Just when we were getting acclimated to the new system of ten best picture nominees, Oscar is changing up their rules again. Deadline reports that after carefully studying their voting data, the Academy's governing board has decided that that Ten Best Picture Nominees thing was perhaps a little too generous. 'Shouldn't there be some threshhold of passion for a film to win that coveted "best picture" title' they asked themselves.
Their answer was "yes".
How much passion will be required exactly? The magic number is 5%. In short, a film will have to win at least 5% of #1 votes in the nomination balloting in order to join the Best Picture Lineup. There'll be no less than 5 Best Picture nominees in any given year and no more than 10. So one could say they're splitting the difference between the old system and the new.
Best Thing About This Change
It'll be quite unpredictable. We won't know until Oscar nomination morning how many "Best Pictures" we're getting. Otherwise I can't see an upside. We'll still get those pictures that we scratch our heads over "how did that get in there?! That doesn't belong!" -- don't think for a moment, for instance, that you can wipe out choices like The Blind Side. After all, we had those kind of decisions in the days of five nominees. Bad taste is indestructable!
The ZZZ Thing About This Change
I suspect other pundits will disagree but I don't see how this change means anything at all in terms of precursor madness. Not all precursor awards -- those would be tastemakers that proceed AMPAS's 'final say' -- are bound and determined to predict the Oscars but they'll stick with 10 nominees anyway as it gives them more wiggle room in the mirroring.
The Worst Thing About This Change
If you value visual and numerical symmetry as I do -- and boy do I -- you'll hate that you won't be able to line up various years in neat chart formats or say things like "2013's lineup is so interesting but nothing beats 2007. No, no, let us not speak of 1999!" There won't be any way to directly compare year-to-year anymore. (How will we even structure our prediction charts?) There's something quite beautiful about tradition in mythic institutions like Oscar. The chronologies will line up nevermore. Won't it also be more of a slap in the face for the snubs? "Sorry there were only 5 nominees this year but the rest of you who were 'in the hunt'. Turns out they only told you they loved you in the heat of the moment. They didn't."
Here's the part I found most intriguing* about the decision...
“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.
*And by intriguing I mean CRAZY-MAKING. Does this mean none of those years would have seen 10 nominees? Will ten films be a once a decade thing? [Tangent: This DOES mean that they keep all the voting data. How is it that this never leaks? Price Waterhouse must be guarded by Heimdall or suspended in a heavily guarded plastic prison like Magneto.]
You know what else this means: LISTS, Lots of lists! We'll look at 2001 through 2008 soon but we have to save some chi for a later post, can't blow it all at once on this announcement. For now, let's just discuss this change and wonder which films would've been axed from the top ten by way of not getting enough #1 placements.
Here's my guesswork...
2010 - 8 nominees
I realize I'm stubborn about The Kids Are All Right... I enjoy being stubborn. But there was a time, if we're being honest with yourselves, that people thought it would be one of the five even if there were only five. My guess is that 127 Hours just barely slipped in and that Winter's Bone, despite being very well regarded was lacking in #1 votes. Who knows... But there did seem to be a broad range of support for many features last year so perhaps only The Boy And His Rock would've been eliminated.
2009 - 7 nominees
Though I was personally horrified at The Blind Side's inclusion in 2009 I do not think it was in 10th place. Oscar is so much more mainstream than the media likes to pretend and given the massive embrace of that movie from the general populace, there are few sound reasons to think AMPAS voters weren't also squeezing it, with formulaic tears streaming down their faces. District 9... well, I'm still surprised it got in given Oscar's history of shunning sci-fi. Perhaps most controversially, I'm guessing Pixar would've had to wait until Toy Story 3 to get the "only the second animated picture nominated for Best Picture" honor.
What'cha think of the rule change?
P.S. In other rule changes, the number of Animated Features nominated will be more flexible too. Previously it was 3 or 5. Now it'll be 2 to 5 depending on the number of films released that are eligible and number of votes those films received. The documentary category's eligibility will now be in sync with the calendar year like most categories.