Almost as clearly, the studios, distributors, and marketing wings want to give twice as many movies a chance at recouping their multimillion-dollar Oscar nomination campaigns by winning the right to honestly advertise themselves as a "BEST PICTURE NOMINEE" in all capitals in their TV promos, trade ads, and newspaper listings; less clear is whether the post-nomination "bump" is as big as it used to be, and whether doling out twice as many nods will actually diminish the persuasive pull of the "Best Picture" badge to the increasingly few ticket-buyers who even care about that kind of cachet.
Fans of the announcement appear hopeful that Oscar will now have more room to shape a more diverse list of Best Picture nominees, which the homogenizing ballot procedures for Best Picture often dilute into a narrow stable of consensus picks and fall/winter studio darlings with big campaign budgets. Less clear is whether Oscar voters will now get to rank ten films rather than five at the nominating stagewhich could lead them into more challenging, off-consensus titles, or could further dumb down the list, since not everyone in AMPAS is as diligent about hunting down ambitious, off-radar titles as a lot of Oscar bloggers areor whether the final list of ten will still be synthesized by consolidating every voter's preferential list of five.
My 2¢: I'm totally okay with this. Best Picture has always been a highly compromised category, even by the Academy's inherently conservative standards, so I don't really feel like anything's being taken away from me or from Oscar. The Best Picture race functions best as tony advertising, either by making populist fare look "good" to the highbrows or by giving wider mainstream exposure to niche-marketed middlebrow "art"; if twice as many movies can take advantage of that platform, deservedly or otherwise, fine. In a sense, the change will offer an exciting crystal ball into just a bit more of the larger picture of what the members liked.
Most importantly, I don't think we can predict anything with confidence, and certainly not with uniformity, about what kinds of movies will or will not qualify now in the expanded race, which will probably still shift from year to year, based on all the same variables that already shape the yearly cycle as we know and (hate to) love it. I'm sure some years will now yield a more boring list than they otherwise would have; some years will get a spicier variety than the top five would have reflected. We may still get "lone director" nominees (they did in '38, with Angels with Dirty Faces), and there may still be surprising misses (like My Man Godfrey, with its notorious noms for Best Director and all four acting trophies, but no Best Picture citation, despite a ten-wide field).
We still won't know as much as we think we do: if Chocolat had gotten a nod in a ten-wide field, I still would have assumed it was the "tenth" nominee and had no idea the Academy had actually voted it fifth. Even more intriguingly, we may now be privy to more Libeled Ladys and Test Pilots and Ox-Bow Incidents that will newly reveal themselves as fan favorites within Hollywood, even though you wouldn't have known it from their meager nomination tallies across the overall board.
William Goldman never goes out of style: Nobody knows anything. But this hopefully means a slightly bigger party.
As an interactive thought experiment I've drafted what I believe would have been, under the new rules, the ten-wide Best Picture fields during the last ten yearsbased on an entirely personal and unscientific meld of nominations in other categories, pre-Oscar laurels and buzz, release timing, studio backing, and subjective hunches. To my mind, some of these are much more interesting fields than what we actually saw, some much worse, some about the same. Which serves to me as "proof" that it's not worth cheering or moaning about today's news. Let's just see what happens... though I must admit, this little exercise, in its concreteness, convinces me even further that a wider Best Picture field can only be more interesting for Oscar watchers, even when it means more jaw-dropping inclusions and doubly painful snubs.
But in the meantime, what do you think?