OSCAR: Best Picture Change Makes Sense

OSCAR SHOCKER! Academy Builds Surprise & Secrecy Into Best Picture Race: Now There Can Be 5 To 10 Nominees

Tuesday night’s vote by the Board of Governors made another major change in the Best Picture Oscar race. But this time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences has found a good way to inject suspense and freshness back into the race without moving the ceremony earlier (at least yet). By requiring a minimum of 5% of first-place votes in order to receive a Best Pic nod, the Academy is going to keep us guessing right up to the announcement of the nominees. That rightfully puts the emphasis on the quality, rather than quantity, of the contenders. Depending on how those first-place votes turn out, we once again can have a year with only five nominees or, like the past two years, with 10 nominees, or any number in between. The latter is the most likely scenario as the Academy in their press release points out that, in their study of the years 2001 to 2008, there were “years that would have yielded 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 nominees.”

Although there were many supporters in the Academy for the move in the 2009 and 2010 Best Picture competition to expand to 10 nominees from the locked number of five that had been in place since 1944, there seemed to be just as many detractors who thought the larger number of candidates devalued the worth of a nomination. It was done largely because popular critical successes like The Dark Knight were passed over. With the new rule of 10 nominees, such popular box office hits as Up, The Blind Side, District 9, and Inception each earned Best Pic stripes they likely would not have received if only five films had been eligible. The move was originally proposed by 2008 Oscar show producers Bill Condon and Larry Mark, but they actually suggested it should be eight nominees as it was in 1931-1932. After a committee studied the proposal, the Board voted to make it 10 nominees just as it had been in the years 1936 to 1943, the last time there were more than five nominees until 2009.

But not everyone was happy about this, and many Academy voters have been vocal in their opposition. This move by the Board should quiet that kind of criticism as it represents a compromise for both views. It also injects real additional interest and higher stakes into the Academy’s nomination announcement which comes near the end of a long campaign season.

The feeling is the Academy has to do something to reinvigorate its contest, which has been losing the suspense factor due to the large number of pre-Oscar awards shows such as the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choices, SAG Awards, and others that dominate the conversation in December and January. By the time Oscar noms roll around near the end of January, everyone is tired and the race predictable.

The common wisdom has been that the Academy would try to combat this by simply moving their show earlier, perhaps into January. That idea is still very much on the table, and in fact the Acad has recently made some strategic moves such as changing eligibility dates for the Documentary competition in order to prepare for an Oscar date as early as 2013 (for the 2012 awards year). Also by beginning the switch to online voting.

Regarding the latter, the Academy has begun collecting email addresses of members, but there are problems, particularly with higher-profile Acad voters who don’t want to provide their personal emails. (The Academy does not want a situation in which, for example, Brad Pitt’s assistant could actually fill out the cyber ballot.) Also, online voting is a problem for many older members who have reportedly been calling the Academy with concerned inquiries about the issue.

As far as the earlier date is concerned, the Academy is still waiting to see if the NFL is going to add two more postseason games, thereby extending pro football well into February. But a very reliable inside source assures me that the Oscars would not move any earlier than the end of January or the first Sunday in February regardless of what they do. For 2013, that would mean either Jan. 27 or less likely Feb. 3 (where the Super Bowl is currently scheduled).

My source, who is very involved in the ongoing process, says in addition to figuring out online voting and the complicated schedules for different categories like Docs and Foreign Films, the fact is the Board moves “very slowly.” Tuesday’s Best Picture rule change is a nice way to inject interest in the Oscar race while giving them time to figure out all their other chess moves.

  1. Why can’t they also tell us how many votes each film got on the night?That would give us a good indication to how the Academy votes, where their heads are at and a fairly decent ranking system. if we are to believe their votes are worthy, what would it matter knowing if one film had three hundred more votes than the other?

    1. Man, I couldn’t agree with this more. You want to add some excitement and fun to the proceedings, give us total vote counts for ALL categories.

      1. Heck, in Major League Baseball’s Cy Young and MVP awards, they tell you the vote totals AND how many votes each player got for 1st place, 2nd place, etc.

