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The Oscars could return to five Best Picture nominees, but should they?

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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Will the Oscars go back to a maximum of five nominees? It’s a rumor that makes the rounds every year, but right now it’s too early to get excited (or irritated) about it.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been debating the ideal number of Best Picture contenders for the past four years. In 2009, the group that gives out the Oscars made a major change to the Best Picture category by doubling it from five to 10 nominees.

 

Two years later, fearing the mandatory Top Ten might allow not-so-great films into the race, the group changed its balloting procedure to allow for a minimum of five but a maximum of 10. (Since that change, there have never been more than nine nominees. This year there were only eight.) Voters rank their picks now, and a film can only get a nomination if it collects at least 5 percent of first-place votes, according to AMPAS regulations.

 

Ever since that expansion, though, some members of the Academy have been grumbling about returning to only five contenders, while others continue to defend it, saying this is a way to keep popular favorites in the mix. Would American Sniper, which is currently the third highest-grossing film of 2014 and is on track to take the top spot, have been nominated if not for the expanded category?

 

It’s an impossible question for outsiders to answer because the Academy never releases the nomination or final vote tallies. But without American Sniper, this year’s contenders would have been an esoteric lot, little seen by most viewers.

 

Now comes a report from The Hollywood Reporter that some members of the Academy leadership want to revisit the idea of returning to five contenders. This has become an annual ritual, of sorts. The same proposal has been raised time and again by those who opposed the change from the get-go, and Academy insiders tell EW that there doesn’t seem to be any new reason that would motivate the Academy to revert back to the old format now. 

 

A meeting of the group’s Board of Governors is set for March 24, which is when the leadership makes notes and offers suggestions about the most recent ceremony. Returning to five contenders will probably be proposed, but short of any new rationale, change seems to be a speculative proposition at best.

 

One thing they won’t be hearing at that closed-door meeting of the Academy’s governors is the perspective from fans. If you’re a die-hard Oscar watcher, let us know in the comments: would you prefer to see the category revert back to its smaller form. Or do you prefer to keep Best Picture status quo?

Personally, I like it how it is now. Voters have the option of expanding, but if they don’t have more than five movies they truly love, this system allows them to self-restrict. (And the fact is, there are far, far more than 10 excellent films in any given year, although not all of them ever come close to awards consideration.)

Some argue that because ratings were down this year, the expanded field didn’t help. But that ignores the fact that ratings have been up significantly the past two years. There are many variables associated with low ratings, including the host and the overall popularity of the nominated films, and this year’s field, American Sniper notwithstanding, was definitely on the lower-grossing side of the spectrum.

 

The field is already so heavily influenced by campaigning, pressure, and spending, that allowing extra room for one of the lesser-resourced indie pictures to break through, or for a big-budget crowdpleaser to overcome its popcorn prejudice and make the list, seems like a worthwhile option to leave on the table—a table with more room, not less.

 

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