In a move designed to let more movies share in the limelight that surrounds the contenders for the Academy's top award, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' board of governors approved a rule change Tuesday night that ups the ante by doubling the number of movies that will be welcomed into the best picture category.

Academy president Sid Ganis characterized the move as a "return to the past" when the Academy regularly spread its largesse out among 10 -- and sometimes even more -- best picture nominees.

Speaking to the media at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Ganis on Wednesday was flanked by posters listing the 10 nominees for 1939 -- widely regarded as the high-water mark for quality studio releases. That year, the lineup ranged from Westerns ("Stagecoach") to sophisticated comedies ("Ninotchka") to melodramas ("Dark Victory") to all-time classics like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "The Wizard of Oz" and eventual winner "Gone With the Wind."

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"Suppose you had to narrow that field down to five nominees? Which of these films would you keep? Whichever five movies you selected, you'd be losing five extraordinary films," Ganis asked rhetorically.

While the Academy hasn't nominated 10 films since 1943, momentum for the course correction grew out of this year's Oscar show. Its producers, Larry Mark and Bill Condon, made a concerted effort to acknowledge the whole range of movies produced during the past year in an effort to reach out to a wider audience.

In their post-show autopsy, they encouraged the Academy to consider opening up the best picture category, and the committee that reviewed the show championed the idea, recommending it to the board, which approved the change with virtually no opposition.

The move also comes in the wake of the howls of outrage from fans of last year's "The Dark Knight," which earned eight nominations but didn't crack the best picture circle. Arguably, a wider field of nominees would have included that movie, which also had a lot of critics in its corner. And if more popular entertainments are in the running for the big prize, that could in turn benefit the Oscarcast ratings, which have been in general decline, although they did experience an uptick in February.

Ganis acknowledged that "in discussions about this, we talked about what might have happened, and I would not be telling you the truth if I said the words 'Dark Knight' did not come up."

One idea that didn't fly in the internal discussions: Arriving at 10 pictures by nominating five dramas and five comedies, a la the Golden Globes.

"It's about the best picture -- not the best something picture," Ganis said. "It's a singular honor."

By sticking to one best picture category, the Academy also avoids being drawn into debates about whether a given film is properly considered a comedy or a drama. But Ganis did suggest that comedies, continually short-changed come Oscar time, could benefit.

"In casting a wider net, who knows what's going to turn up," he said. "Maybe even a comedy in that group of 10."

Ganis, who will step down as Academy president this summer after four consecutive terms, insisted that having 10 noms "does not dilute" the honor. Pointing out that about 300 films are eligible each year -- in 2008, the number that qualified for best picture consideration was 281 -- he argued that to be one of 10 nominees is still an achievement.

Academy executive director Bruce Davis also said that the board was given assurances that including 10 best picture nominees would not result in a longer show. That assurance will be put to the test when the Oscars take place March 7.
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