Ganis announces change to Academy Awards

And the winner is… well, actually there are lots of winners with the decision to broaden the best-picture Oscar race to 10 films.

The board’s decision to double the category to 10 nominees “may make it more interesting and less cloistered,” said Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences prexy Sid Ganis at a press conference Wednesday morning.

Ganis speculated that the longer list could include a documentary, foreign-lingo film, animated feature and, he deadpanned, “maybe even a comedy.”

The expansion to 10 slots increases the chances of films in those three categories, which have long been eligible for best-pic bids but may have missed out because they have their own categories, as some Oscar voters have said in the past. And indie films gain, because there’s more room for “little” movies.

The other big winners could be the TV audience — and, by extension, the Academy — if the expanded list includes more populist fare. And it can’t hurt that more films will be in line for a potential Oscar bump at the box office.

What’s more, one Acad member in the know predicted that this change is just the first in Oscar’s world.

Ganis’ “less cloistered” observation was a deftly phrased acknowledgment that the org has been charged in recent years with being elitist in some of its choices. After the 2008 noms came out, many media pundits, industry workers and film fans bemoaned the omission of such crowd-pleasing films as “The Dark Knight” and “Wall-E.”

Conventional wisdom says that when well-known films are nominated, such as “Titanic” or “The Lord of the Rings,” ratings for the Oscarcast rise. As for answers to other questions being asked around town Wednesday:

  • The foreign-language, feature doc and feature toon races will not be affected.

  • The nomination ballot will have space for 10 entries instead of five. That’s the only change, and the awards schedule will remain the same, since PricewaterhouseCoopers won’t need more time to count ballots.

  • Acad execs said they don’t feel the move will add significantly to the running time of the show, and the idea of cutting some categories from the telecast didn’t even come up.

  • No other categories — such as director — will be expanded to 10 nominees.

One awards pundit said the move makes the director race the one to watch, since it’s still five slots and could be a better indicator of the favorites. (However, it’s rare when the five director nominees exactly mirror the pic race.)

On Wednesday, many kudos vets were surprised but positive about the change. A few had qualms: The Acad will need more seats for more nominees, and the additional best pic clips could add to the ceremony’s running time. A few skeptics worried that the voters may have to scrounge around to come up with 10 worthy films (unlikely, since about 300 films qualify annually).

And one pundit said that with 10 nominees, a pic could win with only 11% of the vote.

That’s absolutely true. But a close race among 10 films is unlikely, and in the past, with five movies, there always seemed to be two or three front-runners. (The PWC accountants are too discreet to ever reveal how close or lopsided some of the races have been.)

Asked whether “Dark Knight” was a factor in the move, Ganis said that many titles were mentioned in the post-mortem, including that one.

“We’ve been mulling what we can do to make everything more valid,” Ganis said.

Though the move sounds radical, Ganis began his remarks at the confab by saying that the Academy is returning to an old tradition — a fact emphasized by two posters flanking him that gave the titles of the 10 best-pic contenders for 1939. The titles showed the breadth of choices, including “Gone With the Wind,” “Love Affair,” “Stagecoach” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

The Acad had 10 pic nominees between 1931 and 1943.

Every year, an AMPAS awards committee does a post-mortem on lessons learned from the recent show. Ganis said this year’s Oscarcast producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark suggested to the committee that it would be great if “the spectrum was wider” for best-pic contenders. Ganis said some at the Academy had been thinking the same thing, invoking the ’39 race. (The org is currently doing a tribute to those 10 contenders.)

It’s likely that Acad honchos were particularly receptive to Mark and Condon’s ideas since they came in the wake of their show, which changed the DNA of the Oscarcast by jettisoning many old traditions — which resulted in a positive reaction and improved ratings. And those changes opened up a lot of possibilities elsewhere.

Acad exec director Bruce Davis said Wednesday that the awards-review committee was enthused by the expansion of the best pic nominees. There were no dissenting votes at the board meeting held Tuesday night, Davis said.

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