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Oscar's Big Change And Four Small Changes That Come Along With It

Andrew Payne Andrew Payne
June 16th, 2011 1:00pm EDT

Jeff Bridges and Natalie Portman-AES-032761.jpgOn Tuesday, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a rare moment of clarity, re-opened the possibility of a limited field of nominees for Best Picture each year. In other words, after two years of nonsense, a Best Picture nomination actually matters again.

The new system is very simple. It works similarly to the way Baseball Players are elected to the Hall of Fame. Academy member vote in much the same way as they have the last two years – ranking their nominees from 1 through 10.

Except now, instead of a convoluted vote counting process that leads to scavenging for a tenth nominee, a film must receive 5% of first place votes in order to be nominated. The minimum number of nominees is 5 and it can’t be more than ten. But, more likely, the number will fall between 6 and 8 nominees every year, eliminating the films’ that have “no chance” to win Best Picture being nominated just so the Academy can complete its quorum.

So what does this change mean for the show and, more importantly, Oscar prognosticators?

It’s Again an Honor Just to Be Nominated

This is the old cliché spit out by guests of the big show who don’t ultimately take the big prize. It may sound like a way to justify losing, but it shouldn’t be treated with such cynicism. After all, getting on such a short list is certainly a remarkable achievement given the quantity of film Hollywood and parts elsewhere release each year.

That being said, the last two years that honor was tarnished a bit by the Academy’s expansion of the Best Picture category to include ten films. Suddenly, movies like “Inglourious Basterds” and “Avatar” were included on the same level of middle-of-the-road fare like “The Blind Side”.

In historical context, those two massively praised films are ranked equally to the Sandra Bullock football vehicle. All three were nominated. All three lost. That’s it. There’s no room for error there and with extra slots to fill, “The Blind Side” ends up.

Now, with a more selective process, it’s far less likely that this type of fare will end up included among the year’s elite films. We’ll no longer have to go deeper than the nominees to find out of “The Social Network” was a better film than “The Kids Are All Right” because a nomination means something again and it isn’t just a scramble to fill the tenth spot.

Of course, that still means that “The Blind Side” gets to put “Best Picture Nominee” on its Blu-Ray case for all of perpetuity. Time for retroactive rule changes? Maybe so.

No More Snub Arguments?

With this new system it’s almost impossible for a film to really get snubbed. It’s kind of like the NCAA tournament’s expansion to 68 teams. People will still argue about some team with 13 losses’ not getting in, but, in reality, they shouldn’t be there to begin with. They’re not among the true elite.

The way this new systems allows for flexibility while also ensuring the same level of prestige that went along with being a Best Picture nominee means that we’re now able to have the maximum amount of deserving nominees up for the big prize. After all, the main argument with the Oscars the last two years wasn’t that we’d left any major contender out, but that we let too many pictures into the big dance.

With the possibility still available for ten nominees (a number proven to be too large) it’s simply impossible to make an argument that a deserving film was left wanting. Though I’m still a few overzealous fans of “Win-Win” will still be upset come Oscar morning next year.

There’s Still a Chance for a Very Weird Nomination

The main reason, according the Academy, for this shift in the nomination process is its desire to eliminate nominees that have no chance of winning. Films like “District 9”, “An Education”, “Winter’s Bone” and movies of that ilk probably ended up with very few votes, leading the Academy to see how it didn’t make much since to included them among film’s elite.

But the rule change does not mean those films no longer have a shot at capturing a nomination. In fact, with this rule shift, there’s actually a possibility for an even stranger film to find its way into the mix.

The Academy is divided into separate segments. Actors, costume designer, directors, etc. Each of those segments vote on their respective categories, but they all vote on Best Picture. The different sections tend to vote on films that most reflect their line of work. Actors love the ensemble pieces, designers look for the visually impressive, etc.

District-9-movie-12.jpg

With this new rule, the first place vote on your ballot is really the only thing that counts. This means that if a film is technically brilliant it could sweep those first place votes among the sound designers, FX artists and others in that realm allowing those big budget effects driven films to still find a spot on the big night. In other words, fear not fans of great technical marvels like “Inception”. There should still be a spot for those movies under this new system.

It’s Now Impossible to Predict the Best Picture Nominees

For people like me who make it a sport out of predicting the Best Picture nominees each year, this is the one part of this news that’s a bit unsettling. With the hard five (or ten) you could release a definitive prediction each year for the films you thought would receive a nomination. That’s all over now.

What’s a forecaster to do? Simply list 10 nominees saying they’ll all get in? That doesn’t really make any sense. After all, if you pick ten and seven get in, you’re given unfair advantage of more predictions than spots available. It’s like the inverse of a word bank pop quiz with more words than there are answers.

My solution: Predictions now must be ranked. You can no longer make a flat prediction of the films you think will be nominated in no particular order. Prognosticators are now required to list ten nominee predictions in order of the likelihood of their being nominated. If there ends up being six and one of the nominees is listed on your prediction sheet as number 8, you don’t get credit for getting it right.

Who knows, maybe predicting will be more fun now. Either way, this is a major step in the right direction for the Academy and now I’m already excited for Oscar morning.

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