Blame it on The Blind Side. The Sandra Bullock drama was a box office phenom, and its star even earned a Best Actress Academy Award. But the lukewarmly reviewed film’s inclusion on 2010’s list of Best Picture nominees struck many OscarWatchers as the prime example of why requiring 10 movies in that category was excessive, unnecessary, and even potentially embarrassing.
It would appear that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself now agrees. On June 14, the organization’s Board of Governors voted to overhaul the Best Picture category again, doing away with the mandatory 10-picture rule (instituted in 2009) and dictating that a film must receive at least 5 percent of first-place votes to qualify for a Best Picture nom. Under the new guidelines, anywhere between 5 and 10 movies will be nominated for Best Picture; the raw numbers will determine how many nominees there will be each year. ”A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit,” said outgoing Academy executive director Bruce Davis in explaining the change. ”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.”
Many Academy members who were critical of the supersize Best Picture category see the change as a step in the right direction. ”There are years where it is hard to come up with 10 movies that are truly strong candidates to be Best Picture,” says one Oscar-winning producer and Academy member. (Other nominees from the past two years that many experts say wouldn’t make the cut under the new rules: A Serious Man, Winter’s Bone, and The Kids Are All Right.)
For Oscar consultants, however, the uncertainty makes their job all the more difficult. ”People were just getting used to having 10,” says a strategist who worked on one of this year’s Best Picture nominees. ”It was nice to see different movies in the mix.” Given that approximately 80 percent of the Academy’s 6,000 or so members turn in their ballots each year, the number of first-place votes needed to score a nod will be in the 250 range. ”What this does is it makes the number-one vote much more important,” says another top Academy campaigner. ”Before, you felt, ‘If I’m in the person’s top three, I’m in good shape.’ But now you need to be number one. You’re going to have to be aggressive and make sure your film has a fan base.”
But let’s talk about the real victims in this case: Oscar predictors like yours truly. Not only do we have to rank all the contenders for Best Picture, but now we’ll also need to guess how many movies will score that magic number of No. 1 votes. The indignity of it all! Still, given the fact that the awards season has grown increasingly yawn-inducing, maybe this is just what the Oscar race needs. (When the biggest Best Picture mystery on nomination morning is whether Winter’s Bone or The Town will snag the 10th slot, you know it’s time for an adjustment.) So, even for me, a little added unpredictability in the Oscar-forecasting game is a welcome change.