Oscars 2012: The Best Picture Race Changes Yet Again

The 82nd Academy Awards opened up the Best Picture race from the traditional five spots to a more inclusive field of ten, casting a wider net that allowed some delightfully unexpected movies on the path towards Oscar glory.

But it looks like the gates are closing once again — well, maybe, at least. The Hollywood Reporter has the news that the Academy has revised the Best Picture rules for the second time in as many years, this time creating a system where the final nominees for next year’s awards could range from anywhere between five and ten contenders. In order to receive a Best Picture nomination, a movie needs to receive “enough first-place votes on the nomination ballots to amount to five percent of the ballots cast.”

The Academy says that this new procedure adds “a new element of surprise,” but from where I’m sitting, it’s a new element of disappointment. Imagine, if you will, if these new restrictions were in place for the past two Oscar ceremonies — who would’ve been left off the playing field?

“Up” & “Toy Story 3″
Both of these beautiful Pixar films more than deserved their chance at Best Picture glory, but when there’s the Best Animated Feature category to consider, would they have had a shot at beating out the live-action competition? Not likely, no matter how much they deserved their places in the race.

“District 9″
Neill Blomkamp’s big-screen debut proved that science fiction can have its cake and eat it, too: a perfect blend of powerful sociopolitical storytelling and eye-popping action and visual effects, “District 9″ was a more than worthy Best Picture contender. But with a potentially narrowed field, its odds at landing in the top five, six or seven spots… maybe not so great.

Likewise, Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” expertly married requisite awesome action with a unique science fiction premise that stuck with viewers long after the credits rolled. But just as “The Dark Knight” got snubbed in 2009’s selections, “Inception” could easily have been left off the list this year.

So, What Now?
Which movies are going to suffer from the Oscars’ new procedure come 2012? Are “X-Men: First Class” and “Super 8,” two of the best reviewed films of the year despite (or because of) the fact that their “genre movies,” going to take a hit? Is it lights out for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” the grand finale for one of the best fantasy franchises of all time — a movie that not just deserves a nomination, but quite possibly a victory? I suppose time will tell, but to me, this doesn’t smell of “a new element of surprise” so much as a way to cut back on recognizing the surprising, worthy under-dogs.

How do you feel about the Oscar changes? Let us know in the comments section and on Twitter!