  2. Terrific news…that’s the way it should be. Now I wish they’d do that in the acting categories too!

  3. John V. Karavitis Won’t more contenders for each category simply dilute the votes needed to win, or can Academy member note vote more often, given the expanded category? Wouldn’t it be a better system to have people vote in for their preferreed winners? It may be time to revitalize the Oscars by changing the way the entire process is run. It’s a long time since 1944, and the industry has seen many changes. Changing with the times may be Oscar’s best bet for remaining relevant to the American viewing public which, as has been noted before, continues to lose interest in the Oscars each and every year. It may come to the point that the Oscars end, and we let TMZ do an annual awards show!! John V. Karavitis

  4. Moving it earlier is ridiculous. It just compresses and intensifies the entire season.

    Move it back to March to give people more time to see the movies and become invested in the proceedings. This may extend the campaigning but at least it makes the nominations and winners much less predictable.

    1. I agree with you. I know VOD is a sore subject for studios right now, but pushing the smaller indie movies that get nominations to VOD might help ratings of the awards show. It’s hard for the general public to get excited about an awards show when 30-40% of the nominations pertain to movies that only residents of LA and NY have had a chance to see.

    2. I could not agree with you more — it’s like the Academy doesn’t realize that they are THE OSCARS — the most prestigious award given — it’s not whoever comes first. All those awards shows will just move earlier, like they did when they moved from march to February. Or they may just stay where they are — and just devalue the oscars even more. Academy voters do not have time to really think about who to nominate as most have not seen all the movies and as of now, they are expected to come up with nominees right after the holidays? If they move it to January, it would only serve to just nominate what everyone else thinks it’s best. Let us not forget that the biggest suspense was when they had the show in March — where Chicago was a given to get best director, and anyone BUT adrian brody was supposed to get best actor — It’s because voters had a chance to actually see the films. The oscars should realize they are rewarding art — and should give voters and audiences time to see the movies they nominate.

  5. Up, District 9, and Inception were the best of their respective years. But voters seem to out of touch to know what constitutes a good movie. Some years I’m amazed at the crap that was nominated when it was only 5 films. Just because your a critic doesn’t mean the films you like are the best.Critics usually seem to be pushing those films nobody has seen. And Sci-fi/Fantasy films always gets screwed- even if it is the best.

    1. “Critics usually seem to be pushing those films nobody has seen.”

      Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that their purpose? As a sci-fi fan myself, I would find it mightly depressing if Ebert, A.O. Scott et al started paying more attention to whatever drew the big crowds at Comic-Con at the expense of indies. I would’ve never seen Winter’s Bone.

      For a legitimate gripe, let’s talk about the Academy’s refusal to acknowledge any comedies, ever. Except f*cking Borat.

      1. It’s time to go the Golden Globes route and divide movies into BEST DRAMA and BEST COMEDY categories. Then draw from that pool for BEST PICTURE. Comedies have been slighted in this awards show…er… TRADE SHOW, for way too long.

        And let’s get real about an Academy Award: it’s not for what’s “best”. It’s for what gets the most votes. And people vote for their friends because having the word “Oscar” attached, whether as a nomination or a win, can up box office receipts and a talent’s quote big time.

  6. The just announced rule changes will add a bit of suspense about the field of best picture hopefuls. Unfortunately, the academy cannot do anything about the proliferation of pre-Oscar award shows. Those shows do greatly contribute to the “awards fatigue” factor by the time the Oscar show is to be aired. The broadcast should be moved up as the end of February is way too late. Another issue which no one discusses but which contributes to a dull show is the problem of actual members (some) revealing their votes to members of the entertainment media. With the aforementioned pre-Oscar shows and the release of some voting preferences, especially in the major categories, the show’s results become way too predictable for those of us who are watching and wish to see a compelling an interesting presentation. If a viewer had paid attention to the many published predictions by critics and reporters within the industry, he/she would have known ahead of time virtually everything that transpired on Oscar night.

