New rules redraw Oscar’s picture, doc, toon races

Awards Season Launch: The Best Picture Race

Going into this season’s Oscar race, a series of rule changes made by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences could significantly alter how many categories pan out.

Most notably, the number of nominated films in the best picture category will no longer necessarily be 10. Two years after raising that category’s nomination field from five to 10 films, the Academy voted to change it again in June. This time, they will be allowing anywhere between five and 10 nominees based on another system.

Over the past 10 years, an analysis by the Academy found that the top vote-getting movie received 20.5% of the first-place votes, on average. Thus, the Academy determined that in order to be nominated, a film should receive, at minimum, 5% of first-place votes.

Academy voters — and there are approximately 6,000 of them — will rank their best picture choices on a ballot in numerical order. If every member voted, that would mean a film would need 300 first place votes to be assured a nomination.

That standard results in a slate of no more than 10 movies. Had the system been in effect from 2001 to 2008 (before the expansion to a slate of 10), the Academy found that there would have been years that yielded five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees, but never 10.

Beyond the best picture shakeup, there are additional changes across the rulebook.

In the animated feature category, there could be between two and five nominees, depending on how many toon feature films are released that year. In any year that eight to 12 are released, the branch may nominate the two or three finest. When 13 to 15 films are released, a maximum of four could get nominated, while when 16 or more animated features are released, a maximum of five could make the cut.

Additionally, the eligibility period in the documentary feature and short categories shifts this season, putting it in line with the calendar year (previously it had been September to August). As a result, this season’s eligibility period will actually be 16 months: Sept. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2011.

And finally, in the visual effects category, the number of films selected to be finalists has risen from seven to 10, of which five will be nominated based on the traditional “bakeoff” voting event.


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