Academy Shakes Up Best Picture Category: Now It's 5 to 10 Nominees

Change will result in variable number of nominees, depending on percentage of first-place votes

Two years after expanding the field of Best Picture nominees from five to 10, the Academy's Board of Governors threw the category into deliberate disarray on Tuesday night, instituting new rules that could lead to a different number of nominees each year.

OscarsThe change, which according to AMPAS was recommended by retiring executive director Bruce Davis, will require that a film receive at least five percent of the first-place votes during the first round of balloting to receive a Best Picture nomination. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers determined that if the rule had been in effect between 2001 and 2008 (before the move to 10 nominations) it would have resulted in years of five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees.

The Academy, however, did not say how many nominees it would have produced in 2009 and 2010.

While the change may not persuade critics who think that the move to expand the slate of nominees waters down the value of a Best Picture nomination, it does take the crucial step of eliminating a case where the slate of 10 has to be filled out with films that did not receive significant support from the voters.

The preferential system of counting final Best Picture ballots will remain the same as it has been for the past two years.

At Tuesday night's meeting, the Board of Governors also made a few other changes to Oscar rules. Among them:

The Best Animated Feature category, which formerly contained five nominees if more than 16 qualifying films were released, and only three if the field was smaller than that, will now include a provision for four nominees in a year in which 13 to 15 films qualify. If the rule had been in effect last year, four rather than three films would have been nominated.

The "bakeoff" used to produce nominees in the Visual Effects category has been expanded from seven to 10 participants, following last year's expansion of the category from three to five nominees.

The qualifying period for Documentary Feature and Documentary Short categories has been adjusted to the calendar year, which is used in almost all other categories. To make the adjustment, those categories will cover a full 15 months of eligible films at the next Oscars.

One change the governors did not  make was to add an Oscar for stunt work, which has been proposed repeatedly over the years, and always voted down.

The AMPAS press release:

Beverly Hills, CA — The governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted on Tuesday (6/14) to add a new twist to the 2011 Best Picture competition, and a new element of surprise to its annual nominations announcement.  The Board voted to institute a system that will now produce anywhere between five and 10 nominees in the category.  That number won’t be announced until the Best Picture nominees themselves are revealed at the January nominations announcement.

“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,” explained 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 5% 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 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 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.

Other rules changes approved by the Board include:

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.

Previously, the Board 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 September 1, 2010 to December 31, 2011.

Other modifications of the 84th Academy Awards rules include normal date changes and minor “housekeeping” changes.

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 nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. 

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, February 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network.  The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.