MOVIES | Academy changes Best Picture nomination process

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A complicated, merit-based voting process for next year’s Academy Awards Best Picture nominations will call on math wizards. That, and a Visual Effects “bakeoff.”

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced a different procedure for the coveted Best Picture category. Excitement hit the Oscars two years ago when the Best Picture category expanded from five to 10 nominations.

Now, the Governors have voted to add a “new twist” and a “new element of surprise” to its annual nomination announcement.

In a press release titled, “Academy Builds Surprise Into Best Picture Rules,” the Academy describes a system that will now produce anywhere between five and 10 nominees in the category, which won’t be announced until the Best Picture nominees 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.

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, according to the Academy.

In 2012, it may be five or it may be 10, or anywhere in between, that advance to the final vote.

The Academy Release:

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. 

Visual Effects “bakeoff”

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 and televised live by the ABC Television Network.