Wow. A big change (perhaps the biggest) in the Oscars is coming next year. In a surprise announcement today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will double the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten films beginning with the 2010 Oscars (honoring films released this year).
Citing a desire to recognize more films (and harkening back to the early days of the Academy, which saw up to 12 Best Picture nominees in some years), this new ruling will have major repercussions in all aspects of Oscar watching, from campaigning to predictions to the telecast of the ceremony itself. And let's face it, it doesn't take much reading between the lines to surmise that this decision was made with the TV broadcast in mind. With more slots to fill in the top category, there is a better chance that such crowd-pleasing blockbusters as last year's The Dark Knight and WALL-E would be nominated, thereby increasing interest for Joe Public, which in the end equals more viewers and better ratings.
On the other hand, it could also help the smaller movies that always seem shut out of the big race; think last year's Frozen River or The Wrestler. And, in addition to animated features, the opportunities are better than ever for foreign language films (especially those deemed ineligible in their own increasingly-frustrating category) and even documentaries.
And while some Oscar watchers are in an uproar over the news (claiming that with so many nominees, the importance of the award will be diminished; I believe that has already been accomplished when Crash won), I say the more the merrier. Two things are certain though at this point: first, Pixar (whose Up is arguably the only movie so far this year worthy of a BP nomination) is surely celebrating today, and second, the Oscars sure got a lot more interesting.
UPDATE: More Oscar changes: honorary awards to be bestowed separately, and the music branch messes around with the Original Song category some more.