    Last year’s broadcast was incredibly boring because there were virtually no surprises whatsoever! In addition, the inclusion of James Franco as co-host was not only a joke, but I felt as a viewer that he showed no respect to the most important and prestigious awards show in film. At least the academy can fix that problem.

    1. Yes, scastagnoli James Franco will never live it down , concerning his actions ( or lack of actions ) at the Oscars. He was beyond inconsiderate. Hilariously , Franco had the audacity to blame Anne Hathaway’s energy and the Oscars writers for his problems. Give me a friggin break !

      Matt , you are right, it would be cool if the Academy implemented this plan for the acting race.

  7. This is what I thought they should’ve done when the expansion was announced two years ago. (Hopefully there’ll be no more BLIND SIDE wtf moments.) Additionally, with all the talk of moving the Oscars up, I don’t see what would stop the critics choice, globes, sags, and baftas to do the same just making it a clusterf*ck earlier in the season.

  8. The fact that is predictable is a bit annoying, but since I always win the oscar polls I don’t mind them.

  9. I think they are realizing that it doesn’t matter if they have 5 or 10 — the same picture will still win (the one who has one the guild awards).

    Moving the oscars to january is pure stupidity — if I were the studios I would fight this — you would not have the successful runs of the kings speech, black swan and the fighter if the awards shows were moved earlier. They should be moved to March nor earlier. They seriously just want to drive this show into the ground.

  10. I don’t think the Best Picture should be voted on. The award should go to the movie that had the highest worldwide box office gross for the year. Tickets sold are the best indicator of which movie was actually the best. Critics and Academy voters don’t pay to see the movies, so let the people who spend their hard-earned money determine which movie gets the award.

    1. Sweetie, that’s called a Blockbuster Movie Award. I doubt anyone would get dressed up in thousand dollar gowns and walk a prestigious red carpet just to see Spiderman 3 or The Hangover 2 pick up the statue. Sorry.

      1. Sweetie, you don’t have a clue about which movies were the highest grossers, do you? Under my system, the winners for the past few years would have been:

        2010 – Toy Story 3 instead of King’s Speech
        2009 – Avatar instead of Hurt Locker
        2008 – The Dark Knight instead of Slumdog Millionaire
        2007 – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End instead of No Country for Old men
        2006 – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest instead of Departed

        All the movies that were the highest grossing represent multiple tickets bought by the same people, and thus my argument for being the best. If it’s a bad movie, you don’t go back for a second, third, fourth, etc., time.

        1. UGH! That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard. As if the film industry isn’t already compromising art and quality because so much money is at stake — let’s take away the meaning of the Academy Award, too?

          The Academy should just keep it at 5 nominees. Ratings for the broadcast have gone way down not because of the movies nominated or not nominated but because the Oscar telecast used to be a rare glimpse at the stars! It was glamorous and exciting. Now our lives are over saturated with watching celebrities eat and breathe. So people just don’t really care. Box office does not mean a film is good. I think it’s so great when Oscar nominations provide visibility for films that might have otherwise gone unseen. Usually brings their box office up and opens the door for movies beyond the Pirates franchise.

          It also doesn’t help that the broadcasts have been SO BORING lately. Here’s a hint: HIRE A COMEDIAN TO HOST THE SHOW. THE BEST HOSTS OF THE OSCARS HAVE BEEN JOHNNY CARSON AND BILLY CRYSTAL. Follow this tradition and get someone who knows what they’re doing up there. Hosting is an art and not everyone can do it, no matter how pretty or hip they are. Also, let people give their speeches! That is always the most talked about part of the show — what people will SAY when they WIN. And please get rid of that new uncomfortable, weird tradition where actors present other actors with long ass-kissy speeches when being introduced as nominees. It is awful. Keep it classy, Oscars!

    2. With that logic, “Transformers 2″ would have won best picture two years ago. Also, late year movies tend to gross well into the next year (ala “Avatar”), so that’s just the stupidist logic i’ve ever heard. There is no correlation to how good the movie actually is to how much money it makes.

  11. AMPAS can continue to alter the Best Picture nominations, add two more nominees to the visual effects category, and lots of other structural refinements. AMPAS could, although not a good idea, back up the show into late January…but, at the end of the day…none of these changes will impact the ratings in any major way.

