Oscars Academy Awards

After five to ten years of five to ten Best Picture nominees, the Oscars are eyeing a return to old ways. The Academy reportedly wants to shrink the Best Picture pool back down to five nominees.

The rule limiting nominees to five had been in place since the mid-1940s, but was changed in 2009 to include 10 nominees, and then again in 2011 to include 5-10 nominees. Now it might change again. More on the possible Oscars Best Picture nominees rule change after the jump. 

As of now, no official changes are in place. But THR reports that a “significant faction” of the 6,000-member Academy is pushing for a return to five nominees. The move would be seen as an admission that the six-year experiment with more Best Picture nominees has failed.

The main arguments are that increasing the number of Best Picture nominees has weakened the “prestige” of a Best Picture nomination, and that the larger field hasn’t really helped ratings for the annual Oscars telecast.

The 2009 change was driven in a large part by the outrage following the Academy’s failure to nominate Christopher Nolan’s much-loved The Dark Knight for Best Picture. The thinking was that a wider net would have room for films like The Dark Knight, which would in turn attract more viewers.

However, the strategy hasn’t worked out as planned. Instead of nominating popular favorites like The Dark Knight, the Academy has used the opportunity to nominate even more arthouse films. American Sniper was the only non-indie of this year’s eight nominees, as well as the only one to crack nine figures at the U.S. box office.

Moreover, the Academy hasn’t actually hit ten nominees any of the years with a variable field. (We had 8 this year, as mentioned above, and 9 in each of the three previous years.) Meanwhile, viewership hasn’t gone up. In fact, this year’s broadcast was down 15% from last year’s.

So no, expanding the Best Picture race to 10, and then 5-10, films hasn’t proved to be a magical fix. The question now is whether shrinking it to five nominees will actually improve anything.

While the new rules haven’t let in more comic book sequels or YA adaptations — you know, the kind of films that the general public has actually seen and liked — they have allowed for a little more variation within the category. For example, there’s a good chance American Sniper would have been left out this year if there were only five slots to fill, and it’s tough to argue that the ratings would’ve been better had such a popular film failed to secure a nomination.

But American Sniper probably would have done just fine even without the Academy’s attention; the Academy arguably needed it more than it needed the Academy. The pictures that really benefit from hype that comes with a Best Picture nomination are indies like Whiplash, which are small enough to be easily overlooked by some audiences.

Moreover, it’s not like the five-picture limit has forced the Academy to choose only truly great films in the past. Let’s not forget how this all started: with The Reader getting nominated over The Dark Knight — and Wall-E, and The Wrestler, and Happy-Go-Lucky, and Synecdoche, New York, and lots of other great films — in a year with only five open Best Picture slots.

Instead of fiddling with the number of nominees, maybe the Academy should work on refining their convoluted voting process, which some have argued “reward mediocrity” by placing too much emphasis on second- and third-place choices. Bringing in a more diverse (i.e., younger, less male, less white) group of voters would likely shake up the process as well.

Do you like the current variable nominee system, or do you hope the Academy goes back down to five nominations? Or if you have any better ideas for fixing the Oscars, please leave them in the comments below. The Academy probably needs all the help it can get.

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