Oscar best picture race has 274 contenders

Downward trend of total eligible films continues

Awards Watch: Midseason report

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Academy members will have fewer films to consider this year as they approach the 82nd annual Academy Awards.

The Academy said Friday that 274 feature films released during 2009 are eligible for the best picture Oscar.

Since hitting a peak of 311 in 2005, the number of films that have qualified annually has steadily declined. In 2006 and 2007, the totals were 307 and 306, respectively.

Last year, the number dropped to 281, and this year the downward trend continues as 274 movies ultimately checked in for Academy consideration in the major categories.

To be eligible, feature films must open in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County by midnight, Dec. 31, and begin a minimum run of seven consecutive days.

Under Academy rules, a feature-length motion picture must have a running time of more than 40 minutes and must have been exhibited theatrically on 35mm or 70mm film, or in a qualifying digital format.

Feature films that receive their first public exhibition or distribution in any manner other than as a theatrical motion picture release are not eligible for Academy Awards in any category.

Nominations will be announced Feb. 2, and the Oscar broadcast is set to take place March 7.