    Only two things can help the ratings. The first is that the Academy actually nominates more films that audiences embrace and can cheer for to win…and, most importantly, make the Oscars a much tighter, more entertaining and shorter show.

    It’s called Show Biz for a reason, and these subtle changes will not do it without a lot more “Show” in the telecast.

    1. @Tom,

      Nicely put!

      p.s. I had to laugh at the comment: “The Academy does not want a situation in which, for example, Brad Pitt’s assistant could actually fill out the cyber ballot” Really? This would hardly be a new problem — plenty of physical ballots are completed by assistants each year.

      Moreover, if they Academy wants to offer an online option, fine. But, for now, it shouldn’t be the only option. And, they should forget about getting people’s personal e-mail addresses, and start by using a system like the one used for L.A. County property taxes. That is, if you want to vote online, you go to the designated website and put in a unique authorization code that would be mailed to each qualified member along with a physical ballot. This option would let the Academy know how many members would actually prefer to vote online, AND show them all the interface problems that result when you roll out one system that is meant to be utilized by people with many different operating system/browser configurations from all over the world. My two cents.

  12. Worst. Idea. Ever. How many people buy a ticket is based on marketing. People don’t know how good a movie is until AFTER they’ve seen it. But they purchase their ticket BEFORE seeing the movie. Again, your suggestion is the worst idea ever. I can’t stress this enough.

  13. If a film only needs 5% of first place votes, couldn’t there potentially be 20 nominees? Please correct me if I’m wrong…

  14. First and foremost, I think the Academy needs to decide if the telecast is for the industry or the viewing audience. If the former, then this rule change is to be applauded (I think) but why not apply the same rule to all the categories? If the latter, accept the day of “surprises” is long gone, especially in this media-savvy environment, and focus on providing a entertaining show, that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a great host,cut out the categories that most viewers don’t care about (maybe expanding the scientific awards ceremony which is held separately to include these awards) and keep it on schedule … something the Tony Awards just did, quite successfully, IMHO. Even though the Best Musical was a foregone conclusion, the telecast still managed to be entertaining, funny (do the theatre folk have a better sense of humour than the film folk?) and I liked how some of the awards were presented in quick clips upon returning from commercial breaks. I have been watching the Oscars for more years than I care to admit but my attention span has been wavering over the last few years … last year’s show was painful to watch and the next telecast can only improve or so I hope!

  15. This is the way it always should have been – have as many nominees as the year calls for – but trying to FIND ten worthy films was ridiculous.

  16. They should leave it blank all the way to the final ballot. Let members write in any title. Now that would keep everyone in suspense. One of the MANY MANY MANY problems of the Acadummy Awards is there is no suspense factor. Once it is down to X titles you know what will win. If nothing was on the ballot then it is pretty wide open.

  17. I really don’t like this idea. Pick a number, will you? And quit changing the rules every year. There needs to be some continuity. If these people ran baseball they’d keep trying different distances between the bases.

  18. Making a 5% cut off won’t be determining the number of nominees by quality. It will do so by how spread out the votes are. Years with one or two front-runners will have those films pick up a lot of #1 votes, making it hard for others to reach #1 no matter how good they are. Years without front-runners will see votes spread around and therefore have more nominees even if the actual quality isn’t as good.

  19. Another dumb move by the Academy. They should have just made the number of Nominated films 8, instead of 5 or 10.

    Sheesh!

  20. One item that hasn’t been mentioned here and is an important one as to who takes the cake.
    Hollywood Politics. Take that out of the running and you might end up with the best picture, best actor, best actress. etc.
    Too many excellent directors are being left off of the list because of where they are from or what kind of film they make.
    There should not be any distinguishing marks
    Spielberg for example, Clint Eastwood for example. etc. If someone has won 3 times running then it is time to make room for the next guy. It gets boring and boring to keep seeing the same faces and hearing the same names because they have close friends as example Tom Hanks and Spielberg. There are other names who are just as talented who would dearly love a chance to show that they did a magnificent job.

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