Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rule changes for Oscar include flexible number of Best Picture nominees

You've got to give the Academy credit for trying.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) regularly tinkers with their Academy Awards procedures to make them as fair and equitable as possible, as well as trying to make them entertaining. It doesn't always work, but at least they try.

To some degree, it's a doomed exercise because no matter what they do, people will always complain. People within the industry don't always agree with each other, let alone with critics or audiences.

The main change that they've made is that the number of Best Picture nominees will now vary between 5 to 10. The exact number will be revealed when the nominees are announced. By introducing a requirement that a must have at least 5% of first place votes on the preferential nomination ballot to be a nominee for Best Picture, they found that the number of nominees in the nine years before expansion would have been anywhere from 5 to 9.

This is an interesting change an one that probably won't affect the outcome much if at all. But it is theoretically possible that up to 20 films reach that 5% threshold or there are so many good films that none of them do, e.g. 25 films each get 4% (highly unlikely).

Another possibility might be that pretty much everyone votes for the same Best Picture nominee as their first vote. In that case, would they go with only one nominee? Chances are they'd quietly relax their 5% requirement.

It's also possible that a much loved film ends up being nominated by almost everyone but gets left out because it didn't get enough first place votes. Whereas the preferential voting for the Best Picture winner favours films that are broadly appealing and get lots of second or third place votes as well as first place votes, that would be of no help with this new approach at the nomination stage.

Still, these quibbles are more theoretical than anything. If it keeps dogs like The Blind Side out of the Best Picture slate, I'm all for this change.

The other changes are sensible too. I particularly like that they are shifting the eligibility for Documentary to align with the calendar year. It means, however, that for this coming year the eligibility period for Documentary will be an extra three months. It could make it especially competitive.


Academy Builds Surprise Into Best Picture Rules

Beverly Hills, CA (June 14, 2011) - The governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted on Tuesday (6/14) to add a new twist to the 2011 Best Picture competition, and a new element of surprise to its annual nominations announcement.  The Board voted to institute a system that will now produce anywhere between five and 10 nominees in the category.  That number won’t be announced until the Best Picture nominees themselves are revealed at the January nominations announcement.

“With the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers, we’ve been looking not just at what happened over the past two years, but at what would have happened if we had been selecting 10 nominees for the past 10 years,” explained Academy President Tom Sherak, who noted that it was retiring Academy executive director Bruce Davis who recommended the change first to Sherak and incoming CEO Dawn Hudson and then to the governors.

During the period studied, the average percentage of first place votes received by the top vote-getting movie was 20.5.  After much analysis by Academy officials, it was determined that 5% of first place votes should be the minimum in order to receive a nomination, resulting in a slate of anywhere from five to 10 movies.

“In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies,” said Davis.  “A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit.  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.”

If this system had been in effect from 2001 to 2008 (before the expansion to a slate of 10), there would have been years that yielded 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 nominees.

The final round of voting for Best Picture will continue to employ the preferential system, regardless of the number of nominees, to ensure that the winning picture has the endorsement of more than half of the voters.
Other rules changes approved by the Board include:

In the animated feature film category, the need for the Board to vote to “activate” the category each year was eliminated, though a minimum number of eligible releases – eight – is still required for a competitive category.   Additionally, the short films and feature animation branch recommended, and the Board approved, refinements to the number of possible nominees in the Animated Feature category.  In any year in which eight to 12 animated features are released, either two or three of them may be nominated.  When 13 to 15 films are released, a maximum of four may be nominated, and when 16 or more animated features are released, a maximum of five may be nominated. 

In the visual effects category, the “bakeoff” at which the nominees are determined will expand from seven to 10 contenders.  The increase in the number of participants is related to a change made last year in which the number of films nominated in the visual effects category  was increased from three to five.

Previously, the Board approved changes to the documentary feature and documentary short category rules that now put those categories’ eligibility periods in line with the calendar year and thus with most other awards categories.  The change means that for the 84th Awards cycle only, the eligibility period is more than 12 months; it is from September 1, 2010 to December 31, 2011.

Other modifications of the 84th Academy Awards rules include normal date changes and minor “housekeeping” changes.

Rules are reviewed annually by individual branch and category committees.  The Awards Rules Committee then reviews all proposed changes before presenting its recommendations to the Academy’s Board of Governors for approval.

The 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, February 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network.  The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

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