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Oscars Eliminate Executive Committee Picks for International Feature, Expand Shortlist

The change, made partly because of the uncertain security of virtual meetings, will boost the Phase 2 field from 10 to 15 films

AWARDS BEAT

In a move that dramatically changes the way the Oscars choose nominees in the Best International Feature Film category, an executive committee will not be selecting three films to go on the shortlist from which nominations in the category are made this year.

The shortlist will also be expanded from 10 to 15 films, allowing more films than ever before to move to a second round of voting.

The rule change, which was revealed to members of the committee on Friday, could alter the kind of films that move to the second round of Oscar voting in the category, hurting the more challenging films in favor of ones that appeal to a broader audience.

Under the former system, any member who views a minimum number of the eligible films could vote for during a preliminary round referred to as Phase 1. (This year, the number of required films is 12 and the vote takes place Feb. 1-5.) Those members make up the category’s “general committee” — and after their votes are tallied, their top seven choices would be revealed to the handpicked executive committee, who would then discuss which films have been overlooked and choose three additional movies to complete the 10-film shortlist.

In the past, the executive committee meeting has taken place in Los Angeles, with representatives from PricewaterhouseCoopers unveiling the general committee choices behind closed doors and the committee members immediately debating and choosing their selections, which have become known as “saves.” With the COVID-19 pandemic making in-person committee meetings impossible, and with concerns about the security of any meeting that takes place virtually, the Academy opted not to have the executive committee make its three saves this year.

At the same time, it increased the size of the shortlist to give more films an opportunity to continue in the race. The 15 films, all chosen by votes from the general committee, will be announced on Feb. 9, along with lists in eight other Oscar categories.

To cast a ballot in Phase 2 of voting, which takes place from March 5-10, members must view all 15 of the shortlisted films.

The executive committee was established in 2007, after the general committee voters, who then determined the entire shortlist, had left off such notable films as Romania’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” France’s “Persepolis,” Germany’s “The Edge of Heaven,” Mexico’s “Silent Light” and Spain’s “The Orphanage.” The outcry was so strong that the Academy’s Board of Governors asked Mark Johnson, who headed what was then the Best Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, to fix the process.

The solution was to create an executive committee that would be able to single out and shortlist three deserving movies the general committee might have overlooked. While the shortlist continued to receive annual criticism over what it contained and what it left out, the system made those lists significantly stronger and raised the quality of the nominees as well.

The Academy never reveals which shortlisted films were chosen by the general committee and which were executive committee “saves” — but over the years since then, the exec committee selections are believed to have included “Dogtooth,” “The Milk of Sorrow,” “The Missing Picture” and even the 2015 Oscar winner, “Son of Saul.”

During most of the years of the executive committee’s existence, the final nominations were also determined by small committees of voters, and every year at least one or two exec committee choices were likely to be nominated. Recently, as Phase 2 voting has been opened up to any member who sees all the shortlisted films, the nominations have appeared to skew more toward general committee choices.