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Oscar Update: Ten Best Picture Nominees

Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold in You Can't Take It with You
Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold in Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You, the Best Picture winner of 1938. There were 10 nominees that year, among them The Adventures of Robin Hood, Four Daughters, Jezebel, The Citadel, and Angels with Dirty Faces.

In terms of rules and regulations, this is likely the biggest Oscar news since the mid-1940s:

The 2010 Academy Awards, which will be presented on March 7, 2010, will have no less than 10 feature films vying in the Best Picture category. The last time more than five films competed for the Oscars was in 1943, the year Casablanca won for best picture. (Among the losers were The Song of Bernadette, The Human Comedy, The More the Merrier, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Watch on the Rhine.)

During the Academy's early years, for more than a decade the Best Picture category included more than five films; for nine years there were 10 nominees. (In 1931/32 there were eight nominees, while in 1934 and 1935 there were 12.)

The 10 Best Picture nominees of 1939, the year some call Hollywood's greatest, are currently being screened in Los Angeles and New York City as part of the film series “Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939.” (New York schedule.)

I'm not sure exactly why the Academy decided to make this major structural change, though considering the show's lower television ratings and the fact that in recent years voters have tended to go for smaller movies (see this year's omission of well-regarded blockbusters such as The Dark Knight and WALL-E), the Academy is trying to add to the suspense while ensuring that acclaimed movies with widespread appeal will be included in their Best Picture shortlist. That, in turn, should increase the Oscar ceremony's TV viewership.

Now, if the Academy's powers-that-be can make such a major change to their topmost category, why can't they do the same with the lesser publicized – but no less important in terms of filmmaking – Best Foreign Language Film category? Some (admittedly, major) tweaking in the selection, eligibility, and voting processes would make the best foreign language film nominations both more fair (get rid of the nonsensical one film per country rule) and more representative of the Academy membership (foreign-language films screened in Los Angeles County during the course of the year would be eligible for the award).

And finally, allow nominated foreign-language films to compete in the regular categories the year they open in LA. That's how it used to be; so, that would be one more opportunity for the Academy to go back to its roots…

The 2010 Academy Award nominations will be announced on Tuesday, February 2.

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