It was announced yesterday that the Academy will now nominate ten films for Best Picture. From their press release:

For more than a decade during the Academy’s earlier years, the Best Picture category welcomed more than five films; for nine years there were 10 nominees. The 16th Academy Awards (1943) was the last year to include a field of that size; “Casablanca” was named Best Picture. (In 1931/32, there were eight nominees and in 1934 and 1935 there were 12 nominees.) “Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize,” commented Ganis.

One might coin this “the Wall-E decision”, as there was much speculation and controversy last year over Pixar’s Wall-E — that it could (or should) have been nominated for Best Picture.

This move to include more movies as nominees will allow more commercially successful films (i.e. big budget Hollywood fantasies) to compete with the artier fare (Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, Milk, etc.), no doubt to help increase the ratings for the Oscar broadcast. Ten nominees could also boost box office gross and DVD sales for twice as many films.

But how will this affect the animated features? Will Pixar’s Up have a shot to go one-on-nine against the likes of James Cameron’s Avatar, Michael Mann’s Public Enemies and Sam Mendes Away We Go? Industry pundit Jeffery Wells thinks not.

Hollywood still places animation in a ghetto and nothing is going to change that. I hope Up, Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox or some animated film can somehow crack the Best Picture category – but I won’t bet on it. Until perceptions change, I’m just glad we have the Best Animated Short and Best Animated Feature categories.

Speaking of which, at the mid-way point it’s looking like a great year for the Animated Feature category. There are already 13 releases set for 2009 (14 if you count Jim Carrey’s mo-cap Christmas Carol – I don’t). If a few more “dark horse” foreign films get submitted, as they usually do at the end of the year, that could trigger five nominees (I’m rooting for Mary & Max and Secret of Kells to get a legitimate U.S. release). However, recall that last year three eligible studio films were not submitted to the Academy (Fox ignored Space Chimps, Warner Bros. withheld Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Universal omitted The Pirates That Don’t Do Anything), thus forcing the Academy to consider only three nominees. It just goes to show, the major studios still control the process no matter how you perceive the results.

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