Will Having 10 Best-Picture Nominees Diminish Oscar?

"I don't think it diminishes anything," he says. "There are an awful lot of more commercial films that have not been nominated that should have been. Now there's a whole generation of moviegoers who don't relate as much to the Oscars, since the movies that they love so much are not represented. This will open the door."

It does rankle some that the rules had to be bent before animated features as well as documentaries and foreign-language films, which all have separate best-picture categories, could be given a fairer chance at the biggest honor.

Says Peter Schneider, the former head of Disney feature animation who was in charge when Beauty was in the running: "It won't mean as much. Getting in is not as special as when it was just five. It's like cheating."

Who's not happy

At least the added contenders have given those pundits who cover the Oscars something to chew over in a year when no clear front-runner has stepped forward. A favorite topic: the pitfalls of the new procedure.

And the nominees for favorite gripes are ...

•Redefining first place. In the past, voters simply picked one of the five nominees as best picture. Now, with 10 choices, sticking with that method could result in a winner with only 11% of the votes.

Instead, the academy has reverted to a preferential system where voters rank the nominees from 1 to 10. If the title on top does not have at least 51% of the vote, then second and even third choices on ballots could be included in the selection.

Sounds fair, except suddenly the night's winner may not have the most No. 1 votes.

"The new procedure is bad," says Damien Bona, academy expert and co-author of Inside Oscar. "It means the least-offensive movie will make it, the one that everyone sort of likes but no one is passionate about."

For instance, he says, "In 1969, Z and Midnight Cowboy (the winner) represented the cutting edge, while Anne of the Thousand Days and Hello, Dolly! were the traditional choices. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would have been No. 3 for everyone and would probably have won."

•Box office trumps quality. When the best-picture changes were announced, the Oscar year of 1939 – often considered Hollywood's best – was invoked as an example of what could happen with 10 nominees. Gone With the Wind, the box-office champ of all time when adjusted for inflation, was the victor. But also in the race was an abundance of enduring classics such as The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach.

However, that was when the most popular films of the year often were among the best.

Already, a shortage of worthy selections is being cited as a problem this year by voters who prefer not to be quoted. Even with five slots, they might only fill in two or three titles on the ballot, leaving the rest blank.

"A lot more best-picture movies were made back then than now," says longtime Oscar watcher Steve Pond, who writes the online column The Odds for The Wrap. "The academy did what it could to expand the slate of films, but it is at the mercy of what is being released this year."

•The unseen honorees. More nominees mean a greater chunk of the telecast will be devoted to the best-picture category. Something has to give. That something will be the honorary Oscars, which, as Bona notes, "often provide the emotional highlights of the evening."

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