Movie Maniac

Oscars whittle down top category to only the best

That Oscar guy sure is fickle. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group of industry know-it-alls who put on the annual Academy Awards, announced this week that it is again tweaking the way films will be nominated for best picture.

In a controversial move in 2009, the academy widened the list of best picture nominees from five to 10 — just as it once was. Although there have been five best picture nominees for most of the Oscars' history, there were 10 nominees from 1936 to 1943.

It was widely understood that the academy reverted back to 10 nominees in 2009 after outcries that "The Dark Knight" failed to get a best picture mention the previous year. Hell hath no fury like a scorned fanboy.

I was never a fan of widening the list, anyway. It was supposedly a way to broaden the Oscars' appeal — that if average moviegoers saw their favorite films nominated, they would be more apt to endure — uh, watch — the lengthy awards show.

But the results have been decidedly mixed, and it did seem to lower the bar. In 2009, "The Blind Side" and "District 9" made the nominees list, with many critics questioning their Oscar-worthiness (me included).

Now the academy thinks 10 nominees may be too many — sometimes — and is leaving it up to voters to determine how many films will be nominated for best picture.

In new rules passed by the academy's board of directors, between five and 10 films will be nominated each year, depending on the outcome of its crazy voting system (which would surely confuse a nuclear physicist).

A film will now have to get a minimum of five percent of overall first-place votes to score a nomination.

Interestingly, a study by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (which hand-counts the votes every year) found that if this new, tweaked system had been in place from 2001 to 2008, there would have been years that yielded five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees.

Academy President Tom Sherak told the Associated Press, "In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies. 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."

The academy also hopes this will add some intrigue to the awards.

Well, obviously. I'm on the edge of my seat wondering if there will be nine or six nominees next year. So ... darn ... exciting!

Nominations for the 84th annual Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 24.

And, Oscar, let's stick with the plan for awhile, huh?